Value, quality and safety are reasons a lot of people have been buying Kia automobiles, says Len Hunt, executive veep and COO of Kia Motors America, but he hopes that the new 2007 Kia Rondo will change that.
Not that Hunt expects the Rondo to lack those attributes. Indeed, to the contrary. But Hunt wants to move Kia up the “brand ladder” that includes moving from Integrity—the basic soundness of the product—to Pride, with the owner eager to show it off, and then on to Passion, actual emotional involvement with the car. Can the 2007 Kia Rondo do that for the Korean automaker?
Well, passion is not an easy bogey for a crossover. The Kia Rondo is the modern version of the compact family station wagon, much as the minivan replaced the classic American station wagon. As a result, we think there’s only one way that the Kia Rondo, or any of its class for that matter, to incite passion, and it doesn’t involve driving and it’s probably not suited for viewing during the family hour.
There’s certainly no shame in owning a Kia Rondo. It’s certainly no one’s driveway wart, though “inspired” may be too strong to describe the styling. Better to say that there’s a strong family resemblance to other Kia models. Highly ornamental headlight pods flank a trapezoidal grille. A distinctive shoulder line actually starts at the Rondo’s jaw, curving up around the front wheel opening, continuing rearward to the taillights. The rear lights are inverted field hockey sticks, bending in at the top, neatly matching the contours of the body and distinctive at night.
Rather than a minivan’s sliding rear doors, the Kia Rondo has automobile-style rear door, but it also comes standard with a roof rack that is designed to work only with accessory crossbars available from, ahem, the Kia dealer.
As a crossover, exactly whatever that means, the Kia Rondo must have at least the option of third row seating, and it does, available with either base LX trim or the better equipped EX. Oddly, the third row seat is offered with the optional 2.7-liter V6 in either trim level, but with the standard 2.4-liter four only with the lower trim LX but then only in black.
With the third row, the Kia Rondo’s second row can move more than a foot fore and aft. It makes getting to the rearmost seat easier, of course, but it allows the old salesman’s ruse of putting the shopper in the rear seat with the middle seat pushed forward and the in the middle seat with it pushed to the rear. Not of course that anyone would ever do that (cough, cough).
The truth is an adult can be comfortable in either seat…but only if the seats are positioned for maximum legroom for the given seat. There’s an advantage to that, of course, in that kids and adults can be mixed and matched to your heart’s content. In fact, with the 60/40 folding second row seats and the 50/50 split third row, Kia claims 32 permutations of seating arrangements for the Rondo. We’ll take them at their word. But it is be possible to put mother-in-law way back in the third row, though the agility needed to exit may mean she’ll have to stay there ad infinitum. Your call on whether that’s a good idea.
Rigged for seven, sumthin’s gotta give, and that sumthin’ is cargo room. With all seats up for maximum passenger hauling, the Rondo has a Miata-like 6.5 cubic inch cargo capacity. We see a rooftop cargo carrier for the multi-kid family. On the other hand, with five up, the Kia Rondo can carry 35.0 cubic feet of stuff for the five-seat version, or 31.7 for the seven-seater with the third row lowered (the difference is in third-row cupholders and cubbies for the third row). With both rows of seats lowered, the Rondo’s cargo area has a flat floor—unlike even some full-sized SUVs—so the Rondo easily accommodates real cargo.
Based on the same platform as the Kia Optima—though unique from the firewall back—the Kia Rondo’s motivation comes from the aforementioned in-line four or a smallish V-6. The V-6 is an older design and thus merely edges the newer four, the former’s 182 horsepower not all that much more than the smaller engine’s 162. The six doesn’t have all that much more torque than the four either, at 182 lb-ft against 164 lb-ft.
We were able to drive Rondos with both engines, and neither had much scoot, though at 3400 pounds plus with the V-6, the Rondo needs all the help it can get, especially if its cargo/passenger aptitudes are at all used. It’s not that the Kia Rondo is a sluggard, but “spirited” isn’t a word in the Rondo’s vocabulary.
The Kia Rondo EX V6, where we spent most of our time, was a pleasant car and a comfortable rider. Wind noise was minimal, though in certain conditions noticeable road noise comes up into the cabin. While there was some thumping and ringing over pavement seams and coarse pavement, it wasn’t worse than some Mercedes-Benzes we’ve driven on similarly abrasive tar-and-chip road surfaces.
The chassis was impressively composed, with swales and corners not upsetting the Rondo. It doesn’t appreciate being hustled, however, pushing back when pushed. It’s in no danger of turning turtle, but with the higher-than-a-car’s seat height, any leaning is magnified. On the other hand, refugees from SUVs will consider it almost sports car like.
The five-speed automatic transmission (no manual gearbox is available, and the four is stuck with a four-speed automatic) is a smooth shifter and comes with tip manual shifting. A low-ratio first gear let’s the V-6-equipped Kia Rondo fairly leap off the line, and with torque steer is well controlled. The six isn’t particularly slick when revved out and one won’t be tempted to thrash a Rondo in public.