Need some serious space? Minivan options got you down? Prefer something more compact and smarter? Maybe the Kia Rondo is what you’re looking for.
They should have awards for Most Improved Everything in the automotive world. Because the 2014 Kia Rondo would be a contender. A serious contender. Though nobody would contest the previous Rondo’s ability to offer utility, it was a nasty looking thing and didn’t come across as a particularly luxurious or advanced vehicle. But this one? This is a whole different story.
2014 KIA Rondo
Base price (EX Luxury 7-seater trim): $32,195
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $33,960
Under the Hood
Kia puts its 2.0-litre direct injection 4-cylinder under the “bonnet”. It’s a healthy step up from the ubiquitous 1.8-litre four, putting out 164 horsepower at 6500 RPM and 156 lb.ft of torque at 4700 RPM. The front wheels get fed by a slick 6-speed automatic transmission.
The car isn’t a lightweight, but it’s not a porker either, weighing in at 1581 kilograms (3485 pounds). That allows it to put up reasonable fuel economy numbers – 9.2 L/100 km (26 mpg) in the city and 6.3 L/100 km (37 mpg) on the highway. I averaged 10.5 L/100 km (22 mpg) during a week of heavy driving. Most of the time was spent in the city, but it did get a little highway work-out too. I have to say I was a bit disappointed in my own mileage.
The previous Rondo couldn’t be a looker from any angle. I don’t think it even tried to be honest. Thankfully, Kia took a huge chisel to it and the new one ended up with a nice clean shape. The modern lines are pleasing from most angles. The shape doesn’t belie its mission to move people and stuff, yet it has a fun, sporty and even slightly aggressive edge to it. Every single person that came to check it out – and there were a lot of them – was appreciative of the styling.
The front end has nice headlight pods, stuffed with xenon HIDs and nifty LED daytime running lights. Heck, in this trim you even get headlight washer nozzles. The rear end is similarly imbued with high-end goodies, sporting LED tail lights.
The package is completed with handsome 18″ alloy rims and meaty 225/45-sized rubber.
As Kia is wont to do as of late, the inside benefits from some nice materials – most of the dash is soft-touch plastic and there are nice touches like the door panels getting upholstered in perforated leather-like material. The bright white LED lighting throughout the interior takes it up a notch too.
I was very happy with the heated steering wheel that wouldn’t be out of place in a sports car – it has a thick rim and a perfect diameter, with controls for cruise, media, the driver information screen, phone, handsfree and steering modes. There are two main gauges separated by a strangely-named supervision cluster, which is a nice, sharp LCD screen with plenty of driver information – trip meters and fuel economy, media, navigation, vehicle alerts and settings.
The heated leather seats are great in terms of comfort and actually have a decent amount of bolstering. The driver’s side is also cooled and power-adjustable, including a powered extendable seat cushion. At the top of the center stack is a nice screen that manages the media system, phone functions, navigation and back-up camera – parking is further augmented by audible front and rear parking sensors. The media system offers a plethora of sources – AM, FM, satellite, auxiliary, USB, CD and Bluetooth streaming – and the upgraded audio system adds a subwoofer and sounds pretty good. You’ll find a few hard buttons to access the major functions below the screen but everything else is controlled by touch. I found the voice recognition to be very accurate and relatively quick. The bottom of the stack holds the dual-zone automatic climate control.
The Rondo’s center console is home to the gear selector, two cupholders than can be covered by a sliding lid and an electronic parking brake. I liked that all four windows were auto open/close – a little touch that remains elusive in cars twice this one’s price. There’s also a smart key for keyless entry and a push-start ignition. Oh, and lest we forget, potentially the biggest panoramic sunroof I’ve ever seen – the front panel tilts and slides, and there’s a power sunshade too.
The little people mover offers up a great space for the second row. The seats, each with a headrest and seatbelt, have great headroom and legroom (for my 5’10” frame anyway). The middle one is narrow, as is expected. Also, if your legs are really long, you’ll be bumping up against hard plastic seatbacks on the front seats. Adding to the comfort is the ability to slide the second row fore and aft, as well as recline. There are adjustable air vents and a 12V plug at the back of the center console, along with a couple of mesh seatback pockets and the middle seatback folds down to become an armrest. Oh, did I mention the two outboard seats are heated back there? Awesome.
There was plenty of space for our three kids, and we appreciate the two sets of LATCH anchors for their seats as well as the rear sunshades for the large windows.
