Kia Rondo: Frugal and Family Friendly

By The Car Family

For more reviews go to http://www.motorists.org/carfamily/

We really like the Kia Rondo. It is nearly perfect for a family with plenty of functionality, a pleasant demeanor, and the ability to be both nimble and comfortable without sacrificing gas mileage in the 23-mpg range. But the most compelling feature is its price, which undercuts all the other minivans, but is a little more dear then the competitive Mazda 5. We highly recommend you avoid the base model where practically everything is an option. You should be able to get a well equipped model for well under $20,000

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Safety abounds even with the base model with ABS and stability control and head airbags and seat belt pretensioners and side curtain airbags, and an air pressure monitoring system. Crash scores were good.

Mom’s view: It is all rounded and thus the Rondo name no doubt, and on the inside all those curves result in an enormous interior. It is fairly quiet too, with the feeling of quality that belies the low cost of this rig. There is an optional third seat, which has very little legroom, but makes it possible to carry seven people and a tad of luggage. The rear seat has a 60/40 split and the second row seats fold flat. The Rondo is at an ideal height for removing and installing child’s seats and the doors open very wide making it easy to enter and exit. You don’t have to worry about getting your dress dirty either, as you can easily slide in without a problem. Thankfully, it does not have sliding side passenger doors that are such a bother during windy days and inclement weather because the size of the opening can’t be controlled. The Rondo’s doors open as a sedan’s and are very large. The rear hatch is easy to open and close even if you are short and the liftover is low.

The interior is dull, but loaded with storage. There are ten cupholders, a fairly large glove compartment, and a variety of bins and cubbyholes. There is room in the second row for three adults and the high roofline gives the interior a commodious feel.

Rondo’s 15.8-gallon fuel tank and our mixed driving average with the V6 engine was 24-mpg. If you mainly drive on the highway you could go over 300 miles, but I would dearly love an 18-gallon unit. The government’s rating for the two engines are 20/27 and 21/29 mpg.

Dad’s view: There are two engine choices, the 2.4-liter four-cylinder which provides 162 horsepower and the 2.7-liter V6 that puts out 182 hp. There isn’t much of a gas mileage penalty with the larger engine, although you don’t need it unless you live in the mountains and/or travel with a fairly full load most of the time. The reason there isn’t much of a gas penalty is that the base engine has a four speed automatic and the V6 gets a five speed. Both units shift extremely well and have a Sportmatic feature that allows you to place the Rondo in whichever gear you wish. This is excellent feature when driving in the hills and adds a little bit of fun to an otherwise uneventful vehicle. The power rack and pinion steering and four-wheel, independent suspension provide a satisfying ride.

The brakes are adequate, but not impressive. I had to use them once in an emergency situation and the ABS came on just fine, but there was way too much tire squeal. The pedal feel is a bit soft, but the brakes react in a linear fashion in all conditions.

Kia’s Optima providing the platform for the Rondo and the result is a family sedan ride that feels every bit of its 3500 pounds. As for acceleration, responsive, maybe overly responsive would be a better description, to any pressure on the go pedal. The Rondo quickly gives you all it has from the git-go. It is responsive, but once over 5000 rpm you are mostly waiting for inertia to help with passing unless you shift the transmission yourself. The steering has a good weight and the suspension gives you some courage in corners. It drives smaller then it is. That being said, I like the Mazda 5 better for its lower stance and more aggressive suspension. It is not as spacious as the Rondo and only comes with a four-cylinder engine. The Rondo has a much better warranty, but resale is probably not going to be as good as the Mazda.

After 600 miles of testing two items that need to be addressed came to light. First, the seats need more support and should have a slightly longer bottom cushion. Secondly, the night lighting is just adequate. You get a wide distribution of light, but using your high beams does not provide enough illumination down the road.

There is no question the Rondo is one of my very favorite run-around vehicles. The size makes it easy to park in small spaces, the high stance provides a good view of the road, and the engine sips gas. It doesn’t thrill you, but it is satisfying and with Kia offering some great deals there is no question that you can get one fairly well loaded for less than a compact car.

