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Car reviews - Kia - Rondo - 5-dr wagon range

Our Opinion

We like
Smart Euro design, useful and light interior space, clever packaging, doesn’t feel cheap
Room for improvement
Lacklustre petrol engine with a few people on board, significantly more expensive than the car it replaces

Kia logo30 Sep 2013

By BARRY PARK

Price and equipment

Kia’s new people-mover has a big load to carry even before you go and see it in the showroom – it has lost its mantle as Australia’s cheapest seven-seater after a price hike of $4000 over the outgoing model.

That means it now starts from $29,990 before on-road costs, although there is no price-carving manual version of the Rondo this time around, only cars fitted with a six-speed automatic.

Under the bonnet, there’s the choice of either a petrol or $2500 more expensive diesel engine. Cabin trim runs across three equipment grades: Si, the $33,990 SLi and $38,990 for the range-topping, petrol-only Platinum.

Even in base-model Si form, the Rondo is no pauper. It sits on 16-inch alloys shod in Nexen rubber, the key folds into a pocket-friendly fob, and the upholstery is a hard-wearing, but fashionable, cloth trim.

There's a Bluetooth phone connection that also streams music, a USB port for a portable music player, a small touchscreen, cruise and audio controls on the steering wheel, electric windows all around, and even wing mirrors that fold up out of the way of passing kids.

The more feature-rich SLi steps equipment up to 17-inch alloy wheels clad in Hankook hoops, dual-zone climate control, front parking sensors, LED daylight running lamps, leather trim seats with a 10-way powered driver’s seat that includes an extending squab to add more under-thigh support, puddle lights on side mirrors, steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, a colour screen in the middle of the instrument cluster, and roof rails.

The Platinum sits on 18-inch alloy wheels clad with Kumho rubber, and adds satellite navigation with a seven-inch touch screen, heated steering wheel, keyless start, a panoramic sunroof and a cooled glovebox.

Instead of leading the crowd on price, the Rondo now fights in the thick of it.

You can buy a seven-seat version of the Fiat Freemont – essentially a Dodge Journey with a small diesel engine under the bonnet – for less than the Kia, and Proton plans on launching its automatic-only Exiga seven-seater next month priced from just $25,990 driveaway – that’s only $1000 dearer than the old manual Rondo’s entry point.

Each will vie for what is essentially a tiny slice of the Australian new-car market.

Interior

The new Rondo was penned in Europe under the watchful eye of Audi’s former head of design, and it shows.

The interior is both understated and classy. Volkswagen-like piano black plastic trim, fine chrome-look trim and soft-touch surfaces on the dash, door sills and armrests give the impression the car is richer than the price tag suggests.

We didn’t drive the base-model Rondo, which isn’t expected to be a volume player, but we did get behind the wheel of both the diesel-engined SLi and petrol-engined Platinum.

The Rondo’s windscreen-forward design opens up acres of dashboard in front of the driver.

From behind the steering wheel, both have form-hugging seats that are supportive and comfortable, although the rigid-mount seatbelt clasp did dig uncomfortably into my hip.

There’s also a bit of Ford Territory in the Rondo, with plenty of storage spaces around the cabin including a deep glovebox, small trays on the side of the seats, and a console with a big bin sporting two 12-volt power outlets and a USB port, and a lidded bin that’s deep enough to swallow a full-size drink bottle. There’s a traditional handbrake, and two cupholders.

The dash on both cars sport a limited trip computer, but the presentation on the Platinum – in colour and showing a stylised side profile of the Rondo at start-up – looks a lot better.

The second-row seats are equally child-friendly. There are three top-tether child seat attachment points – or two ISOFIX mounts if you’re up for trying something new – small trays with cupholders that flip up from the back of both front seats, netting seatback pockets, and big door bins that mirror the front ones. The seats also get a pair of air vents, and the outboard seats have decent-sized underfloor tubs that add convenient space for nappies or other child-friendly emergency accessories.

If no one is sitting in the middle seat, it flips forward to reveal a tray and two cupholders.

The 40/30/40 split-fold second-row seats can slide back and forward to add or delete legroom as needed. Pull a low lever, and the seatback flips forward and the squab runs along its track to open up a small but adequate gap to access the third row. The seat will automatically slide back to its last position, but the seatback recline will need to be set manually.

The third row is clever, if not made for small children. The two seats rise up out of the floor separately, so if need be you can use one seat for a human, and leave the other side stowed for luggage. There’s even a small footwell, so the seating position is not too knees-up.

There’s a tiny amount of storage space with the third row in use, but stowed, the load space is deep, wide and, with the second-row seats stowed, van-like and flat in its proportions. The redesigned rear suspension means that even with the rearmost seats stowed, the load height is low.

Opening a small flap at the lip of the boot floor reveals a load bay screen that – if the third row is not in use – hides the boot’s contents away from prying eyes or direct sunlight.

The hatchback-style boot lid opens high enough to keep even tall people happy.

I managed to lock the key in the car by placing it in the ignition, remembering I’d left something in the house, and running back inside. By the time I came back, the Rondo had locked all the doors with the headlights on and my mobile phone still hooked up to the Bluetooth system.