The third row is a different story. First, it is reasonably easy to access – a lever on the second row seat slides and folds it forward, making ingress to the very back less tortuous than you might think. The torture starts once you’re in. There are two seats (with headrests and seatbelts). They’re fine width-wise and headroom is OK, but legroom is only meant for children. I could not sit in the third row without sliding the second one forward far enough to make it useless. That said, our kids loved it back there. Each one gets a little storage space, and the right side even gets a cupholder. The left side is meant for commoners who don’t drink apparently.
There are a few places to put your stuff around the cabin. There’s a decent sized glove compartment (which is air conditioned!) and some highly usable door bins. At the front of the console, there’s a pop-up lid revealing a rubberized bin with two 12V plugs as well as the auxiliary and USB plugs and there’s a small carpeted bin under the armrest lid. I liked the cool underfloor storage bins on both sides – you’ll find them under the second row floor mats.
There’s a small but useful space in the trunk when the third row is in use – there are 232 litres of room. That grows to a fantastic 912 litres with the third row folded down – with second row folded down (it splits 60/40) you have a massive 1840 litres trunk to work with.
The third row splits 50/50, allowing for significant flexibility in hauling people and their stuff. There’s also a 12V plug and some underfloor storage in the trunk – which can hold the removable, retractable tonneau cover.
The Rondo has plenty of power off the line. I found the powertrain torquey enough to be satisfying in all normal driving situations. When it comes to brisk acceleration or passing on the highway, this isn’t the car that’s going to set records. I don’t mind that at all, as it never advertises itself that way. I did find that the engine gets a little noisy at higher RPMs (over 3000) but it never felt thrashy, and frankly, I rarely needed the engine to be above those RPMs.
The 6-speed automatic is wonderfully smooth and relatively smart. As a matter of fact, it’s slick enough to make this car feel a lot more expensive than it is. It does head for higher gears a little quicker than I’d like, prioritizing fuel economy over perfect revs for every situation. It can be manually shifted (with the gear selector – there aren’t any paddles available in the Rondo).
I liked the firm ride. It always felt controlled but always remained comfortable. The firmness was most noticeable around corners – if there are some irregularities in the pavement in the curves, the Rondo gets a bit jiggly, but overall I think the suspension is tuned very well for this vehicle’s mission. It handles well – yes, it feels top-heavy and there’s body roll but the Rondo grips the pavement nicely and I always had the impression that I was commanding a competent ride. I also liked the stability at highway speeds, where we noticed it was pretty quiet too.
The Rondo’s steering is the weak point in the driving experience. Frankly, I’ve said that about a number of Kias now. The steering is numb and overboosted. The Steering Mode (which allows you switch between Normal, Sport and Comfort) is misleading. It doesn’t really change anything except for the steering effort. Even in Sport setting, it felt floppy and not nearly mechanical or connected enough for my liking.
There’s an active ECO mode – it dulls the Rondo’s responses in favour of fuel economy. I felt it makes things too sluggish and I didn’t like driving in this mode. The brakes are fine in terms of their capabilities. They’re a bit spongy at the beginning and progress to a bit grabby quickly, but overall, they’re easy enough to drive with.
Finally, though it’s not the most important thing on a car like this, the Ronda was blessed with a great dead pedal – thanks Kia!
I had a few nitpicks, to be sure. One of the most hemorrhoidal things was the satellite radio. This has been a chronic issue with Kias for me. It loses signal – constantly. Approximately every 5 minutes, the satellite radio goes silent and it says “acquiring signal” on the screen. Definitely something Kia needs to work on.
Considering all the gee-whiz goodies they’ve included, I was a bit surprised to find that a power liftgate isn’t even an option. Obviously this is platform related and not a knock on the car itself, but it would be pretty awesome (especially here in Alberta) if the Ronda was available in all all-wheel drive.
We really liked the automatic folding mirrors – they fold up when car is turned off, and fold out when they sense you (and your smart key) approaching the car. And speaking of very cool – one of the trunk lights pops out to become a removable LED flashlight. Nifty.
All things considered, the Rondo does a very good job at what it sets out to do. It offers plenty of room for 5 passengers, allows for 7 passengers when required, has a ton of cargo space in a number of flexible and highly useful configurations, is comfortable and (dare I say) luxurious for the money.
WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) was very high. She enjoyed the drive, liked the styling and loved the interior. She missed a power liftgate but otherwise had no complaints. As a matter of fact, it’s one of the very few cars that she said she’d consider replacing her beloved Honda Odyssey with. And that says a lot.
I give the Rondo a 7.5 out of 10.
If you’re in the market for a micro-van, I highly recommend taking a look. It doesn’t have the convenience of the Mazda 5’s sliding doors or walk-through middle aisle. But if you can do without those features, you’ll find a lot to like here. This car can offer a small family a lot of value and utility.
Disclosure: Vehicle was provided by KIA Canada
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