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Kia Rondo
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Kia Rondo a happy hauler

By Jim Bray
August 8, 2013

Korean carmakers are really on a roll, and if this brand new Kia Rondo is any indication, it doesn't look as if it will end any time soon.

The Rondo is of the "microvan" persuasion, in that it's a people hauler like a minivan, but much smaller than the typical minivan. Think Mazda 5 or even the Ford C-MAX. Rondos have been around for years, but the new version is a real breath of fresh air, attractive and comfortable and reasonably fun to drive.

The 2014 Rondo continues Kia's current "design language," which they say blends "emotion and sophistication with the comfort features and practicality of a family-friendly vehicle." The design looks kind of European, which shouldn't surprise anyone who's looked at other Kia entries of late – especially since Kia hired Audi's Peter Schreyer a few years back to bring their often ho-hum styling into the 21st century.

He's done a fine job so far. And the new Rondo is quite handsome in a microvan kind of way, from its trademark "signature grille" to its side accent lines and right to the rear end with its LED taillights. Okay, perhaps it's more "cute" than "handsome," but you get the idea. However you slice it, it's head and shoulders above the rather dumpy previous version.

Inside the Rondo is an equally pleasant cabin that's driver-focused, attractive and very functional. The seats are comfortable, and you can get premium-type stuff like dual zone automatic climate control, a panoramic sunroof (with a power tilt-and-sliding front panel and fixed rear glass), heated steering wheel and smart key ingress/egress on/off. And you can get a third row of seats, which could come in really handy at times, though of course when they're set up you lose some hauling space.

Just like in a minivan.

The third row folds flat for storage (you might not even realize it's there when it's folded down) and can fit two people in a pinch – the operative word being "pinch." You might want to be pretty supple if you want to get in and out of there, too, though it doesn't seem worse than other such vehicles.

Fold down the second and third rows and you could nearly use the Rondo as a (small) camper! Well, as long as you don't want to stand up in it. The second row doesn't fold completely flat, but it's close.

Rondos get their motivation from a high tech, two liter direct injection gas engine Kia says cranks out a quite reasonable 164 horsepower @ 6500 rpm and 156 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4700 rpm. It's enough to move this little people mover with enthusiasm, though it's not exactly being a barn burner, either. But it's competitive: the "zoom-zoomy" Mazda 5 is rated at 157 horses and 163 torquey-like thingies, which would make for an interesting drag race with the Rondo.

The engine's a tad buzzy when pressed, but it works fine.

The standard transmission on lower end Rondos is a six speed manual, but Kia Canada's sample came with the six speed automatic Steptronic transmission. It shifts smartly and offers a nice manual mode – and there are even paddle shifters that work!

Suspension is independent up front, featuring MacPherson struts and a stabilizer bar. The rear end is slung via a coupled torsion beam axle with monotube shock absorbers. Driving feel is pretty good, helped in part by the electric power steering, which feels just fine for a vehicle such as this. Remember, this is definitely not a sports car but, for a metal blob on wheels, it's fun to drive.

The steering also takes a cue from cousin Hyundai, via what Kia calls "FlexSteer" technology, which gives you three, driver-selectable steering modes: Comfort, Normal and Sport. Not surprisingly, Sport is the most interesting. It's a bit strange to have settings such as these only affect the steering (in some higher end vehicles such sport modes can also tighten up the suspension, change the shift points, etc.), but it's better than a kick in the face. The steering wheel also offers heat, which is a very nice feature when the temperature drops and you'd rather not drive with heavy gloves on.

Brakes are discs all around, with four wheel ABS, and the stopping power is good – as is the pedal feel.

The instrument panel is modern and attractive, with a seven inch LCD parked between conventional gauges.  The audio system and its controls are thought out well and the sound is good, though the satellite radio in the test car kept cutting in and out, an unusual but not unheard-of anomaly.

You can fold the heated outside mirrors against the doors via the mirror controls, which is not a only wonderful feature in parking lots, it lets you effectively wiggle the vehicle's ears at passersby (albeit a tad slowly), which can make time spent waiting in the parking lot for someone who said she'd be back in just a second much more entertaining. Of course, then you wear out the switch prematurely…

The outside mirrors also have integrated LED turn signals.

One real annoyance is the lawyer screen on the center stack's LCD. Kia's giving us a bit of a blast from the past here, because you have to click through the darn onscreen disclaimer before you can get at the multitude of other functions on the screen. This used to be a pretty well ubiquitous annoyance, but as time has passed more and more manufacturers are giving their customers credit for having a brain. Kia should join them.  

Mostly, though, the Kia Rondo is a nice vehicle to drive and would probably be painless to live with. It's a nice little people-and-stuff mover that holds lots of people and stuff, yet doesn't lean so far on the utilitarian side of the ledger that it forgets to involve the driver. And you can get it equipped like a much higher end vehicle.

Kia estimates the Rondo's fuel mileage as: 6.2/9.4 (46/30) manual, 6.3/9.2 (45/31) manual.

According to Kia's website, the base Rondo starts at $23,360. The fully loaded EX Luxury version will set you back $33,860.

Copyright 2013 Jim Bray

Jim Bray is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. His columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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