2008 Kia Rondo EX-V6 Luxury
2008 Kia Rondo EX-V6 Luxury. Click image to enlarge
2008 Mazda5

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Kia Canada

Review and photos by Chris Chase

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2008 Kia Rondo

Ottawa, Ontario – This writer is really happy to see vehicles like the Kia Rondo, and its main competitor, the Mazda5, available in North America again.

Again? That’s right: this isn’t the first time we’ve seen a class of mini-minivans here. Back in the mid-1980s, when minivans were all the rage, there were a few nifty little tall-roof wagons being built to fill the gap being left by the quickly disappearing compact and subcompact wagon. The Mitsubishi-built Dodge/Plymouth/Eagle Vista was one of the longer-running of these wagons, and the Nissan Axxess (nee Multi) also enjoyed a decent run, at least in Canada. The first Honda Odyssey, 1995 to 1998, was also a smaller minivan based on the Accord platform.

I was sad to these small minivans disappear; presumably, sales dropped due to the rising popularity of small SUVs, which offered similar interior space and, in most cases, all-wheel drive. Mazda saw an opportunity to recreate the mini-minivan segment in 2006 with the Mazda5, and Kia followed in 2007 with the Rondo.

2008 Kia Rondo EX-V6 Luxury
2008 Kia Rondo EX-V6 Luxury. Click image to enlarge

So far, these two have received a warm welcome. Sales appear to be strong, and why not? The Rondo – and this type of vehicle in general – has a lot going for it.

The Rondo is based on the Kia Magentis mid-sized sedan, which, in turn, is more or less a re-bodied Hyundai Sonata; a good place to start for sure. The Rondo rides firmer than the Sonata (though the last one I drove was a 2006 model) and handles pretty well considering its tall roof.

The 2.7-litre V6 (Kia doesn’t use Hyundai’s larger 3.3-litre V6 in its mid-priced vehicles) is smooth and strong, and pulls the Rondo up to speed easily in most situations. The five-speed automatic is a good match here; four-cylinder models get a four-speed auto, but both transmissions offer a manual-shift function. Shifts are smooth, and left to its own devices, the five-speed responds to throttle prods with prompt downshifts.

My beef with the drivetrain has to do with the electronics charged with keeping the Rondo on course when the going gets slick. The traction control is far too intrusive: on snow and ice, the system will virtually kill the engine to eliminate wheelspin. This is especially frustrating in situations where some wheelspin is exactly what you need to get moving. Of course, decent tires would help, as the Rondo’s stock all-seasons are truly terrible in the winter. With a set of winter tires, the traction control wouldn’t have to work as hard which, given its overbearing nature, would be wonderful.

2008 Kia Rondo EX-V6 Luxury
2008 Kia Rondo EX-V6 Luxury
2008 Kia Rondo EX-V6 Luxury
2008 Kia Rondo EX-V6 Luxury. Click image to enlarge

At least the Rondo offers a comfortable interior in which to languish while traffic crawls along during a rush-hour snowfall. The seats – heated fronts and leather-upholstered all around in my EX-V6 Luxury model – are comfortable and supportive. The driving position is a little strange: adjust the seat for a comfortable reach to the wheel, and you’re too close to the pedals; adjust for the pedals and the wheel is too far away. A telescoping steering column (conspicuous by its absence) would help.

The second row bench is accommodating too, though the sculpted outboard positions are far preferable to the bump in the middle. As the top-end model, the EX-V6 Luxury version only comes as a seven-seater, and despite the Rondo’s small footprint, the third-row seat is surprisingly roomy. (Note the Mazda5 is a six-seater). If the padding on the Rondo’s third-row seats is a little thin (a concession to allow them to fold flat into the cargo floor) there’s at least enough room to keep average-sized adults happy for short trips. A second row that moves fore and aft helps.

The leather upholstery in my tester was the same synthetic-feeling stuff used in some other Hyundai and Kia models. Those accustomed to the super-soft leather found in higher-end cars will be disappointed, but in a family vehicle, I can see the leather – perfect or not – being easy to clean. Generally, interior materials and fit and finish are good.

Unlike the Mazda5 which has sliding rear side doors, the Rondo has standard swing-out rear doors. It’s a matter of personal preference which type you like, but the sliding doors do make it easier to get in and out in a tight parking space.

2008 Kia Rondo EX-V6 Luxury
2008 Kia Rondo EX-V6 Luxury. Click image to enlarge

It’s nice to see a relative upstart like Kia get in on a market segment that is so far getting very little attention in North America. In Europe, where the Rondo was born, these small people-movers are very popular. Hopefully, other manufacturers might decide it’s worth the trouble to send Canadianized versions of their MPV models our way. The new Dodge Journey, a seven-passenger crossover designed for international markets, will soon go on sale in Canada. Other European people-movers we’d like to see include Ford’s S-MAX and the Renault Grand Scenic (which, in theory, could be sold by Renault’s Nissan subsidiary).

Not that there’s anything wrong with the Rondo, but extra competition might breed further innovation in a vehicle segment that I think would thrive here. More vehicles like the Rondo on our roads? That would make me happy.

Pricing: 2008 Kia Rondo EX-V6 Luxury
  • Base price: $26,095 (base LX five-seat model; $19,995)
  • Options: none
  • A/C tax: $100
  • Freight: $1,650
  • Price as tested: $27,895
    Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives
  • Specifications: 2008 Kia Rondo
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