Review and photos by
Jil McIntosh, CanadianDriver.com
What’s the secret behind buying an economical car? Price is certainly a factor, but so is functionality. The most economical car may well be the one that does what’s needed of it without overkill. And that brings me to the 2011 Kia Rondo.
Depending on your needs, it can potentially work as a car, a minivan or compact SUV, thanks to its height, car-like driving characteristics and an available third row for seating up to seven passengers. It hasn’t had a major overhaul since its introduction for 2007, but don’t let that stop you from putting it on your test-drive list. It isn’t the most sophisticated model out there, but it’s definitely one of the most useful.
No doubt due to American buyers’ dislike of hatchbacks, it’s no longer offered in the U.S. market. In Canada, the 2011 model is on sale now, and Kia Canada says that it will continue into the 2012 model year. It’s sold in a variety of markets worldwide where it’s also known as the Carens or, in Australia, as the Rondo 7. It’s based on the platform of the Kia Magentis sedan (which now morphs into the Kia Optima in Canada for 2011).
Pricing starts at $19,995 for a 2.4-litre four-cylinder with four-speed automatic – you’ll have to add another $1,000 if you want air conditioning on that, and I sure wish automakers would get over their habit of dropping refrigeration in order to advertise below the magical twenty-grand number, given how few people buy a car without air these days – but my tester used a 2.7-litre V6, mated exclusively to a five-speed automatic. The four-cylinder comes in LX or EX trim, while the V6 starts in EX trim, which is the way I drove it, starting at $23,895. The four-cylinder LX is strictly a five-seater, but in EX trim, both the four-cylinder and V6 can be optioned to a third row of seats for an additional $1,000. The V6 can also be taken higher, to the EX Premium trim line for $25,095, and to the Luxury, which comes only with seven seats, at $27,195, or $28,195 with a navigation system.
All models come with the expected safety items, including anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, six airbags and active front head restraints, along with power mirrors, windows and locks, variable intermittent wipers, Bluetooth, and music player input via an auxiliary jack or USB port. Added onto the four-cylinder at the EX level, and on all V6 models, is a chrome grille, fog lights, heated mirrors, an electric windshield strip for deicing the wipers, heated seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, cruise control, illuminated vanity mirrors and keyless entry. Moving up into the Premium and Luxury levels adds such items as a sunroof, leather seats, automatic climate control, rearview camera, power driver’s seat and satellite radio.
Naturally, all models come with Kia’s extensive warranty, which covers pretty much everything for five years or 100,000 km, with one year or 20,000 km on wear items such as wiper blades, light bulbs and brake pads. Roadside assistance also remains in place for the full 5/100 warranty period.
The V6 engine gets growly on firm throttle, but it’s still a gutsy little powerplant that does its job. Acceleration is linear and brisk, and getting by traffic on the highway is no problem, especially since there’s a manual shift mode if you want to control the gears yourself. The V6 is officially rated at 11.5 L/100 km (25 mpg Imp) in the city and 7.7 (37) on the highway, while I averaged 10.3 (27) in combined driving. The steering is light and the Rondo handles well, working its way around corners accurately and while there’s some body roll, it doesn’t actually feel tippy despite its height. All those big windows that contribute to its minivan-like appearance provide good visibility all the way around, as well. Unlike the six-seater Mazda5, which has minivan-like sliding doors, the Rondo’s four doors all swing out, which is less practical in tight parking spots. (The Mazda5 was temporarily discontinued for 2011, but returns as an all-new 2012 model.)
The Rondo’s interior, while heavy on plastic, is fitted together very well, and the switchgear clicks and toggles into place with good-quality feel. Three big dials make simple work out of setting up the climate control, and the heated seat switches stay on once they’re pressed, so if you’re running errands on a cold day, you don’t have to keep hitting them every time you get back in and start the car. The stereo is easy to figure out without having to delve into the owner’s manual, although the auxiliary inputs are in its face, and so you’re left with cords hanging down once you drop your music player into the open bin in the centre console.
Legroom is impressive in both the first and second rows, and as is to be expected, headroom is spectacular. The seats are also very comfortable and stayed that way after a three-hour stint in them. My tester only had two rows, but I’ve been in one with three. Given the Rondo’s compact footprint, the third row isn’t as cramped as expected and it’s relatively easy to enter and exit. Although the general description of “best suited for children” does fit, it’s viable for adults for short hauls, and definitely adds to the Rondo’s ability to substitute for a larger minivan if you’re in the carpool rotation. If you only need the extra space occasionally, why pay for it and haul it around all the rest of the time?
In a two-row vehicle such as my tester, the space normally consumed when folding the third row is given over to two deep storage bins under the cargo floor. Each has its own cover. The bin closest to the liftgate is a single space, while the second one is divided into three sections. The cargo floor is 90 cm long when the second-row seats are up. They fold easily and completely flat, producing a length of 170 cm, giving you as much cargo room as many SUVs.
That’s the key to the Rondo in terms of economy: its purchase price, fuel costs and overall size can be smaller than other types of vehicles, but it can still be just as functional. It doesn’t even have many direct competitors, and so should be cross-shopped against whatever you’re considering, be it a car, minivan or SUV. It might just be the “crossover” that really does cross over into several categories on the dealer’s lot.
Pricing: 2011 Kia Rondo EX-V6
Base price: $23,895
Options: $150 (Colour charge)
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $25,795
Crash test results
Jil McIntosh is a freelance writer, a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) and Assistant Editor for CanadianDriver.com. Her personal website can be found at http://www.JilMcIntosh.com