Greg N. Brown, Contributor
It's not an easy thing to get people interested in practicality, but the 2007 Kia Rondo does its best. The Rondo has all the right numbers that add up to something we can all recognize as practical goodness: the whole matrix of five-door hatchback, seven-passenger capacity, V6 power and a price under $25,000.
See, your attention is wandering already.
But as soon as you figure out that the Kia Rondo is the practical version of what all of America wants to drive, then you start listening. It might seem plain and anonymous, yet the 2008 Kia Rondo is the right-size version of the car-based crossover sport-utility. The Rondo delivers practicality without pretense, as if it were trying to be the Volkswagen Beetle of a new genre.
Does downsizing have an upside? Based on the well-regarded Kia Optima sedan, the front-wheel-drive Rondo is the third generation of a vehicle known as the Kia Carens to the rest of the world, where it competes in a thriving segment of compact multipurpose vehicles (MPV). Kia has brought it to America in order to capitalize on the trend toward downsized family-friendly utility vehicles.
Though the Rondo's only direct competitor here is the Mazda 5, it goes up against a slew of crossovers that promise carlike driving characteristics and varied levels of interior utility. The Rondo is set apart by optional seating for seven, the choice between inline-4 and V6 engines, and a high value quotient when cost and Kia's generous warranty are factored together.
The concept is sound, but there's still a question as to whether the Rondo is slightly ahead of a rising curve or just a footnote to the crossover craze. So far, Americans have preferred their crossovers to look like SUVs or trucks (GMC Acadia, Mazda CX-7), or have a nostalgic twist (Chevy HHR, Chrysler PT Cruiser). In contrast, the Kia Rondo makes its statement with sensible engineering and an affordable price.
The pricing is pretty aggressive. The Rondo starts at just over $16,000 for the LX model with its four-cylinder engine. The LX V6 begins at just under $19,000 and finally the upper-class EX V6 stickers at $20,195. Fully optioned, our EX V6 test vehicle bottom-lined at a very attractive $22,495. This is a provocative price in a market where the price of a Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4 can approach $30,000.
Imagine a powerful Kia Don't confuse power with powerful, even though the Rondo's all-aluminum, twin-cam V6's 182 horsepower places it at the top of its class. Our test ute averaged some 8.7 seconds to accelerate to 60 mph, an eternity these days. Yet there's nothing else in its class with as much go-power, and the V6's responsive throttle and absence of harshness make it feel stronger than the numbers suggest.
The Rondo's quarter-mile performance hardly strained our necks, as it clocked in with 16.8 seconds at 82.6 mph. Yet again, the V6 proved to be a good fit in this 3,709-pound vehicle, keeping it afloat in the maelstrom of urban traffic. We wanted more power, of course, but the V6 never forced us to slink shamefully into the slow lane.
A five-speed automatic is the only transmission choice for the V6 engine (the 162-hp inline-4 is matched with a four-speed automatic), but who wants to shift a vehicle designed for stop-and-go utility? Fuel mileage is average, though the tall 5th gear helps the Rondo V6 achieve almost the same EPA-rated mileage (20 mpg city/27 mpg highway) as the Rondo four-cylinder (21 mpg city/29 mpg highway).
Dressing up the wagon Kia's designers have done a credible job of camouflaging the boxiness of this nearly 15-foot-long wagon. It looks a little like Kia's Sedona minivan, but the well-chiseled body panels, carlike nose, swept-back windshield, curved roof line and hinge-operated rear doors give the Rondo a unique, if somewhat anonymous, character.
The Rondo is about 2 inches shorter from nose to tail than the Mazda 5, stands about an inch taller and is slightly heavier. Another competitor might be the Dodge Caliber, but it's smaller than the Rondo by about 6 inches in length and 5 inches in height. Size matters most, however, when it's on the move, and the Rondo's compact dimensions allow it to slip easily through crowded parking lots and up narrow city streets.
