The Kia Rondo is the cheapest seven-seater in Australia, and for some big families on a budget that alone might be a good enough reason to buy one.
With a starting price of $25,990 before on-road costs for the five-speed manual Si variant, the Kia Rondo is currently the only people-mover available for less than $30,000.
Its nearest rival offering seven seats, in fact, is the Nissan Dualis+2 crossover, which is priced from $29,990.
Adding the four-speed automatic gearbox takes the Rondo Si to $27,990, while the top-spec auto-only Rondo SLi – which we tested – is priced from $31,390. At that price, you can start to look at some of the cheaper seven-seat SUVs, such as the $32,490 Holden Captiva 7, while fully fledged people-movers like the Citroen C4 Picasso, Dodge Journey and the Honda Odyssey start at just below $38,000.
Of course, your other option at this price is a second-hand people-mover, but none will match its five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty.
Under the bonnet of the Kia Rondo sits a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine that on paper doesn’t sound particularly well equipped to propel a vehicle designed to carry multiple people. There’s merely 106kW of power (at 6000rpm) and 189Nm of torque (at 4250rpm).
Stepping on the throttle, the Rondo feels surprisingly responsive, although the apparent enthusiasm is actually just a case of an oversensitive accelerator pedal that quickly becomes tiresome and makes smooth driving an effort.
While it’s capable and reasonably well-behaved around town, the engine’s eagerness is swiftly converted to slow progression and loud engine noise when you ask it to accelerate a little harder, head up a hill, or pull half a dozen people as the car is intended to do.
Kia Australia hoped to add a torquier 2.0-litre diesel engine option to the Rondo range following the launch of the petrol model in 2008 but the alternative powertrain never materialised.
The four-speed auto does the ageing petrol engine few favours. The gearbox kicks back violently when you sink the boot in to overtake, sending the revs flaring, increasing noise and decreasing refinement and comfort.
The auto model uses a competitive 8.6 litres of fuel per 100km on the combined cycle, bettering the manual by 0.1L/100km.
Lacklustre engine aside, however, the Rondo isn’t a bad thing to drive.
The suspension struggles with bigger hits such as potholes but otherwise deals capably with surface imperfections without fuss.
There’s little feedback from the Rondo’s steering, but this isn’t crucial for a people-mover – and more importantly there’s a nice, consistent weighting to the wheel that actually makes it better than the steering in some other Kias, such as the Rio city car
It may be one of the most compact seven-seaters on the market, but the Kia Rondo is well packaged and unlikely to leave you wanting for space. Three adults can fit snuggly across the second row and none will be short on headroom or knee space.
The two third-row seats are essentially there for small kids, but they do the job if you need to cart a bunch of grown-ups from one suburb to the next - providing they don’t mind having their knees in the air and their heads a little stooped. You can also slide the second-row seats forward about six inches to give the third-rowers a little extra breathing space.
If you are hauling seven in the Rondo, however, it’s a good idea to pack light. There’s officially 184 litres of boot space in seven-seat mode, but it’s a very shallow, tall space that isn’t particularly practical. The boot grows to 898 litres in five-seat form, allowing it to swallow more than most medium SUVs or family sedans.
You can also turn the Rondo into a pseudo-van. The 60:40-split second-row seats fold completely flat to open up a cavernous load space.
The Rondo’s big windows maximise visibility, limiting blind spots for the driver and contributing to the feeling of spaciousness for passengers. The cabin also features accommodating cup holders and stowage bins, and handy hooks to keep bags from rolling around.
There are signs of cost cutting throughout the interior, however. There are no soft-touch plastics across the dashboard or doorsills, and no reach adjustment for the steering wheel. Cruise control is not available on either model – extremely disappointing given it’s standard on the $18,990 Kia Rio Si – and the trip computer only offers a basic Trip A/Trip B meter, with no average fuel economy or distance to empty data. The driver’s seat base is also too short, leaving you feeling perched on it rather than well held.
The dashboard layout, while starting to show its age, is clean and user friendly, and the steering wheel features buttons to control the distant-sounding six-speaker stereo and the Bluetooth system, which includes phone connectivity and audio streaming.
The Rondo Si comes standard with 15-inch alloy wheels, chrome exhaust tips, tinted windows, cloth seats, manual air conditioner with second-row vents, and a rear luggage cover.
For an extra $3400, the Rondo SLi adds sporty black and silver 17-inch alloys, front fog lights, chrome grille and door handles, roof rails, climate control, metal-look interior highlights, and leather upholstery for the seats, steering wheel and gearknob.
On the safety front both models have six airbags (dual front, side and curtains) and electronic stability control as standard, though the Kia Rondo scored four stars in independent crash-testing evaluations rather than the maximum five.
If you can stretch the budget a few thousand dollars more than the Rondo SLi, we recommend checking out the Honda Odyssey that remains the benchmark people-mover.
For those on the tightest of budgets, though, who need to haul more than five people and have less than $35,000 – or even less than $30,000 - the Kia Rondo is an honest, spacious and versatile option, but one that is let down by an underpowered engine.