Dan DeGasperi plays family man to see if the Kia Rondo people mover can outsmart the compact SUV trend.
Because the Kia Rondo is a people mover, and people movers sell in few numbers in this country, it sells around 10 per cent of the volume of its Sportage sibling that sits in the booming compact SUV segment. But we think family buyers should sit up and take notice of this clever, practical machine.
The three-tier Kia Rondo range starts with the $29,990 Si, moving to the $33,990 SLi and the model we’re driving here, the flagship $38,990 Platinum. A 2.0-litre direct-injected petrol four-cylinder engine is standard, though curiously only on the Si and SLi can you choose a 1.7-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder engine option for a further $2500.
The petrol engine under the bonnet of our Rondo is shared with the Sportage, and in Platinum specification each costs within a few hundred dollars of each other. So what are the other differences?
Well, the Rondo is front-wheel drive, where the Sportage turns all four wheels, though at 4.53 metres long the people mover stretches 12.3cm further than its SUV cousin, offering an extra pair of seats. Depending on your requirements, the decision between the two Kia models could be made at this point.
You won’t get that SUV-like high driving position in a Rondo, though it is easier to slide into the front seat than a regular hatchback, for example. In terms of roof height the Rondo is only slightly lower than your average compact SUV.
Once inside, the Platinum-grade Rondo is impressive, particularly considering its price point. Although there’s quality leather trim for all passengers, the driver gets a 10-way electrically adjustable seat that affords a terrific driving position – with plenty of tilt adjustment – and both a heating and ventilated cooling function. There’s even a heating function for the thick-rimmed, leather-wrapped steering wheel, which is a delight to hold even when the weather doesn’t demand it be warmed.
The front passenger seat shares the heating and ventilated cooling function and generous, supportive cushion, though electric adjustment isn’t available. Further back, the Rondo gets three individual chairs for its middle row, each of which can slide, recline and fold independently of one another. If the centre chair isn’t in use, for example, it can fold down to reveal a tray table and twin cupholders for its outboard riders – not that this Kia is starved of places to store beverages, given there’s two holders in the front console, one in each of the doors, another two on the middle-row flip-down tables, though only one between two in the third row.
Because the Rondo isn’t an especially wide car, the five seats beyond the two fronts are all quite narrow, obviously designed for rugrats more than full-sized adults. That’s especially the case for the rearmost pair, although the third-row actually gets more space (between 160-390mm) depending on where the middle chairs are positioned. They offer between 110-280mm, but thanks to a lower floor and more foot space beneath the front seats, overall there’s a lot more comfort for middle riders.
The sixth and seventh passenger also miss out on air vents, and the curtain airbags don't extend all the way back there, which is disappointing - and could rule it out for some safety-conscious mums and dads who may wish to consider it a full-time seven seater.
That said, if you need sprawling space, you should probably choose a Honda Odyssey. But the Rondo does offer more space than any comparative compact SUV such as the Sportage, with a pair of seats thrown in as a bonus.
Not only does the Rondo appear modern, even stylish, on the outside, in addition to being roomy and comfortable inside, but there are some fine touches inside this range-topping cabin. The dashboard design itself is clean and uncluttered, with a lovely mix of soft-touch plastics and piano black trim.
An intuitive, high-resolution 7.0-inch colour touchscreen is standard on the Platinum – compared with 4.3-inch for Si and SLi. Only the top model gets satellite navigation, too, a SUNA-equipped system that is smartly integrated with the USB, iPod, auxiliary and Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity standard across the range. The nav works well and the Bluetooth syncs quickly and smoothly. The Platinum also gets a subwoofer and amplifier in addition to the standard six speakers, and audio quality is higher than average.
The touchscreen also houses the reverse-view camera that complements the front and rear parking sensors to make around-town manoeuvrability a breeze – though auto-parking, blind-spot monitoring and collision warning systems aren’t available at any price.
Nifty touches unique to the Platinum grade include a cooling glovebox, sideblinds for the rear doors, LED interior lighting, and even a removable LED torch on the side of the sizeable 492-litre boot (in five-seat format).
Thanks to the third-row taking up space in the floor, the Rondo’s boot volume isn’t quite as capacious as Sportage’s 564L, though fold all seats down except the fronts and the people mover triumphs – 1650L versus 1353L.
Unlike the Sportage, there’s also a 12-volt power socket in the boot, which matches the two in the front and one in the middle row – just in case you have four fridges to plug in at the campsite.
To drive, the Kia Rondo has come a long way. Its suspension is generally well-sorted, comfortable around town even on the Platinum’s low profile 18-inch tyres that jar a little on sharp-edged potholes compared with the thicker rubber on lower spec models. Those tyres do help with good grip in the corners, and the Rondo makes a pleasant and controlled country road tourer.
The steering is another surprise, nicely direct and light in Comfort mode (there’s auto and Sport, which only subtract power assistance needlessly) to make parking a cinch.
The biggest disappointment with the Rondo Platinum concerns its engine. The 2.0-litre four-cylinder unit itself is a sweet and smooth operator, but 122kW of power at 6500rpm and 213Nm of torque at 4700rpm simply aren’t enough to shift 1582kg of people mover (plus occupants).
The six-speed automatic does a respectable job of keeping the engine revving, but to the detriment of drivability, refinement and economy. The engine is heard often and the combined cycle consumption claim of 7.9 litres per 100 kilometres blew out to 12.1L/100km on test – a high number consistent with what we’ve achieved with this engine in the similarly heavy Sportage and also the Hyundai i40.
There is a solution: choose the 1.7-litre turbo diesel model. Its may make less power (100kW) but it does so at lower revs (4000rpm), and the sizeable 320Nm of torque comes in at just 1750-2500rpm to help the Rondo feel effortless. You’re also more likely to come close to the diesel’s 6.4L/100km claimed economy.
Unfortunately, though, you can’t get a Rondo Platinum in diesel specification. You’d arguably want the Platinum, too, for its clever touches and more premium interior compared with cheaper models, but living with the petrol is a tough ask. Ideally, if the Platinum had the Sportage’s 135kW/392Nm 2.0-litre turbo-diesel engine it would come close to being an ultimate family car. The Rondo itself, though, is one of the best cars Kia currently makes.
Photography by Easton Chang.
Read CarAdvice's People Mover Comparison.