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Car reviews - Kia - Rondo - EX-L 5-dr wagon

Our Opinion

We like
Relatively cavernous interior, very practical interior, good value
Room for improvement
Coarse engine that also needs more torque, no cruise control

Kia logo24 Jul 2008

SHOPPING for a new people-mover can’t be as exciting as buying, say, a new sports car.

While you might become a bit tremulous over the colour chart brochures and it might be a slightly dizzying prospect to have something shiny and new in your driveway, signing the papers for a new people-mover is usually the bland but filling stodge of vehicular purchases.

There is rarely much sizzle with this steak, especially when you have less than $35k to spend.

A recent addition to the menu is the Kia Rondo, which starts out at $24,990 and holds the mantle (as did its predecessor, the Carens) as the cheapest new people-mover on sale.

In this lower band of people-movers, it’s lean pickings. The Volkswagen Caddy Life and the Skoda Roomster are the only competitors close to the Kia Rondo on price.

Others, such as the Citroen C4 Picasso, Renault Grand Scenic and Toyota Avensis are closer to the $40,000 mark. The most expensive Rondo, the EX-L, is just $31,990 - $1000 less than Kia's entry-level Carnival V6.

On price alone, then, the Rondo already looks attractive, but it's fair to say it’s a good looking car, too, especially when sitting on the 17-inch alloys that come standard on EX and EX-L. The Rondo is a stark contrast to the ugly, bread loaf style of competitors.

The Rondo is larger than you first think, with its 4545mm length and 1800mm width putting it just 200mm shorter than a Magentis sedan but nearly the same width.

The Rondo’s exterior borders on the line between small and medium-size, and it looks well-finished with the EX-L’s chrome brightwork on door-handles and lower door strips.

Though the Rondo is good value, you don’t get something for nothing. The metallic paint finish does not extend to unseen areas such as the tailgate surround, which is painted in flat grey, and cruise control is not available (which, Kia admits, is due to a lack of engineering resources rather than any penny-pinching).

The interior is where the Rondo gets full points for practicality. The large yet light doors open wide and allow you to slip in easily onto the seats.

The dashboard has an integral centre stack/transmission selector and the array of instruments and controls are easy to use and there is ample storage space.

Even though the adjustments allow most drivers to get comfortable in the slightly flat seats, the steering wheel is adjustable for rake but not reach.

While it is practical, the interior plastics and trim do look as if they were made to a price. The Soviet-grade plastics Kia used to proffer are thankfully gone, but just don’t expect that the Rondo will serve up prestige German quality at a Korean price.

Vision out of the Rondo is quite good, with only the D-pillars and rear window not providing the unobscured view they could if designed with more glass area.

The second row, with its fore-aft adjustment and 60/40 split, is a really good space for kids and adults alike. The floor area has only a slightly raised centre section, which permits light luggage storage or more foot room for a centre-seated occupant.

Three child seat anchors are usefully fitted to the seatbacks (although, depending on the seat design, three child seats would probably not fit across the bench) and access to the third-row seats is easy with an unusually wide opening with the second row folded forward.

The third-row seats are a simple and easy set-up, with a one-pull loop raising them out of the flat cargo floor. There is enough foot room for shorter adults to sit comfortably on urban runs and there is a small amount of cargo space remaining with the third row in use, as you’d find in most seven-seaters. With the third row folded into the floor, the cargo area is a very usable, squared-off area.

The Rondo’s engine seems promising when it fires up to its silken-smooth idle, and it is very responsive off the mark. Unfortunately things just go downhill from there, in terms of performance and refinement.

There is clearly a lack of mid-range torque at even 30km/h that you may not notice if driving in a leisurely fashion but will be apparent if you’re even in the vaguest sense of a hurry or driving with a full load on board. The engine feels harsh from as low as 3500rpm, too.

The good news is that Rondo’s official fuel consumption figure of 8.4L/100km combined seems within reach - if you don’t expect to drive it to extract all its performance at least.

The four-speed auto transmission has been given the awkward job of getting the most from a lacklustre engine, and it is a passable result - although the manual mode gate is all too easily to mistakenly selected when doing a back-and-fill parking manoeuvre. It also seems out of place that, with five or six-speed autos commonplace these days, the Rondo makes do with four forward speeds.

Aside from some engine noise when revved, the Rondo is reasonably quiet on the road in the main. That said, the noise from driving over expansion joints on Sydney’s Parramatta Road nearly had me pulling over to see what the regular flapping noise was underneath the car.

The Rondo handles well on its grippy 17-inch tyres, tracking true and flat though corners taken with a degree of caution. The steering is lighter than many would prefer and while direct enough, it doesn’t have the feel to make you want to trade-in the MX-5. It handles like a reasonably well-sorted - if not exciting - hatchback.

The Rondo is very good value, and has the practical, versatile interior that so many families want but so many other car-makers fail to deliver.

The Rondo would be a very good car, if its engine were better. Though it could be argued that many look at a people-mover as an A to B car, there will also be those who expect their new car’s engine to be smooth and responsive no matter what the price.

In other markets, the Rondo is available with a 2.4-litre petrol four, a 2.7-litre petrol V6 or a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel.

Kia Australia will bring in the diesel Rondo in 2009. It could be just what the Rondo needs to turn it from a smart people-mover with an average engine into a great all-rounder.

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