Kia Rondo First Drive
People movers are miracles of clever packaging, says Paul Murrell and the Kia Rondo is a seven-up wagon no bigger than a Corolla.
The paradox about people movers (or MPVs, in automotive jargon) is that the more MPV-like they look, the less people want to own them.
Toyota’s Tarago and the Renault Espace began the trend in 1984 with large, boxy machines capable of swallowing the whole family, plus their assorted luggage and sporting equipment. But a compact people mover might be seen as a contradiction in terms.
The new Kia Rondo is a huge improvement over the model it replaces. It crosses the line between small wagon, small SUV and small people mover. Importantly for this demographic, it manages not to look, well, daggy. In fact, it’s quite cute. And a credit to the skills of designer Peter Schreyer. It also comes well equipped for the price, starting at $29,990 for the Si model (+ORC). The 1.7-litre diesel adds $2500. The mid-spec SLi is $33,990 ($36,490 for the diesel) and the top-line Platinum is $38,990 with no diesel option.
The appeal of these vehicles (and others like them) is the versatility of 2+3+2 seating. At first glance, this can be very tempting. However, the reality doesn’t quite measure up. For one thing, the rear row of seats is not particularly easy to access and sitting back there can be very claustrophobic. It is a tight squeeze that won’t suit children much older than seven. However, current Australian rules decree that children under seven need to be restrained in a car seat or baby capsule and there is no provision for fitting these in the rear row of the Rondo. So who’s going to use the third row? Another consideration is the lack of ventilation in the rear row – there are no outlets. Baby seats or child capsules can only be installed in the middle row of seats (we’re pleased to see Isofix fittings). With these fitted, access to the third row is virtually non-existent. Even if you do manage to fit seven people into the Rondo, with the third row of seats upright luggage space is limited to 103 litres.
In real terms, the seven-seat MPV effectively becomes no more practical than a five-seater station wagon.
That notwithstanding, the Kia Rondo appeals on many levels. With the rear row of seats folded to create a level flat floor, luggage space is a useful 492 litres. Fold down the middle row and this grows to 1650 litres. Long items up to 2.15m can be accommodated by folding the passenger front seat forward. So picking up a rug at Harvey Norman shouldn’t pose a problem. There are also plenty of nooks and cubbyholes under the seats, in the doors and in the centre console.
As seems to be the case with other Kia models, the mid-spec model (SLi) would appear to be the pick of the bunch but the Si is by no means short-changed in equipment: cruise control, trip computer, heated folding mirrors, luggage screen, six-speaker audio, 4.3-inch touch-screen, reverse parking sensors, rear view camera, Bluetooth with audio streaming, a plethora of functions operable from the steering wheel, air conditioning and excellent safety including six airbags (although once again, the rear row is left wanting – the curtain airbags don’t extend that far back).
The SLi sports nicely styled and very comfortable leather seats with plenty of under-thigh support, and it also gets 17-inch alloys, auto powered windows, daylight running LEDs, 10-way power adjustable driver’s seat, front parking sensors, fold-flat middle row of seats (including the ability to fold the centre seat flat to create a central tray), roof rails, puddle lights on the rear view mirrors, privacy glass, paddle shifts, dual zone air con and more stylish colour instrument cluster. The Si makes do with a dark fabric that is also very appealing but less likely to cope with the spills and other fluids (bodily and otherwise) that upholstery in this class of vehicle will inevitably be exposed to. Depending on spec, the dashboard is faced with piano black (SLi and Platinum) or brushed gunmetal (Si). The top-line Platinum model gets a panoramic sunroof, 18-inch alloy wheels, electronic parking brake, 7-inch touchscreen with sat nav, HID headlamps and LED rear combination lamps, plus more jewellery inside and out.
The real surprise with the Rondo comes on the open road. This is a very refined and capable vehicle. The 2.0-litre direct injection petrol engine (122kW, 213Nm) as fitted to the Cerato is a pleasant engine and quieter at idle, but we’d always plump for the 1.7-litre diesel. 1.7 litres doesn’t sound much, but with 320Nm to call upon, it sets to with a will and feels larger than it actually is. It will almost certainly cope with a full load of passengers better than the petrol version, too.
The Rondo, in common with other Kias, features a three-mode flex-steer system that allows the driver to switch between Sport, Comfort and Normal. The system adjusts the weighting of the electric rack and pinion steering; you’ll need to be finely attuned to your car to notice any appreciable difference. The steering is well weighted although it could communicate better with the driver. Combined with the locally recalibrated suspension the Rondo delivers an exemplary balance of ride and handling – not high on the agenda for most MPVs. As you’d expect, the 18-inch wheels and lower profile tyres compromise the ride comfort a little, but not to an unacceptable degree.
The six-speed auto kicks down when you ask it to and the pairing works well, although in the petrol-engined Rondo, it occasionally hunts for the appropriate gear.
Wind noise has been well controlled. We could hear a gentle rustle at speed, but decided this was coming from the grille and perhaps the windscreen wipers, rather than around the mirrors and A-pillars – an impressive achievement.
PRACTICAL MOTORING SAYS
The Rondo is a vehicle Kia can rightly be proud of and the local team has done a brilliant job of adapting its settings for local conditions. Also noteworthy is the five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty and capped price servicing, and just this week it was awarded a five-star ANCAP crash safety rating. Whether its versatility works for your family is something you’ll have to decide for yourself.