First Drive: 2007 Kia Rondo kia first drives
2007 Kia Rondo. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Greg Wilson

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The new Kia Rondo is a car in search of an identity. A cross between a car, wagon, SUV and van, the Rondo combines some of the characteristics of each of those vehicles into what Kia describes as “a family-oriented urban utility vehicle” (a UUV?). Basically, it’s a tall, five- or seven-passenger hatchback: it’s taller than a typical car, has a unit body platform with a fully independent suspension, is available with three rows of seats, and has a large lift-up hatch for easy access to the rear cargo area.

Based on the recently-redesigned Kia Magentis sedan platform, which also underpins the Hyundai Sonata sedan, the Rondo is as roomy as a compact SUV (it’s roomier than a Honda CR-V, for example) but has the ride comfort and driving manners of a car. Kia says its closest competitors include the Mazda5, Toyota Matrix, Chrysler PT Cruiser, and Chevrolet HHR, but the Rondo is roomier than all of those vehicles and is the only one with available seven passenger seating. The Mazda5 does have three rows of seats, but it carries six passengers. However, the Mazda5 has sliding rear side doors like a minivan, whereas the Rondo has conventional swing-out rear doors.

First Drive: 2007 Kia Rondo kia first drives
2007 Kia Rondo. Click image to enlarge

The Rondo comes with a standard 162-hp 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine, but it’s also available with an optional 182-hp 2.7-litre V6 engine – the only vehicle in its class available with a V6. With its SUV-like stature, you might expect the Rondo to be offered with optional all-wheel drive, but it isn’t. All Rondos are front-wheel drive.

Practical without being overweight or difficult to drive, the new Rondo is the latest in a new-generation of space-efficient family vehicles – with the added advantage of being priced lower than those other seven-passenger vehicles in the marketplace: minivans and SUVs.


Pricing and standard equipment

The Rondo is clearly a good value. Base Rondo LX four-cylinder models start at $19,995 and carry a fairly extensive list of standard equipment: a four-speed automatic transmission with manual shift mode, five-passenger seating, 205/60HR-16 inch tires with alloy wheels, four disc brakes with ABS, front, side and curtain airbags, electronic stability control, 60/40 split folding rear seatbacks, AM/FM/CD stereo with four speakers, power windows, and power door locks.

First Drive: 2007 Kia Rondo kia first drives
2007 Kia Rondo. Click image to enlarge

The next step up, Rondo EX four-cylinder models ($21,995), include all of the above plus air conditioning, cruise control, keyless entry and alarm, fog lamps, roof rack, heated mirrors, upgraded cloth seats with front seat heaters, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and two more speakers.

The Rondo EX Premium ($23,995), adds the third row seat, leather seats, power moonroof, sliding second row seats, and P225/50R-17 inch tires and alloy wheels.

First Drive: 2007 Kia Rondo kia first drives
2007 Kia Rondo. Click image to enlarge

But perhaps the best value in the Rondo line-up is the five-seater EX V6 ($22,995) which includes all of the features in the EX four-cylinder, but substitutes a 182-hp 2.7-litre V6 engine and five-speed automatic transmission with manual shift mode for just a thousand dollars more than the four-cylinder EX.

The top-of-the-line Rondo EX Luxury model ($25,995) adds the third row seat, sliding second row seats, leather seating material, 17-inch tires and wheels, power moonroof, power driver’s seat, automatic climate control and trip computer.

My only substantive complaint about the standard equipment is that you cannot get a seven-passenger model with cloth seats: all seven-passenger models have leather seats.

First Drive: 2007 Kia Rondo kia first drives
First Drive: 2007 Kia Rondo kia first drives
First Drive: 2007 Kia Rondo kia first drives
First Drive: 2007 Kia Rondo kia first drives
2007 Kia Rondo. Click image to enlarge


Interior impressions

Compared to its closest competitor, the Mazda5, the Rondo is 65 mm shorter, 65 mm wider, 20 mm taller, and has a wheelbase that’s 50 mm shorter. Though the Rondo is shorter than the Mazda5 and has a shorter wheelbase, it’s considerably roomier inside. The Rondo has more headroom, legroom and shoulder room than the Mazda5 in the first, second and third rows with the exception of third row headroom. The Rondo’s total interior volume of 4413 litres compares to the Mazda5′s 4024 litres, while its maximum cargo space of 2,083 litres compares to 857 litres in the Mazda5 (behind first row seats with rear seatbacks folded down). (I checked these figures twice because they’re difficult to believe. I can only surmise that the Rondo’s taller roof, wider body, and lower floor make the difference.)

Getting in and out of the Rondo is very easy because its four large doors are very wide, the roof is tall, the step-in height is low, and the seat cushions are raised so that you slide in laterally. However, there is a downside: the doors are so wide – especially the rear doors – that care must be taken not to hit the car parked next to you in a parking lot. This is where the Mazda5 has an advantage with its sliding rear doors.

Though the step-in height is low, the driver sits up higher than in a typical car and has excellent visibility to the front, side and rear – for shorter drivers, a manual height adjustable driver’s seat and tilt steering wheel will accommodate any height differences.

First Drive: 2007 Kia Rondo kia first drives
First Drive: 2007 Kia Rondo kia first drives
First Drive: 2007 Kia Rondo kia first drives
2007 Kia Rondo. Click image to enlarge

The Rondo has very large windows; in particular, the Rondo’s large rear window makes it much easier to see where you’re going when reversing than in most SUVs, vans and cars. As well, the Rondo has a rear defroster, wiper and washer – but unfortunately, the rear wiper doesn’t have an intermittent setting.

