While most car companies are furiously adding variants to capture every possible niche market (and often creating new ones), Hyundai’s sister brand Kia has chosen a different strategy with the latest version of its Kia Rondo.
Previously, the line-up included several trims including the fully-equipped Platinum versions as well as petrol and diesel models, but for 2017, buyers get a choice of just two variants – the S and Si – both petrol.
While the latter gets all the fruit (and seven seats), the S is primarily aimed at the fleet market and private buyers with small families and a tight budget.
The entry-level five-seater S is reasonably priced from $26,990 plus on-roads, while the Si retails for $31,490, dropping the entry point down by a significant $4500 over the previous year’s model.
Both variants are powered exclusively by the same naturally aspirated 2.0-litre GDI petrol engine, paired with a standard-fit six-speed automatic transmission.
With the axing of the well-equipped Platinum, the newest Rondo is more than ever a budget buy. However, there’s still a reasonable level of kit on board as well as good solid space packaging – something this model has continued to deliver since its inception.
Standard across the range are 16-inch wheels (steel on the S, alloy on the Si), rear parking sensors and rear-view camera with parking guidelines and steering wheel-mounted cruise control.
Other useful features you’ll find on the Rondo are a tilt and telescopic adjustable steering wheel and hill-start assist – items not found on some more expensive vehicles.
In Europe, where the Rondo is known as the Carens, buyers are also offered alloy wheels ranging up to 18 inches, as well as a higher quality JBL sound system, complete with sub-woofer and a separate amplifier.
Locally, the base model Rondo also misses out on a 7.0-inch touchscreen with satellite navigation (instead opting for a 4.0-inch version without nav) as well as electrically folding door mirrors. But honestly, we reckon you can live without those items given the Si’s $4500 premium over the S.
Space wise, there’s a tonne of it. Luggage capacity is a claimed 536 litres behind the second-row seating, growing to 1694L with the rear seats folded. As well as luggage net hooks, the Rondo also boasts an under-floor storage compartment to conceal more valuable items, or even wet gear from the beach.
Outdoor types and kids alike will like Rondo’s five cupholders (six in the seven-seat Si) and four bottle holders, as well as map pockets and sunglass holder.
Better still, the 35/30/35 split-fold rear seats fold dead-flat, and are on slide rails, freeing up either more legroom or increased load space in the boot. Plug-in ports are aplenty too, with four 12-volt power outlets, though only one USB input.
Unlike the second-generation Rondo, which was a bit on the frumpy side, the current third-generation model is far easier on the eyes. It’s well-proportioned, has a relatively low roof line and looks more like a large hatch than a large, bland people mover. Let’s just say, it’s not unattractive, even at this entry-level point.
Inside it’s more of the same, nothing to write home about, but all the essentials are there except, of course, a decent size screen – this mini-me version looks a bit out of place in this era of bigger is better.
But there are plenty of soft-touch materials around the cabin, and the seats (front and back) are well bolstered all-round and comfortable, even after lengthy stints behind the wheel – as tested.
Despite the tapered roofline and relatively high beltline, all-round vision in the Rondo is surprisingly good, particularly from the driver’s seat, which benefits from the slim A-pillar and an expansive windscreen that extends deep into the bonnet.
The Rondo also gets an extensive suite of all the usual active and passive safety kit including six airbags, vehicle stability management and even hill-start assist. But it misses out on more advanced features like lane departure warning and blind-spot warning.
The driving position is very car-like, meaning it has a lower centre of gravity than any SUV, but still offers a slightly higher driving position than a regular sedan or hatchback.
However, it’s a real pity Kia chose to delete the torquey diesel engine from the Rondo range, because right from the outset, you’re acutely aware that the naturally aspirated 2.0-litre petrol engine is working way too hard to get this thing moving off the mark with any real urgency. And it's worse still, should you need to punch it uphill or from a busy T-junction.
It’s fine if you cruising at a steady pace on a highway, but armed (if you can call it that) with just 122kW and a paltry 213Nm of torque at 4700rpm, even negotiating modest inclines around town requires a good sustained stab of the throttle, and even then, progress is only just satisfactory.
And it’s not just the lack of forward progress that grates either, more annoying is the dreadful racket this engine and six-speed auto produces in concert and under load. The transmission is forever hunting for lower gears, even under a relatively light throttle.
That said, if you can live with these few shortcommings, the Rondo can be quite rewarding in some respects.
Firstly, the driving position is very car-like and there’s excellent all-round vision from anywhere in the cabin, especially the driver’s seat. This aspect alone makes the Rondo a pleasant place to spend time on longer journeys.
Left in its ‘normal’ setting the electric power steering is nicely weighted and reasonably quick and accurate. Drivers can adjust the weighting at the touch of a button, but there really isn’t any point, as the system simply adds more weighting without changing the ratio.
There’s not a lot of body roll either, and the Rondo actually feels quite balanced and almost fun to drive at times. Combine these characteristics with a well-tuned suspension system (and smaller wheel size) able to soak up even the deepest of potholes, and the budget-priced Rondo starts to stack up, despite the less-than-energetic powertrain.
Notwithstanding dumping of the torquey diesel engine, we’re still fans of the Rondo, especially at this price point. But when you add Kia’s seven-year unlimited kilometre warranty and capped price servicing scheme that will see you pay just $2744.00 over the seven-year period – the Rondo becomes a very attractive proposition.