Kia Rondo7 Long Term Update - 1700km Family Road Trip
I'm not a huge fan of driving the Pacific Highway from Sydney to the Gold Coast too many people have paid the ultimate price for the New South Wales State Government's failure to provide a safe motorway for the thousands of folks who each year head north to the Gold Coast for their annual break.
Flying is the better option, given you can spend two extra days on the beach, and with cheap airfares, which have historically cost us less than $800 return for all four of us, it's the way to go, isn't it?
But things took a turn for the worse in November last year, when I logged on to the Flight Centre website for what I thought would be another good deal, only to received a rude shock.
The best fare I could come up with was going to relieve us of a whopping $1400, so it took all of a few seconds, before we decided to call up the Kia Rondo7, and run the gauntlet.
Not such a bad idea really, with the rock bottom fuel prices around at the moment, we stood to save a packet and frankly, we were all looking forward to this little road trip, complete with junk food stops and kids in the back arguing.
This is the problem when your parents decide to pack up and leave Sydney for the Gold Coast, as they did some 24 years ago. Your annual holidays are always to the same place, but who's complaining.
In the hills above Tweed Heads, there lies a little jewel of a place called Terranora that is barely holding on to its semi rural status, as each block is a minimum of 750 square metres.
My folks picked up about one hectare in this paradise, all those years ago, for a price that would make you cry with envy. At least, that's how I feel, whenever we have to leave the place and jump back into the Sydney rat race.
That said, the Rondo7 was packed to the rafters complete with a good supply of lemon sherbet lollies and freshly made bread rolls, in readiness for an early morning start, or so we thought.
Our six year-old is already standing up on her pink Softie surfboard and loving it, so I was determined to take it with us so she could continue practising. With a stack of presents and bags consuming the third row seat area, the board would need to go on the roof, so we needed to hit a surf shop and buy some straps.
There are quite a few SUVs and several station-wagons that come with roof rails, making it easier to fit racks, but very few count sliding roof racks as standard kit, as does the Rondo7. Racks as good as these, would cost you several hundred dollars, if purchased after-market.
Within minutes of acquiring some easy to use FCS brand board straps for less than $20, the Softie was firmly secured, and we were on our way.
With a fuel tank filled to the brim, we were keen to see just how many kilometres we could get out of a fully loaded Rondo7.
We planned to drive this trip following the 'Stop, Revive, Survive' maxim, so it was agreed that we would stop for five minutes every two hours, for a stretch and driver change.
My wife claimed the first stint behind the wheel, which suited me down to the ground, as I could kick back and wade through 700 tracks on my iPod, while the kids watched a movie.
While I'm certainly grateful for an auxiliary input, Kia might like to think about full iPod connectivity in any upcoming facelift, or new generation model. It just makes it so much easier to navigate through the audio system controls, rather than having to pick up the iPod every time you want to change a track.
It's a decent old drive to the 'Goldy', some 836 kilometres, which would take us near enough to 11 hours. The ever-changing speed limits, all but ruling out the sustained use of cruise control, which incidentally, is not available on the Rondo7 at this point.
My wife is a stickler for speed limits and worse still, she has trained the kids to watch the speedometer, whenever I'm behind the wheel, and report any violations.
As the only male in a family of four, this is what I have to contend with on a regular basis. The fact that we at CarAdvice have driven some of the word's fastest cars, at speeds up to 300km/h, counts for nothing with this lot.
After almost two and half months with the Rondo7, I maintain that it's always fun to drive, despite lacking some low down torque, We've learned to live with that, but a diesel option would solve the problem entirely, as long as it's a quiet diesel.
The ergonomics in this vehicle have been well thought out too, with switchgear and controls in easy reach of the driver, as well as being uncomplicated.
That's important on a trip of this distance, when you are constantly changing music and temperature controls.
Bottle holders in the door pockets of the Rondo are also large and very useful.
If the Sydney-Newcastle Freeway were extended all the way to Brisbane, then there would be no complaints, but the fact is, once the motorway ends at Newcastle, you face hundreds of kilometres of undivided two lane roads with 80km/h speed limits, countless bottlenecks, and more police than at a police academy graduation day.
To the state's defence, there does appear to be ongoing road works along much of the route, which if they ever finish, will no doubt make this high traffic route, both quicker and a lot safer.
The Rondo7 performs well enough in freeway mode, despite its under-gunned four-speed automatic box. It's only when you want to overtake slower moving traffic at 100km/h, or negotiate undulating terrain at these speeds, do you ever need to bury the throttle, and hold it there!
