2011 Kia Rondo EX V6 Road Test Review

Simon Hill - CAP staff
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It has often been said that Canadians are more pragmatic than our southern neighbours. After all, while the U.S. enshrines "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," Canada was founded on the less romantic but equally compelling principles of "peace, order and good government." Our sensible-shoes approach shows up in other ways, too - like our continued demand for the Kia Rondo, for instance.

The current, second-generation Rondo debuted in 2007 at the Los Angeles International Auto Show and initially sold well above expectations in the U.S. But the numbers declined rapidly in 2009, and Kia discontinued U.S. sales of the Rondo in August 2010. Meanwhile, sales in Canada have continued with the 2011 model year, because Canadians keep snapping Rondos up.

It's easy to see why, too - the Rondo is a supremely practical little hauler that combines big interior space with reasonably compact exterior dimensions, and provides a wide array of creature comforts at a very affordable price.

I had a top-end Rondo to test for a week, an EX-V6 with a 5-speed Steptronic automatic transmission and pretty much all the kit that Kia could throw at it, save for leather, a sunroof and the third-row seat. And while I was less than initially impressed with the styling, the car quickly grew on me.

Around town it drives smaller than it is, yet it's bigger inside than it appears. The actual dimensions - 4,545 mm / 1,820 mm / 1,650 mm / 2,700 mm  (L/W/H/WB) - qualify it as a compact CUV. Thanks to a low beltline, tall greenhouse and fairly high, upright seating position, the outward visibility is outstanding. This makes slicing and dicing in city traffic a snap, and makes the Rondo a good place to be a passenger, too.

Under the hood, the EX-V6 substitutes the Rondo's standard 175-horsepower 2.4L inline-4 powerplant with a 2.7L V6 engine developing 192 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 184 lb-ft of torque at 4,500 rpm. This little V6 moves the Rondo around briskly enough without having a lot of wasted horsepower, but where it really wins is in refinement - it is smooth and unobtrusive and whisks the car up to speed without buzz or fuss. Fuel economy is only slightly worse than for the 4-cylinder model, at 11.5 / 7.7 L/100km (city/hwy) compared to the 4-cylinders's 10.6 / 7.5 L/100km.

Given the Rondo's height, a casual observer could be forgiven for thinking it would offer a soft, tippy ride, but in fact it delivers a surprisingly good driving experience. Not sporty, exactly, but competent and well behaved. With the exception of the EX-Premium, which gets 17-inch wheels, all Rondos get the same 16-inch alloy wheels as our test car, fitted with P205/60HR16 tires. The steering has good feel and crisp turn-in, and is well balanced during reasonably aggressive driving, with early and progressive understeer defining the limits. The ride is comfortable and well controlled, although I found that sharp irregularities such as speed bumps could occasionally overwhelm the suspension's ability to quietly absorb them. Bringing everything to a safe stop are standard four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, which were easy to modulate and otherwise unremarkable, in the best possible sense.

Inside, our test car was fitted with firm, supportive grey cloth seats to complement its titanium silver exterior. The back seats are surprisingly spacious and fold nicely to create a perfectly flat cargo area. The Rondo is unique in the compact CUV field in that it can be had with an optional third-row seat to provide seven-passenger seating - better even than the Rondo's closest competitor, the Mazda5, which only offers seating for six. Instead of the optional third-row rear seat, our test EX-V6 had spacious hidden luggage bins under the rear cargo floor, which proved very handy when shopping downtown.

In terms of features, all Rondos come with electronic traction and stability control, power locks, power windows, am/fm/CD audio with USB and Bluetooth compatibility, and an array of six airbags (dual front, side and curtain). The EX trim adds comfort and convenience items including air conditioning, keyless entry, cruise control, roof rails, chrome exterior accents, premium upholstery cloth, heated front seats, heated mirrors, illuminated vanity mirror, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshift, upgraded six-speaker audio, plus steering wheel mounted audio controls. I found all the controls logically placed and within easy reach, and the interior materials, while not particularly luxurious, were of good quality and well put together. About the only things Kia might want to address are the seat heaters, which could use a second, lower setting, and the audio display lighting, which doesn't dim with the rest of the dashboard illumination.

Outside, what really needs addressing is the Rondo's weak front end styling, which currently has a strong resemblance to the Rio but doesn't match the more accomplished angularity of the rest of this little CUV. The front headlamps in particular are too soft and rounded-looking compared to the funky angular taillights, which give the back of the Rondo a nice sense of weight. I'd prefer a more styled, angular and aggressive nose. Of course beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but it will be interesting to see what Pete Schreyer, Kia's new design chief, might have in store for the Rondo.

Overall, the Rondo is one of those cars that grows on you rather than being a "love at first sight" proposition. Kia markets it as an "Urban Utility Vehicle" and it really is a super, flexible little urban runabout, with enough capacity to also take the show on the road. With suggested retail pricing starting $19,995 and our loaded EX-V6 test car costing a suggested  $23,895 plus $1,650 shipping and handling, and backed by a 5-year, 100,000km warranty, the Rondo also represents solid value. Only in Canada, you say? Pity!

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Crossover, Kia, 2011, Rondo, $10,000 - $19,999, $20,000 - $29,999,

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