To the credit of the Kia design team, the first thing you’ll notice about the sleek all-new fourth generation Kia Rondo is that it shares few of its looks with its frumpy, box-on-wheels predecessor, the Rondo 7.
In fact, Kia’s latest iteration of the compact seven-seat people mover continues the marque’s design revolution under the guidance of Peter Schreyer, the Chief Design Officer of both Hyundai and Kia brands.
The new Rondo benefits from a full suite of Schreyer styling cues, such as the tiger nose grille, swept-back headlights, high beltline and tapered roofline.
While it doesn’t get quite the same dose of styling mojo as evident in Schreyer’s previous Kia design efforts, (namely the current Optima and Sportage models) the new Rondo is nonetheless a world apart from the outgoing version.
Kia has priced the new Rondo from $29,990 in Australia with a choice of petrol and diesel engines mated to a six-speed automatic transmission that has been developed in-house.
It’s a significant hike of $4000 over the old model as well as the recently launched Fiat Freemont, but the improved specification levels largely offset the price increase across the new Rondo range.
Kia is offering the seven-seat Rondo with a 122kW/213Nm 2.0-litre GDI petrol engine in three trim grades (Si, SLi, Platinum), while the 100kW/320Nm 1.7-litre diesel option is available in two trims, the Si and SLi.
Standard equipment on the entry-level Rondo petrol Si includes 16-inch alloy wheels, cruise control, six-speaker audio system with Bluetooth phone and music streaming and a 4.3-inch touchscreen. Heated electric folding mirrors round out the highlights.
There’s also the standard reverse parking sensors and a rear-view camera, static cornering lamps and a multifunctional steering wheel included across the range.
Step up to the $33,990 SLi and you add 17-inch alloys, front parking sensors, LED daytime running lamps, leather trim, power adjustable driver’s seat, puddle lights on outside mirrors, steering wheel-mounted paddleshifters, 4.2-inch colour instrument display, dual-zone climate control and auto up-down on all windows.
The top-shelf $38,990 Rondo Platinum model gets additional equipment including 18-inch alloy wheels, electronic parking brake, smart key with push button start, HID headlamps and LED rear combination lamps.
Kia’s decision not to offer the Platinum grade with the diesel option also means those buyers will be denied the larger 7-inch touchscreen with satellite navigation, panoramic roof, chilled glove box, heated and cooled front seats and a surprisingly impressive heated steering wheel.
Inside, Kia’s design revolution is less exciting though the overall cabin ambience and quality is decent even in the base model.
It’s a contemporary look and soft touch materials feature more liberally than in the previous model – at least at the pointy end of the cockpit.
However, it must be said that there’s a decidedly budget feel to the lower-placed plastics, while the second-row tray tables feel flimsy.
These packaging challenges aside, all of this newfound style fortunately doesn’t come at the expense of Rondo’s practicality, which is all the more impressive for a vehicle that’s actually smaller than the one it replaces.
Both rear seat rows can fold flat, as well as the front passenger seat so long loads can be carried. The second row of seats (though slightly narrow) can slide easily forward, and all three seats can be individually folded with the middle seat doubling as a table.
The rear seats flip up from a flat boot floor with relative ease, but these should be considered as ‘occasional’ pews only and best suited for kids. There’s also no third row ventilation back there.
With all seven seats occupied, rear cargo space is limited to just 103 litres. Fold down the third row and load space expands to 492 litres and up to 2150 litres with all reclining seats folded flat.
The Rondo is also loaded with oodles of storage compartments including underfloor compartments, bottle holders and a decent size glove box.
With more power and torque (up 16kW/24Nm) than the previous version, the new Rondo’s 2.0-litre direct injection petrol engine delivers decent performance despite a lack of low-down torque.
Under full throttle, engine noise can sound harsh, but at freeway speeds its much quieter due to infinitely superior NVH levels.
Armed with 320Nm of torque between 1750-2500rpm, it’s the 1.7-litre diesel that’s by far the most versatile – pulling well and effortlessly shifting the Rondo’s 1652kg kerb weight.
It’s also surprisingly well refined and muted, with little of that diesel clatter making its way into the well-isolated cockpit.
The six-speed auto is a reasonable performer and is a vast improvement over the previous four-speed box. It’s also a suitable match to both engine variants with paddleshifters proving more effective on the petrol models.
Notwithstanding the improvements though, the new Rondo falls short of ever being an engaging drive. The steering lacks any feeling, despite adopting Kia’s ‘FlexSteer’ system, which allows you to choose between three different steering settings (weights) – Normal, Comfort and Sport.
However, Kia’s localised suspension tuning has paid dividends for the latest Rondo.
With a MacPherson strut front suspension and the adoption of a torsion beam set-up at the rear, it corners surprisingly flatly and the ride is soft and supple at all speeds – provided it’s riding on either the 16 and 17-inch alloy wheels.
The top-shelf Platinum model with standard 18-inch wheels and low-profile tyres suffers from an uncomfortably firm and fidgety ride, which never really settles down.
While we didn’t get the chance to properly test average fuel-consumption on the launch test program, Kia claims 7.9L/100km for the petrol models and 6.6L/100km with the diesel versions.
There’s no doubt the latest-generation Kia Rondo represents a quantum leap on its predecessor and a very compelling proposition in market. This is a people mover that’s not only easy the eye, it also offers up a genuinely impressive raft of features that make it good value for money in the class.
But all the bells and whistles aside, the pick of the litter and the best all-round package would have to be the fuel-efficient, entry-level and diesel ‘Si’ at $29,990.
It seems that even with all the grand gestures Kia has made with the new Rondo, ultimately less really is more.
2014 Kia Rondo pricing
Kia Rondo 2.0L GDI Si – $29,990
Kia Rondo 2.0L GDI SLi -$33,990
Kia Kia Rondo 2.0L GDI Platinum – $38,990
Kia Rondo 1.7L CRDi Si – $32,490
Kia Rondo 1.7L CRDi SLi – $36,490