I drove both the five-passenger and seven-passenger Rondos, and the interiors are similar except for the seating materials and the third row seat. I liked the Rondo’s surprisingly high quality dashboard plastics and pleasing colour schemes, and the sensible, easy-to-reach controls. The centre dash controls protrude forwards for easy reach as does the high-mounted shift lever which falls easily to the right hand. The round instruments have large numerals and bright yellow backlighting at night. Four large circular vents provide excellent air circulation and quick heat-up times. Below the centre console is an open storage area with a 12-volt powerpoint for electronic devices, and behind that are two cupholders with cup grippers. Between the front seats is a handy bi-level storage bin with armrest.

First Drive: 2007 Kia Rondo kia first drives
First Drive: 2007 Kia Rondo kia first drives
First Drive: 2007 Kia Rondo kia first drives
First Drive: 2007 Kia Rondo kia first drives
First Drive: 2007 Kia Rondo kia first drives
2007 Kia Rondo. Click image to enlarge

For first and second row passengers, there’s plenty of headroom and legroom. The optional third row seat is narrower than the second row and not as comfortable, but at least the floor is low enough so that your knees aren’t up under your chin.

In five-passenger models, the second row 60/40 split bench seatbacks can be folded flat with one easy motion: just lift the lever on top of the seats and the seatbacks articulate forwards and lie flat level with the rear cargo floor. The second row head restraints don’t have to be removed first.

In seven-passenger models, the second row seats have a fore-aft adjustment to increase or decrease legroom for third row passengers, or allow more cargo room behind the seats. These second row seats have a different, slightly more complicated folding design: the seat cushion must be lifted up from the rear, and the seatback folded down flat after removing the head restraint. There are two slots in the back of the seat cushion to store each head restraint.

The 50/50 split third row seatbacks also fold flat level with the rear cargo floor, but unlike in the five-passenger model, there is a gap in the floor between the second and third row seatbacks when folded down.

The rear cargo hatch door is huge, yet not overly heavy to lift up, and it provides a wide, tall opening with a low liftover height. Cargo space behind the third row seat amounts to 186 litres (vs 112 litres in the Mazda5). Behind the second row, the Rondo has twice as much luggage space as the Mazda5 (898 litres vs 426 litres). And behind the first row with the second row seats folded flat, total cargo space equals 2,083 litres (compared to 857 litres in the Mazda5). A bonus is hidden storage compartments with dividers and a small tool kit underneath the cargo floor. One complaint though: a cargo privacy cover is not standard equipment.


Driving impressions

With just the driver on board, the four-cylinder Rondo is quick off the line, and very peppy on the highway, but I suspect that with a full load of passengers and cargo on board, it would be straining while ascending hills. Still, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this four-cylinder motor: it’s surprisingly smooth and torquey. At 100 km/h in top gear, the four-cylinder engine does just 2400 rpm, and 2800 rpm at 120 km/h. At those speeds the four-cylinder engine is just a distant buzz.

First Drive: 2007 Kia Rondo kia first drives
2007 Kia Rondo. Click image to enlarge

There’s no doubt that when accelerating, the 182-hp 2.7-litre six-cylinder engine is quicker, particularly when passing on the highway. It’s also quieter and smoother, but surprisingly, fuel economy isn’t significantly worse than the four-cylinder engine. Official fuel consumption figures for the four-cylinder Rondo with the standard four-speed automatic are 11.0 L/100 km (26 mpg Imp.) City and 7.5 L/100 km (38 mpg Imp.) Highway. That’s better than the Mazda5 (with four-speed automatic) 11.2 L/100 km (25 mpg Imp) City and 8.3 L/100 km (34 mpg Imp.). The Rondo V6′s reasonably good fuel consumption is probably due to its five-speed automatic transmission and extra torque: 11.8 L/100 km (24 mpg Imp.) City, and 7.9 L/100 km (36 mpg Imp.) Highway.

Both four and five-speed automatic transmissions are very smooth and responsive to kickdown, although as you might expect, I preferred the five-speed automatic. Both offer a manual ‘Steptronic’ shifting mode. The driver simply moves the shift lever to the right and taps back to shift down and forwards to shift up.

First Drive: 2007 Kia Rondo kia first drives
First Drive: 2007 Kia Rondo kia first drives
2007 Kia Rondo. Click image to enlarge

The highlight of the Rondo’s performance, for me, was its comfortable ride and decent handling. Despite its fairly tall body, the Rondo doesn’t feel tippy in the corners, and handles surprisingly well. It has a very smooth ride, absorbing road bumps, pavement cracks and even railway crossings well. The Rondo’s power rack and pinion steering is direct and precise, though it doesn’t have variable-assist. But I didn’t like the smooth leather used on the leather-wrapped steering wheel – it just wasn’t grippy enough for me.


Conclusion

Overall, I was very impressed with the Rondo for its combination of roominess, ride, handling and fuel economy – and reasonable price. The styling isn’t particularly distinctive, but it’s not unattractive either. The Rondo’s biggest problem is that it’s a Kia: few Canadian consumers today are aware of how far this company has come in the last five years, with many consumer’s attitudes about Kia formed by unflattering Kia jokes heard on “The Tonight Show”. With over 140 Kia dealers in Canada now, servicing issues aren’t the problem they used to be either. And it’s worth noting that all Kias come with a bumper-to-bumper five-year/100,000 km warranty. I would recommend you drive the Rondo before dismissing it. This is a surprisingly likeable family vehicle.


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