You can change the car’s automatic door locking via the setting menu in the instrument cluster.

Engine and transmission

The four-cylinder diesel engine is definitely the pick of the litter. On paper, its 1.7-litre displacement produces only 100kW of power, which is about the same as a Toyota Corolla that only ever has to deal with five passengers.

However, it produces a V6-like 320Nm of torque from low down in the rev range.

Strong, quiet, and economical when mated to the smooth six-speed automatic transmission, the oil-burning version of the people-mover is a willing family member.

Step-off acceleration, such as taking off from a set of traffic lights, in the diesel isn’t brisk, but once the engine spools up it pulls well, providing plenty of highway overtaking power.

It’s quiet, and will officially use 6.4 litres of fuel per 100 kilometres. On test and with plenty of school run traffic thrown in, that figure was around 7.2L/100km.

That is in contrast to the petrol engine, which produces 122kW of power and 213Nm of torque, but from fairly high in the rev range. Smoother and quieter than the already quite refined diesel by comparison, the petrol engine in our Platinum bogged down with four children and a driver on board, requiring a fair application of the throttle on even mild slopes.

Again, after a week of school runs, we posted a 10.8L/100km average compared with an official combined figure of 7.9.

We spotted a problem with the Rondo’s cruise control set-up on the petrol car, too. Rolling down a hill under cruise control, the Rondo will snatch a lower gear to help arrest the creep in speed.

We had it set at 70km/h, and accelerated in a 100km/h zone without cancelling the cruise control. At the first corner, backing off the throttle, the Rondo dropped several gears, racing the engine as it tried to get the speed back down to 70km/h.

Ride and handling

It’s a people-mover, so you don’t expect the Rondo to be a dynamic champion. It’s not, but it doesn’t feel like a people-mover.

The ride and handling on the Rondo is well sorted, giving a smooth, compliant ride even with a load of children on board. Road roar from the rear tyres is a constant companion, but not overly intrusive.

The Rondo has a dynamic steering system accessed by a button on the steering wheel that adds or subtracts weight to the steering wheel, depending on how frisky the driver is feeling. Comfort makes its shopping centre car park light, normal is, well, normal, while sport adds too a tad too much weight for general tooling around, but serves a purpose.

The brakes are a tad on the bitey side with just the driver on board, but add a few bodies and they start to feel more linear.

Safety and servicing

Kia’s Rondo comes with the full suite of safety, including electronic stability control and six airbags that include head-protecting side curtain airbags.

However, the side airbags do not extend fully into the third row.

The old Rondo that this car replaces earned a four-star crash rating, however, the new model is yet to earn its stripes.

The entire Kia range comes with a five-year warranty that includes roadside assistance – a factor I took advantage of when the key locked itself in the car.

The Rondo also comes with with five years of capped-price servicing, costing $1770 for the petrol version and $1998 for the diesel.

Verdict

Kia’s new Rondo is more of a car that a family will grow out of rather than grow into, but without the social stigma of the dumpy model it replaces.

Apart from the dated Carnival, the Rondo is the latest edition to feature a distinctly European look and feel to Kia’s showroom, showing the Korean brand is vying to sell as much on its good looks as it does on its pricing.

It’s not perfect, and its tight third-row seats are better suited to occasional use rather than every day, but at least it has shaken those dowdy utilitarian looks of the Rondo it replaces.

For that, we can be nothing but glad.

Rivals

Fiat Freemont (from $28,500 drive-away).

Temporarily takes the mantle as the cheapest people-mover on the Australian market until the arrival of the Proton Exiga next month. North American-made and styled like an SUV, the Freemont sports a 125kW/220Nm 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine matched with a six-speed automatic transmission.

Lots of metal for the moneyHolden Captiva 7 (from $32,490 before on-roads).

Another high-riding, SUV-style people-mover, although this one, like the Rondo, hails from South Korea. Well equipped for the price, and features a 123kW/230Nm 2.4-litre four-cylinder mated to a six-speed auto. Let down by below-par ride and handling.

Proton Exiga (From $25,990 drive-away)Due next month, the Exiga will take the mantle of Australia’s cheapest, but still well-equipped, people-mover. Similar shape to the Rondo, and sporting a 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine under the bonnet mated to a stepless CVT auto. Only four airbags for a four-star crash rating, and based on Proton’s previous track record, a bit of a wildcard until we drive it.

Specs

MAKE/MODEL: Kia Rondo
ENGINE: 1.7-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel, 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol
LAYOUT: Front-engined, front drive
POWER: 100kW@4000rpm (d), 122kW@6500rpm (p)
TORQUE: 320Nm@1750-2500rpm (d), 213Nm@4700rpm (p)
TRANSMISSION: Six-speed automatic
0-100km/h: N/a
TOP SPEED: N/a
FUEL: 6.4L/100km (d), 7.9L/100km (p)
EMISSIONS: 170g/km CO2 (d), 184g/km CO2 (p)
WEIGHT: 1652kg (d) 1582kg (p)
SUSPENSION: Macpherson (f)/coupled torsion beam (r)
STEERING: Electronic assist rack and pinion
BRAKES: ventilated disc (f)/solid disc (r)
PRICE: From $29,990 before on-roads

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