That said, a five or better still, a six-speed gearbox, mated to this not so powerful 2.0-litre engine, would offer better driveability than the four-speed, and even better fuel economy. It would also be more cost effective, than the diesel option.
Its not that this powertrain is outdated, on the contrary, it's an in-line four-cylinder, DOHC, 16-valve, CVVT that's just not tuned to produce a lot of power or torque.
I also spent some time in the second row seats, and can report plenty of legroom and a comfortable ride although, I felt they could have been mounted slightly higher, as at times, I struggled to maintain a view through the windscreen, but then again, I'm not so tall.
Just south of Coffs Harbour, we decided to opt out of the Pacific Highway and take the back way through some quaint little country towns including Coramba (rumoured to be the location of Russell Crowe's farm), Nana Glen, Glenreagh (the bakery is rubbish so stop and have pies and cakes at Coramba) and the beautiful town of Bangalow, where there are some excellent cafes.
It's a lovely drive with little or no traffic, and surprisingly, it won't cost you any less time than using the Pacific Highway.
However, when I was speaking with legendary ex-race car driver Kevin Bartlett about the state of the Pacific Highway and the time it took us to get to Tweed Heads, he scalded me for not taking another route, which he says, takes him no more than nine hours from Sydney to the Sunshine Coast. I'll get proper directions from him and come back to you on that one, as it seems too good to be true.
Fortunately, we only had to endure one McDonalds hit on the way up, in what looked like a boutique version of the fast food chain. I try desperately to avoid this kind of food, but its hard to hold out, when you're surrounded by burgers, nuggets and fries and that intoxicating aroma, which is always more intense when you're hungry.
Given the mix of freeway, stop-start bottlenecks, and more than a few driver changes, we managed to clock up just over 500kms on one 55-litre tank of fuel, which I thought was an excellent result, considering four people and a 'tonne' of luggage.
There's a great local Chinese restaurant with superb food and reasonable prices, up near Bond University, called the Asian Court, and that's where we were heading for dinner soon after arriving and unloading the car.
Here's where the benefits of the seven-seat Rondo really come into play. All six of us piled into the car, with considerable ease, and headed off for what was a great meal. The fact that we could all chat together in the one car, coupled with the fuel savings and convenience, is a huge plus.
There's still the issue of no air-conditioning vents for passengers in the third row seats (a common complaint from the kids) especially in summer temperatures.
It was the same story each morning, as the clan headed down to Rainbow Bay near Coolangatta, where I dropped the family off, while I hit the waves at Point Danger.
It didn't matter that there were another five cars in various garages on the property, including an Audi A8 and a blisteringly quick race car; the Rondo was compulsory transport, given our party of six, and associated gear.
It truly was a real world test of the versatility of this vehicle, when at least three times a day, for the best part of two weeks, six people (two over 70 years-old) would climb in and out of this deceptively spacious vehicle, with consummate ease.
The second row seats simply slide forward using the same rail mechanism as employed on the front seats, allowing for instantly variable legroom, depending on the height of those in the third row.
Gaining access to the third row is even easier. You just need to raise the lever on the side of the seat, and the whole thing slides forward under a gentle push. It's the benchmark in manual seat versatility and simplicity.
Let's not forget the car-like qualities of the Rondo7. While the ride height is around seven-centimetres higher than a standard sedan, once behind the wheel, it never feels as though you're hauling a seven-seat vehicle around, such is the handling dynamics of this people mover.
If you don't mind a manual shift, then you can pick up your Rondo7 for the crazy price of just $24,990, but if an automatic makes more sense along with a few more creature comforts, but without the leather and sunroof, then go for the EX variant, for $28,990 (my pick).
I took a close look at a December 2008 pricing guide, and if you want a seven-seat vehicle with similar driveability and features to the Rondo, you would need to spend many thousands more, and even then, I would put my money on the Kia, given the overall price/feature package coupled with its five-year warranty.
- Chrysler Grand Voyager: $56,990
- Citroen C4 Grand Picasso: $39,990
- Dodge Journey: $36,990
- Honda Odyssey: $39,290
- Kia Carnival: $33,390
- Mitsubishi Grandis: $40,590
- Renault Grand Scenic: $40,490
- Ssangyong Stavic: $32,990
- Toyota Avensis: $37,990
- Toyota Tarago: $50,000