Kia’s Rondo offers a crossover vehicle for light courier work
Every now and again we find a vehicle creeps onto the market without much fanfare, but a close look shows it has hidden talents. That’s how best to describe the Kia Rondo – a car that started off as a mini people-mover, but, on closer examination, offers far more than is obvious at first sight.
The outgoing Rondo was basically a hatch that was converted to offer a third row of seats within compact overall dimensions. The size issue is still relevant for the new replacement Rondo, but the overall package offers very much more than just a hatch with an extra row of seating.
For starters, it’s the first true crossover vehicle in our view that can double up as a courier vehicle during the day and quickly convert for evening or weekend duty to carry the kids and a couple of their mates to school footie, cricket or netball.
Unlike the van with windows and seats scenario, as typified by Caddy Life, the Rondo starts off as a very well equipped, high spec hatch that drives well, is supremely comfortable, and impresses with its high interior trim levels and high spec inclusions.
The working aspect comes in with the option of folding and sliding the seats from row two and the front passenger seat to turn the Rondo into a little load carrier. If you don’t need the front seat for a passenger, the seat back folds flat onto the seat squab to provide a flat surface for storage that even includes a cup holder.
As a seven-seater, the Rondo shares the same clever seat folding design that Kia uses in the Carnival, where the rear seat row cantilevers forwards into a space behind row two, leaving a totally flat floor for cargo use.
Whether you have seven seats, or progressively fold the three from the centre row of the interior, the Rondo is spectacularly versatile, all within compact dimensions that measure up to a length of 4,500 mm and a height of 1,610 mm.
Rondo is the same height as the Soul, and, for anyone that has been in either, it’s immediately apparent that headroom is far better than any corresponding hatch.
The higher roofline makes it easy to climb in and out of the cabin, without the feeling that you are squatting on the kerb to gain access. When in the cabin, in either the front or centre row, there’s still plenty of space around the shoulders and in seat-to-ceiling height.
There’s a choice of petrol or diesel four-cylinder engines, both of which drive the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. The decision here is between diesel economy at a combined figure of 6.4 l/100 km for the 1.7-litre turbocharged engine, versus 7.9 l/100 km for the 2.0-litre petrol. The answer is going to depend purely on annual distance travelled and intended length of ownership.
Both powerplants drive well and have enough performance and torque to satisfy. There’s only 1.2 seconds difference in the 0-100 km/h acceleration comparison in favour of the petrol engine, but, with 122 kW versus 100 kW, the petrol does feel nippier. If you drive in a more relaxed fashion, then you’ll appreciate the other benefit of torque, and it’s here the diesel delivers, with 320 Nm versus 213 Nm, providing a more relaxed level of travel.
It feels a solidly-built car, and it’s worth noting that, unlike most hatches that weight in around the 1100 kg level, the Rondo comes in at a full 1,600 kg. Not a lightweight, but again it doesn’t feel flimsy, providing a good, solid, well-built impression.
Part of this solidity in feel comes from the new body shape benefiting from a 64 percent improvement in torsional rigidity. If you are wondering what that means, it relates to a stiffness and strength in the body structure that resists twisting and movement when under extreme load. Also helping with the impression of in-built strength is the fabrication of the car using high strength steel through over 35 percent of the sheet metal.
With electrically powered steering and high gearing, you get the benefit of being able to select different steering reaction and response between Normal, Sport and Comfort, and this, combined with well organised suspension, means the Rondo is actually very impressive to drive. So much so, in fact, that the driving experience comes through from the moment you slip behind the steering wheel.
The leather trimmed seats are well designed and comfortable, with powered adjustment for the driver, the dash layout is easy to understand and use, and the connectivity with the Bluetooth system and your telephone can be accomplished by anyone, even those that struggle with these systems. In fact, the connectivity is so easy you wonder why it can’t be like this with other vehicles.
There’s a swag of sensible inclusions, such as two 12-volt sockets in the centre console ahead of the gear selector, six cup holders, little lockers in the floor-well in front of the centre seat row, and storage beneath the floor at the rear section of the boot area.
The audio system is high end and the Sat/Nav, when fitted, is excellent, displaying the road network in 3D. We particularly liked the cornering lights that shine into the inside of bends, as this is particularly useful when negotiating tight spaces or when out in the country where animals lurk on the verges.
The three model trim levels end up at the top end with 18-inch alloys, in our view total overkill, but the full-length panoramic glass roof enables the kids to look at tall buildings when in the city or at passing aircraft when on the highway.
There’s no scrimping on safety inclusions, with a rear reverse camera, ABS with EBD, LED daytime running lamps, front parking sensors, electronic stability with traction control, and six airbags. Gear changing can be rapid through column-mounted paddles for flicking up and down through the gears, or you can leave it to the ECU that controls the gear selection if that’s too much personal involvement on your part.
It’s rare that a car immediately impresses from the first moment you enter and turn the key, but that’s where the Rondo scores. If you want a compact car that’s good to drive, economical, has a really high range of inclusions and has all the technical features to safeguard the driver and passengers, then try the Rondo.
The rear third row of seats is for the little people, but then if you want to carry rugby players you will already be looking for something larger. In all other aspects, it’s a great little car that’s really impressive amongst a collection of hatches, some of which are nowhere near as inspiring.