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Kia Rondo is a stylish, compact people-mover

February 02, 2007|by MALCOLM GUNN / Wheelbase Communications

For what is essentially a small car, the Kia Rondo should appeal to a large group of buyers. In fact, there's a real treat in store for those requiring concert-hall cargo capacity, seating for up to seven passengers and stellar fuel economy all wrapped up in one stylish package.

The Rondo directly competes in a very limited category of compact, (up to) seven-passenger, van-type wagons. In fact, its only real direct competitor is the Mazda5, which almost fits into the minivan bracket by virtue of its dual sliding side doors. In the car business, that's about as close to exclusivity as you can get.

It's a different story in other parts of the globe. Korean-, Japanese- and European-based manufacturers have been making compact people-movers such as the Rondo for years. Now, with growing North American interest in smaller multi-purpose wagons, the Rondo appears to be the right vehicle for buyers not wishing to spend a fortune to tote a lot.

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Physically, the Rondo bears a passing resemblance to Kia's mid-size Optima sedan, which is no real surprise since both models share the same platform, wheelbase (the distance between the front and rear wheels) and available four- and six-cylinder powerplants. However, the difference is startling when comparing rooflines. The Rondo towers over the Optima by nearly 10 inches (just three inches shy of a Chrysler/Dodge minivan), displaying an extremely tall greenhouse (glass area) that, perhaps surprisingly, looks right at home.

Likewise, the Rondo's interior is the very model of sanity and practicality. The two-tone cabin is attractive and well laid-out with lots of storage bins and cupholders. As well, both split-folding second- and optional third-row seats drop down flat to max out the cargo room. Kia claims the optional third-row bench will accommodate two average-sized adults. For extra leg room, the second-row bench will slide forward up to 12 inches, but only if you decide to ante up for the third-row seat.

The base engine is a 162-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder that's connected to a four-speed automatic transmission. For a bit more zip there's a 182-horse 2.7-liter V-6 that directs its torque to the front wheels through a five-speed automatic.

Either powertrain can be ordered in the base LX, or optional EX trim. The price-leader version comes with standard alloy wheels (not wheel covers), power windows and door locks, tilt steering, CD audio system and a full range of safety equipment, including six air bags, (front, side and side curtain), anti-lock disc brakes and stability control.

Air conditioning is optional on the LX, but comes with the EX, along with 17-inch rims, heated outside mirrors, keyless remote entry, cruise control, premium sound system with steering-wheel-mounted controls, upgraded cloth seats and fancier chrome side moldings and assorted trim.

The EX can be further tailored with a power-sliding sunroof, 10-speaker, 315-watt Infinity-brand sound system and leather seats that can be heated in front.

Then there are a few dealer-installed accessories on the menu such as a rear spoiler, aero-type body kit and a rear cargo tray.

The Rondo is but the latest example of Kia's continually broadening product lineup that now numbers eight separate nameplates vying for showroom space. The vehicle is almost large enough to be considered for minivan status, but small enough to find favor with the compact-car set. But best of all, with a base price of $17,000 including destination, it's inexpensive enough to be enjoyed by all.

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