There's nothing goofy or awkward in the Rondo's overall look, but there's also little to captivate the mind's eye. It might just be the perfect getaway car for a seven-member gang. Eyewitnesses would have a hard time describing it to the cops.
Dividing up the box A multipurpose vehicle justifies its existence from the inside, and the Rondo makes a good argument for the type. Its cockpit is logically laid out, the seating is comfortable and hauling room is both generous and variable. There are lots of cupholders (up to 10!) and storage compartments, though navigation and multimedia systems are not yet being offered.
Most Rondos will likely be sold as five-seaters; we tested a seven-seater. The second row slides back and forth and the seatbacks tilt, so it's easy to climb into the optional third row. There's plenty of headroom back there, but the proximity of the seats to the rear window makes it a questionable place to transport precious cargo. There's no LATCH child-seat anchor back there either, which suggests it's not a place for little kids. When not being used, the third row folds flat in a 50/50 split, increasing the 6.5 cubic feet of cargo volume behind the third row to 31.7 cubic feet of luggage room behind the second row of seats. The second-row seats have a 60/40 split and also fold flat.
Safety has become a major selling point for Kia in recent years, and the Rondo supplies a high level of standard measures, including front- and side-impact airbags for the front seats and two full-length side curtain airbags, augmented by ABS and electronic stability control.
Take it easy, rider The Rondo gets down the road securely and comfortably, with the fully independent suspension doing a good job of moderating body roll and damping impacts from the road. Braking distances are average, but the pedal action is nicely linear and gives the driver confidence that the Rondo will stop when required.
Even though it has a tall roof line, the Rondo squats low to the ground and never feels tippy in the corners. The driver sits in a commanding position with excellent sight lines fore and aft, so negotiating through traffic or backing up into a parking spot is nearly as easy as it would be in a passenger car.
At higher speeds, the tires feel a bit overwhelmed by the car's 3,704-pound mass, but never to the point that control is threatened. The Rondo doesn't handle quite as nimbly as the Mazda 5, but it's easy and intuitive to drive.
We tallied few complaints during our test. There's lots of wind noise around the A-pillars at highway speeds and the swing-out rear doors made entry and exit for passengers a bit of a chore in tight parking spots.
Sense and sensibility The 2008 Kia Rondo shouldn't have gotten our attention, but it did. Despite a lack of distinction in the way it looks or drives, we liked it because of its unpretentious personality. It goes everywhere, does as it's told and comes back ready for more the next day.
It makes you feel pretty good when you can walk into the garage and find a vehicle that can get through the day without a bit of drama. Practicality without pretense is a good thing.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
Director of Vehicle Testing Dan Edmunds says: To me, Kia's new Rondo is one of those inside-out multiuse vehicles that crop up from time to time. Remember the Nissan Stanza or the Mitsubishi Expo LRV? I didn't think so.
The Rondo doesn't look particularly good or have familiar proportions, so it's hard to know how to talk about it or what to compare it to. Is it an ultra-small minivan? But where are the sliding rear doors? Is it a wagon? But it sure is tall. How about a CUV? There isn't anything remotely off-road about this Kia and all-wheel drive isn't in the cards.
Whatever the Rondo is, the folks at Kia did a pretty good job with it. The interior is well-trimmed and attractive, and the controls are simple and easy to operate. While the Rondo isn't particularly sporty, its handling is sound and it has a well-controlled ride that isn't overly mushy. In short, it's a decent car/van/wagon.
But a third-row seat? My wife took one look at it and nixed my request for our girls to try it out on a recent trip. She didn't like the proximity of their noggins to the rear glass. Grown adults don't exactly fit back there either, although access is good via a neat slide-and-fold second row.
In Europe or Asia, the Rondo has been sold as the Kia Carens since 1999. In those places people understand this market segment, and the Carens has been quite successful. While the Rondo is generally a good piece, I'm not sure it'll do as well here. When it comes to family hauling chores, Americans don't seem to speak the same automotive language.
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