Car reviews - Kia - Rondo - people mover
Packaging, styling, value, ease of entry/egress, diesel performance and economy balance, warranty, quality interior
Room for improvement
Numb steering, fat pillars, weight blunts step-off performance, flat second-row cushion
6 Dec 2013
Price and equipment
IF nothing else, Kia’s persistence in the compact people mover segment is commendable.
Actually, make that comical. Remember the Carens of 2001? It was as awful as it was awkward.
Australia was mercifully spared the 2002 follow-up, but the third-gen UN series, known as the Rondo 7, surfaced in 2008 on the strength of affordability, easy manoeuvrability and a long warranty.
But few Aussies cared despite $24,990 pricing. Barely 2500 found homes over five years. Kia had hoped to shift 1800 annually. Maybe the Korean-market name might have worked better: New Face Carens.
Anyway, the ‘Power to Surprise’ people are at it again with the RP Rondo.
Out goes the wheezy old 2.0-litre, for a fresh direct-injection unit. Six-speed autos replace four, the old five-speed manual is history (partly explaining the alarming price hike), a cracking new diesel’s arrived (the one we’re testing here), and the whole look and feel whispers “Opel”… as in Zafira, from Germany.
Things are looking up all round.
But you’ll need $29,990 (plus on-road costs) to buy the base Si auto, or $32,490 for the CRDi diesel. Ours is the mid-range SLi spec.
Priced from a very un-Carens $36,490, it scores 17-inch alloys, dual-zone climate control, front sensors, LED daylight running lights, leather seats with electric adjustment for the driver, puddle lights to aid entry, paddle shifters to cure boredom, a colour touchscreen and roof rails.
That’s on top of the cruise control, cargo cover, MP3/CD/Bluetooth audio with media streaming and wheel-mounted controls, heated electric folding mirrors, electric windows, 16-inch alloys and tinted glass of the Si.
Another $1500 secures the Platinum, a petrol-only proposition with 18-inch alloys, sat-nav in a larger central screen, heated steering wheel, push button start, a panoramic sunroof and a cooled glovebox.
Kia’s cheapo compact people carrier, then, is no longer. Step right up Proton Exora. Instead Rondo now rubs shoulders with the evergreen Honda Odyssey, Peugeot’s unexpected 5008, Toyota’s underrated Prius V hybrid, and the hideous Subaru Exiga.
Contemporary, functional and elegant, the Rondo’s interior is perhaps Kia’s most impressive to date. It’s also far roomier than the compact exterior dimensions suggest.
There’s basically 5+2 seating available – five adults (at a pinch) and a pair of youngsters in the third row.
Each in the first two rows enjoys amenities such as air vents, cupholders, and storage facilities – including a couple of hidden spots in the floor (though their lids are both loose and fiddly to fit back in).
If you’re an SUV fan who prefers to sit higher than in regular cars, you’ll love the SLi’s electric seat-height adjuster, which elevates the driver (only) to quite a lofty level.
The front seats are sufficiently comfortable and supportive, with ample adjustment (just like the steering), and within easy reach of every single switch and control. Forward and side vision is ample thanks to lots of glass area, but the rear is a bit obstructed as in most modern cars. The standard reverse camera and rear parking sensors, then, are a boon.
Kia’s dials are big, simple and informative – though there’s no digital speedo option – while the fascia’s back lighting is very smart. There’s a quality look and feel to it all.
Large back doors open up wide for easy entry and egress to the middle row, backed up by a vast window that winds all the way down… great for dogs sticking their heads out of.
The rear bench is actually a proper five seater – as long as you’re of average girth, with the benefit of three individual semi-reclining and sliding chairs that provide access to the third row as well as fold flat to extend the load area.
With its (flimsy) airline-seat style trays, central air vents, map pockets and cubbyholes, Kia has certainly listened to the target audience. But adults might find the cushion too low, and lacking in sufficient thigh support.
Further back, a pair of taller adults can ride out shorter journeys without too much issue.
Folding the rearmost pews is as easy as lifting a lever and dropping them down flat. Erecting them again is just as simple – though there is nowhere to store the retractable cargo cover if you need to use the Rondo as a seven seater. At least Kia fits the second-row child-seat anchorage points directly behind the backrests as to not interfere with load-space capacity.
Used as a five-seater wagon the load area is pretty big, with a flat floor, fairly low loading area, and a smattering of extra storage slots. A space-saver spare wheel drops from beneath the vehicle, just like in old Peugeots. In fact, we wouldn’t be surprised in Kia looked at the way the old 505 wagon worked.
