Review and photos by Mark Atkinson
Kia’s compact platform is transformed into a nifty little family vehicle that leaves a small footprint but is big on features and convenience.
The 2014 Kia Rondo is a mini-minivan exclusively sold to Canadians. Why? While the original bombed badly in the U.S., we Canucks saw past its frumpy, upright design. The Rondo now gets the full ‘Schreyer’ (i.e. Peter, Kia’s design star credited with the company’s turnaround and now president). The nose has Kia’s corporate grille and a face similar to the compact Forte family. There’s a lot to like including the dramatic headlights with extra LED detailing, rising beltline and short overhangs. The vent window is actually usable, while rear fender and window line honour the original. The back end, though, could really be any number of modern five-door hatchbacks. Every model gets an integrated rear spoiler and several wheel designs, starting at 16-inch steel wheels up to 18-inch head-turners on top-end versions.
Interior features and layout
The Rondo has an upscale cabin design and softer, more expensive pieces are used. The overall look is shared with newer Kias, meaning great touches and well screwed together. Things fall easily to hand, and the gauges are clear and easy to understand… The company’s popularity comes from jamming its vehicles full of standard content, which helps here too. Every model gets niceties like heated front seats, air conditioning, power windows and locks, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, steering wheel–mounted audio controls and more. Mid-range models are more impressive, including a rear-view camera, leather seats, heated steering wheel and the excellent UVO touchscreen entertainment system. Luxury touches like a ventilated driver’s seat, heated second-row seats, panoramic moonroof and the larger 20-cm (eight-inch) touchscreen with integrated navigation.
As with the previous generation, you can get your Rondo with either five or seven seats; the second row in either is easy to access thanks to large doors and a low floor height. As with its competitors, though, you’d only want to subject children – or adults you’re not fond of – to the third row. The biggest issue is actually getting back there… With all three rows raised, though, you only have a meagre 232 L of cargo space, which is basically enough for some soft bags or day-trip items. Anything larger and you’ll need to fold the third row flat and access a total of 912 L, which is quite substantial. With everything flat, that expands to 1,840 L, which is seriously generous.
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The newest Rondo only gets one choice when it comes to engines. The 2.0-litre four-cylinder with gasoline direct injection debuted on the Soul and second-gen Forte, but here produces 164 horsepower and 156 lb-ft of torque. The Rondo rarely feels out of step and keeps up with other traffic with no concerns, if not ready to do burnouts on command. The six-speed automatic is a willing partner too, downshifting when needed and not feeling like it locks into higher gears early to save fuel. Base models can be had with a six-speed manual transmission, much like the Mazda5 and Orlando, although finding one could very well be the proverbial unicorn. And like other modern vehicles, the trade-off with picking the automatic is virtually nil when it comes to saving fuel: NRC ratings of 9.4 L/100 km in the city and 6.2 on the highway for the manual, 9.2/6.3 for the auto.
The Rondo rides on a version of Kia’s compact car platform with MacPherson struts up front and a space-saving torsion bar out back. Brakes are discs all around and have good response and adjustability and provide drama-free stops. The driver-selectable steering weight adjustment, dubbed Flex Steer, alters how much assist is given by the electric steering pump, but steering the car often feels vague and imprecise. Turn-in is pretty quick, and body roll is kept to a minimum, but ride quality still needs work. Anything besides smooth roads and plenty of bumps and thumps make their way into the cabin. The smaller wheel sizes generally provide a more isolated ride.
Features that Kia is using to make the Rondo even more useful for families include things like a cooled glovebox, underfloor storage in the second row, and a removable rechargeable flashlight in the cargo area. However, the lids used for the bins are too thin and the tabs feel like they’d suffer damage easily. The Dodge Journey does this more elegantly and robustly, if you can believe it. While you need to climb the model ladder to get them, things like integrated retractable window screens are a welcome touch.
If you compare the Rondo’s rival by footprint alone, the Chevrolet Orlando and Mazda5 are the default answers. The Mazda is a couple years older and its goldfish styling looks equally aged, but it remains the driving enthusiast’s choice… The Orlando is loved by more by older, retired buyers who prefer its larger greenhouse and much softer attitude. Both do trump the Rondo by offering at least six seats as standard, meaning you’ll pay extra for that third row in the Kia… The new Ford Transit Connect wagon looks very impressive, but so far is only available in cargo versions. However, if you let price be the judge, the elephant in the room becomes the Grand Caravan, which can be had well equipped for under $20,000.
Logic says minivan customer should not pass go, and head straight for the local Dodge dealer. But logic makes a surprisingly poor buying companion… The Rondo has plenty going for it – upscale interior, good fuel economy and it’s arguably the nicest-looking people-mover in the biz. It’s one of the smaller ways of transporting seven people around in relative comfort, and the five-year warranty helps with peace of mind.
+ Great looking MPV
+ More refined than competition
+ Engine feels more powerful than on paper
- Ride/handling balance still needs tweaking
- Gimmicky Flex Steer
- Why only make driver’s seat ventilated?
Fuel Economy: 3
Exterior Styling: 3.5
“The Rondo has plenty going for it – upscale interior, good fuel economy and it’s arguably the nicest-looking people-mover in the biz.”