Car reviews - Kia - Rondo - 5-dr wagon range
One of very few stylish compact people-movers, diesel performance, decent standard gear, heaps of storage compartments, flexible cabin layout
Room for improvement
Top-heavy around corners, no Platinum diesel, lack of air vents in third row, interior a little unexciting
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5 Jun 2013
AS THE saying goes, ‘necessity is the mother of invention’, so when a car-maker is faced with the difficult situation of making a people-mover appealing – especially to mums and dads – we have to applaud any effort to change the status quo.
We’ve now got Kia chief designer Peter Schreyer to thank for that, because with the latest Rondo he has succeeded in sculpting a seven-seat people-mover that is not only practical, but desirable too – which is no mean feat.
Kia has had considerable success in this country with the top-selling Carnival people-mover, which continues to rule the segment despite the fact it went on sale in early 2006.
The bullish South Korean car-maker hopes this success will rub off on the smaller Rondo, which has come a long way since it first arrived in Australia as the Carens in 2000.
If the Rondo name is not familiar, you are probably not alone. The outgoing model that went on sale in Australia in 2007 was one of the slowest-selling vehicles in Kia’s line-up, chalking up just 290 sales last year.
But with this new generation, Kia is planning to make its compact MPV a household name.
One of the last Kia models to inherit Schreyer’s design language, the Rondo is a stylish proposition that draws on modern themes and extends into the popular crossover wagon genre.
A short and stubby front end features Kia’s ‘tiger-nose’ grille, while the swept-up headlights and overall shape of the Rondo gives the vehicle a dynamic look.
Significantly, from most angles, there are no telltale signs that this is in fact a people-mover. It looks like an attractive, everyday small hatch-cum-wagon and even has a slight Mercedes-Benz B-Class look to it.
Each Rondo variant – base Si, mid-spec SLi and range-topping Platinum – features minor styling differences, such as wheel covers and, for the flagship model, black headlight bezels.
We spent time behind the wheel of the petrol Si that kicks the range off at $29,990, and the SLi diesel that retails for $36,490.
Sliding into the cabin of the Rondo, you get the feeling of a slightly higher ride, although perhaps not as high as a similarly sized SUV.
The Rondo’s interior houses a slick and modern dash design, and while it is completely functional, it doesn’t feel particularly original.
Chrome accents surround the gearshift lever, air vents and touchscreen while the rest of the cabin is bathed in dark grey with very little in the way of contrasting colours.
Base model Si variants unsurprisingly miss out on the premium touches of the higher-end models, but the cloth trim looks and feels top-notch. A dead giveaway that we were in the entry-level model was the abundance of plasticky looking inserts, particularly on the doors.
SLi models get leather trim for the upholstery and the doors, and succeed in providing a slightly classier feel.
Setting up the Bluetooth audio streaming was a breeze and sound quality from the six-speaker stereo was great quality.
While we didn’t drive the flagship Premium model, we did have a few moments in the cabin and the main difference between it and the Si and SLi is the touchscreen. Platinum models get a seven-inch screen while the 4.3-inch unit in the base and mid-spec models seems small in comparison.
It still functions well and it is big enough to house the reversing camera that is standard on all models.
Supportive seats (10-way power driver’s seat in SLi and Platinum), tilt and reach steering column, decent headroom and excellent front vision combine to ensure a suitable driving position is easily achieved.
Rondo’s second row features a 35/30/35 split-fold arrangement and all three seats have a headrest. While a bunch of fully developed adults may find this row a little too cosy, post-toddler or pre-teen children shouldn’t have too much of an issue getting comfy.
A slightly different theory applies to the third row. It is functional as seating for small children on an occasional basis. Anyone over the age of 12 might find it a tad squishy, especially over longer distances.
The odd trip to soccer or ballet practice is fine, but for a family adventure from Melbourne to the top end, you would have to either upsize your vehicle or leave some children at home. Especially considering there are no air vents in the third row.
Kia has not shied away from this and suggests the Rondo is for people who want to use the third row occasionally, not necessarily every day at full capacity.
Getting into the third row is a relatively easy thanks to second-row seats that slide forward as well as fold down.
There are 13 storage spaces in the cabin of the Rondo, including two underfloor trays in the second row that are capable of holding 6.8 litres of toys, DVDs, game consoles or leftover crisps.
Kia conveniently placed both a large and small suitcase in the cargo area of the Rondo to prove that you can fit them in the back, as long as one of the third row seats is folded flat.
With all seats up storage is limited to 103 litres, which is the equivalent of two small carry-on suitcases. Luckily the second and third row can be folded down for increased storage, and in the case of the SLi and Platinum even the front passenger seat can fold flat for the odd kayak or Ikea flat-packed bookcase.
Every new model Kia has released in the past few years has come with a huge improvement over the previous model’s driving dynamics, handling and overall performance, and the Rondo is no exception.
While Kia says it doesn’t use platforms the way other car-makers do, the Rondo is loosely based on the terrific new Cerato small car.
On the freeway, the 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine fitted to the Si is a delight while the standard six-speed auto is a good match, providing smooth changes.
Kia said a lot of work was done to improve noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) with the 2013 Rondo and it seems to have paid off. Besides some slight wind noise at speed on a freeway, there was no noticeable tyre roar and the cabin felt very well insulated, especially cruising around the city.
The 100kW 1.7-litre diesel in the SLi was not as smooth as the petrol version, but it performed well when overtaking and felt powerful enough for a vehicle of its size.
While the petrol is more effective when accelerating from a standing start, the diesel provides superior performance at higher speeds. Fuel use is naturally a bit sharper in the diesel with 6.4 litres per 100kilometres on the combined cycle, while the petrol 2.0-litre managed a respectable 7.9L/100km. Either way, the Rondo is a solid performer for its size and for the price.
Driving a Rondo loaded up with kids and/or luggage could change the outcome, but that might have to wait for another road test.
Cornering revealed the Rondo to be slightly top-heavy, with some bodyroll giving the impression that the little MPV was a lot taller than it actually is.
The glaring omission in the Rondo line-up is the lack of a diesel option in the top-spec Platinum variant. Kia said it was unlikely to be a big seller, but it will monitor how other diesel models sell and re-evaluate it down the track.
Rondo features the usual safety gear and six airbags as standard, including curtain airbags that extend to the second row but not the third. While it is yet to be crash tested by ANCAP, Kia said it is confident of a five-star safety rating for the little MPV.
The Rondo’s starting price of $29,990 puts it ahead of Toyota’s similarly proportioned Prius V that sells from $35,990 for the base model and Nissan’s seven-seat Dualis +2 that is more closely aligned at $31,190.
While this does give the Rondo an advantage, Kia still has a big challenge on its hands trying to convince SUV-obsessed Australian buyers that compact people-movers are cool, but they believe they have the car to do just that.
Other potential buyers are small car-lovers who might need a bit more space without venturing into a garish, road-hogging SUV as well as anyone wanting to disguise the fact they need an MPV.
In fact, this is really the point of the Rondo. It’s the compact people-mover for people who have to move people but don’t want the stigma that often comes with it.
Kia has a well-packaged, good-looking, economical little car that may yet carve out a solid niche in Australia.
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