There are uncanny similarities between the two. Really.
Overall, then, with four generations of people movers to draw upon – as well as the larger Carnival experience – Kia’s pretty much thought of everything that a young family needs.
Plus, the drivetrain’s economy is likely to please as well.
Engine and transmission
Revealing its role in a larger overall European market context, the Rondo is available with a bang-up-to-date 1.7-litre four-cylinder common-rail turbo-diesel.
Relatively quiet and smooth, there’s a sizeable amount of oomph, but only after a moment’s delay. Like most modern diesels, this one hesitates before the torque starts barrelling through to the front wheels. Part of that is because of this Rondo's heft – it tips the scales at 1652kg.
Once on song, however, the CRDi provides more than sufficient levels of torque for effortless forward thrusts, and is impressively responsive on the open road.
Aided by a smooth-shifting six-speed auto, there’s more than ample power for fast overtaking situations, for example, while it will cruise quietly in top gear.
We spent most of our 10 days with the Rondo driving within the inner-suburbs of Melbourne, and even taking in heavy traffic scenarios, the Kia averaged a respectable 7.7L/100km.
Ride and handling
The good news is the Rondo is not at all drudgery to drive. And that’s something you can’t say of the preceding UN version.
With the help of that standard reverse camera, it is in fact a joy to park, and easy to see out of.
On the move the steering is light enough around town – even in Sport mode – yet with enough weight to feel solid and secure when cornering enthusiastically.
The front end has plenty of grip in the wet too.
Backed up by excellent brakes, the Rondo feels as solid as it looks.
Kia provides a number of steering weight settings, from the too-light Comfort, to the more palatable Normal and Sport.
But while you can certainly feel the difference in effort, the latter mode doesn’t affect the steering ratio at all.
Plus, no matter which one you choose, there’s not much feel from the helm. The turning circle is a bit bigger than you might expect, while the ride on the SLi’s 17-inch alloys feels a bit stiff at times.
However, this is an inexpensive, easy to drive and secure-feeling seven-seater people mover with more refinement and features than its relatively modest pricing suggests, so we won’t complain too much about the dull dynamics.
Towing capacity, by the way, is 750kg with a trailer without brakes and 1500kg with.
Safety and servicing
Five-year’s worth of unlimited kilometre warranty, with 12-month/15-month service intervals, help make the Rondo one of the least expensive vehicles to own and run in its class.
It also manages a five-star ANCAP crash-test rating.
However, the curtain airbags only cover two rows of seats, and not the rear. Verdict
Europe loves its small or medium-car based MPVs like the Rondo 7, but with the exception of the Honda Odyssey, none have really taken off in Australia.
The road is filled with the carcasses of those who’ve tried, like the Holden Zafira, Mitsubishi Grandis, and Toyota Avensis Verso.
Kia’s latest attempt, however, not only deserves to succeed, it is good enough to make people think twice about buying the heavier, thirstier and far less space-efficient SUV-based seven-seaters like the Toyota Kluger and Holden Captiva 7.
In SLi CRDi guise, the South Korean family carryall makes for an interesting and likeable alternative, while providing a dash of flair that its predecessors have been sorely lacking.
At last, the Rondo has arrived.
Toyota Prius V (from $35,990 plus on-roads),A more appealing and technologically modern version of the smaller Prius hatch, the seven-seater ‘V’ is a genuinely clever compact people mover, with exceptional versatility and economy. But it could use a bit more oomph.
Peugeot 5008 Active HDi (from $40,490 plus on-roads).
Large, solid and practical, the French people mover may look a bit boxy and boring outside, but its cabin has a fair bit of flair and useability, the punchy diesel provides decent economy, while the chassis is the sharpest here.
Honda Odyssey (from $37,100 plus on-roads).
Now in its twilight years, the fourth-generation Odyssey is nevertheless a comfortable and refined anomaly on the Aussie market, transcending class barriers with its smooth refinement and quality engineering.
MAKE/MODEL: Kia RP Rondo 7 SLi CRDi
ENGINE: 1685cc 4-cyl common-rail turbo-diesel
LAYOUT: FWD, transverse
POWER: 100kW @ 4000rpm
TORQUE: 320Nm @ 1750-2500rpm
TRANSMISSION: Six-speed auto
TOP SPEED: N/A
SUSPENSION f/r: Struts/Torsion beam
STEERING: Electric rack and pinion
BRAKES f/r: Discs/discs
PRICE: From $36,490 plus on-roads
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