Working woman’s view: If there ever was a vehicle in need of a makeover it is the Kia Rondo. It is nearly invisible in a parking lot and there isn’t any sense of visual pride when you view it. Of course, you do get a fabulous warranty that goes for 100,000 miles on the drive train and it is a frisky friend in town with good visibility and exceptional initial acceleration. The Rondo is easy to maneuver, too, but it isn’t nearly as fun to drive as the Mazda 5 or as handy as the Honda Element with its clamshell doors.

I found the interior easy to live with, but the adjustments for the seats are very awkward and it is nearly impossible to find a good seating position if you have shorter legs and long arms. The seats are okay, but don’t get the leather option as it very difficult to not slide in when you are wearing a polished cotton dress or anything with a smooth fabric.

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In a dark color, and with some attractive alloy rims the Rondo has a bit of snap, but the real beauty of this minivan/station wagon is in its pricing and ease of operation. It has just enough acceleration, exceptional fuel mileage, terrific visibility, and easy to operate controls to drive it to the top category of this segment. I would rank it below the Volkswagen Jetta station wagon, the Subaru Impreza, and the Mazda 5. But better then the rest and that includes the much more expensive BMW and Audi wagons when measured for family usefulness.

Young working male’s view: The reports on the Rondo’s reliability have not been great. That being said, it does have a super warranty that Hyundai calls the most generous in the industry. You get five-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper coverage, a five year/100,000-mile limited anti-perforation warranty and a five-year/60,000-mile roadside assistance feature. Chances are that if there is a problem you are going to be able to have it fixed without cost. I would say that the build quality I found would rank the Rondo in the average category. The point is that a warranty is often more important than reliability reports because the vast majority of all cars are fairly problem free. It is when they aren’t that your concerns should start and Kia appears to have the covered. On my job making servers and computers for http://www.eracks.com we have domestic customer service for just that reason. If there is a problem you need to know there is someone there to help. That is why when you buy a Kia you should make sure there is a dealer in your area.

Over time I learned to enjoy the utility that is the Rondo. Although it really isn’t directed at my demographic group, its usefulness and ability to sip gas was exceptional. I would pay the extra $1000 or so for the larger engine because there is really only about a one-mile per gallon penalty and I would order the third seat as well. I think it will pay at resale. It should be noted that when the third row seat is up your storage area is almost nil at under seven cubic feet. Most of the time I kept the rear seats down and had over 31 cubic feet of room.

Stereo reception is weak and the system itself is not well suited for such a large interior space. The base unit has four-speaker audio system that struggles, but even the upgraded six speaker unit that plays MP3 files is hard pressed to impress. The units are also needless complicated, but easy to manipulate. The gauges use a small font and difficult to decipher. The heating and cooling controls are very simple to use and should be standard on every vehicle sold. The Rondo has a number of large windows and it takes a fairly long while to heat and cool the entire vehicle. I would tint the windows immediately.

Another notable need for improvement is the horn. The worst. You may as well use a bicycle bell. The heater is only average and the seat warmers are too mellow for those who live in cold climes. The sound when the turn signals are on is also in need of more volume and, finally, the tire noise is too great. The car needs tires that are not as wide, but a touch taller to make for a quieter ride and to gain better highway mileage. All of these are minor irritants that shouldn’t stop you from buying this Kia, but the Mazda 5 does a better job with all of them. Thus I would take the Mazda.

Family conference: The Rondo is a cross over that should compete with the likes to the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV, Ford Taurus X, Subaru Forester, Honda Element, and the like. Given its price and room, it gets the better of these competitors. The Rondo is more family friendly, has a vast hold, and is perky enough to be pretty to your pocketbook. On the other hand, this is a Goldie Locks type of vehicle. It isn’t a small or sharp handling as the Toyota Matrix/Pontiac Vibe or as cumbersome as the larger minivans from Honda and Toyota. But if you are looking for something that doesn’t make any type of status statement whatsoever and is never going to catch the eye of law enforcement, the Rondo is for you. After all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

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