What’s hot: Seven seats in a neatly-styled compact package; beaut diesel option.
What’s not: Upper-end pricing, petrol engine may struggle with a seven-up load.
X-factor: A “bigger hatchback” with neat styling and handling, three-across middle seating and a third row.
Vehicle style: Compact seven-seat people mover
Price: Si $29,990 (plus $2500 1.7 litre diesel); SLi $33,990 (plus $2500 diesel)
Engine/transmission: 2.0 litre GDI petrol or 1.7 litre diesel / 6-speed auto
Power/torque: 122kW/213Nm (petrol) | 100kW/320Nm (diesel)
Fuel economy l/100km listed: 7.9 (petrol) 6.4 (diesel) | tested: 8.3 (petrol) 6.3 (diesel)
It’ll carry your three kids and their clobber, no problems.
Press the third row into service and you’ll just about squeeze in the whole ‘Tiny Titans’ basketball catastrophe - and it’s no bigger than the new Corolla.
That’s the question on Kia Australia’s lips. And, sure, it’s a seven-seater, but realistically the third row is for garden gnomes, pre-schoolers or young primary only.
The new Rondo’s schtick is compact versatility, and it dovetails the small wagon cum hatchback cum people-mover thing pretty well. It's also greatly improved over the model it replaces.
Perhaps, most importantly, it doesn’t look like a ‘butterbox’. In fact, its lines are neat - not chic, but, like Citroen’s Picasso, not without charm.
For the family market Kia is shooting for, the neat styling, long list of standard features, smart ‘three-across’ middle seating and occasional rear third row will certainly win friends.
But the price? We’re not so sure.
The new Rondo starts at $29,990 for the Si model, plus on-roads, plus $2500 if you want the diesel. The SLi, at $33,990 for the 2.0 litre petrol, and $36,490 for the 1.7 litre diesel is in the new Commodore Evoke pricing territory.
The Platinum - petrol only, but boasting leather throughout and a high-end quality feel - is $38,990 plus.
That puts something of a premium on that third row of seats in the Rondo. The $28,490 (CVT auto) Dualis+2 ST, which also offers seven seats in a compact frame, is its most obvious competitor and an appealing buy.
And the Fiat Freemont offering similar spec and more room in the back is cheaper by quite a margin.
So the new Rondo is not a shoo-in; it’s got its work cut out.
That said, if you do decide on the Kia, you won’t be disappointed in the car - it’s quite a nice little machine, and very easy to like.
Is there a Peter Schreyer design that doesn’t cut it? I’d doubt it. Inside and out the new Rondo is one nicely styled little wagon.
The interior is very appealing and it’s not at all obvious (until you move between cars) which is the base spec Si.
The SLi is distinguished by nice perforated-leather seats and trims, as does the Platinum (not tested here), but the dark, tight-weave fabric trim in the base Si is quite appealing and the seats are well shaped and comfortable.
The SLi also gets piano-black on the dash panel and centre console, but the Si makes do with a not-unattractive brushed gunmetal look.
All in the range feature a neat three-seat second row, with the middle seat the same shape and size as the outboard seats (something ‘Mini-Me’ junior, who always loses the seating argument, will appreciate). It folds down to make a flat centre tray in the SLi and Platinum when not in use.
Accessing the rear is tight, the second row outboard seats fold and slide, but it’s best left to the youngest - there’s not enough room in there for teenage legs and feet.
That said, it folds flat into the floor and opens up a nice flat and wide wagon-sized 492 litres of luggage space (to the window line). For a bigger job, the second row also folds flat, opening up a total of 1650 litres below the roof.
There are also cubby-holes and nooks under the floor, in the doors and centre console. So there’s no shortage of versatility there.
It’s also well-featured.
The Si comes standard with cruise control, trip computer, luggage screen, six-speaker audio, 4.3-inch touch-screen, reverse park sensors, rear view camera, Bluetooth with audio streaming, multi-function steering wheel, air-con, and a host of safety features including six-airbags.
(A curious omission across the range however is that third row passengers miss out on curtain airbags - front and second row passengers only get this protection - though all get three-point seatbelts.)
The SLi adds 17-inch alloys, leather trim, front parking sensors, fold-flat middle row seat, puddle lights on side mirrors, roof rails, privacy glass, steering wheel paddle shifters, a stylish colour instrument cluster, and dual-zone climate control among a range of additional features.
So it’s well featured, how does it go?
ON THE ROAD
No doubt about it, the more expensive and stronger diesel is the pick of the drivetrains.
It’s a familiar unit. It’s the same stout 1.7 litre DOHC common-rail turbo diesel that you’ll find under the bonnet of the considerably larger and heavier Hyundai i40.
In the smaller Rondo it performs very well. Although the Rondo is a puddeny 1652kg (it’s the high-tensile steel that adds weight), the 320Nm of the diesel has little trouble keeping it hustling along on the highway.
It’s largely unfussed by hills, quick to overtake, and though no ball-of-fire away from a standing start, it doesn’t object to being hustled along at the head of the traffic.
We suspect that it would be equally untroubled by a family-sized load on board.
We’re not so sure about the 2.0 litre DOHC petrol version.
With 122kW and 213Nm to summon, its numbers are ok, but it’s got a fair bit of weight to move with the Rondo, especially with a load on board.
Kia expects this one to be the volume seller (Aussie families are still not entirely convinced of the merits of diesel power), but, though it performs quite well unladen, we suspect a full load will knock its performance about on the highway.
On the positive side, the six-speed auto (standard across the range, both petrol and diesel) performs well, and kicks down readily to keep the engine on the boil when overtaking or pushing through the hills.
Importantly, it’s not unpleasant nor intrusive when working hard. This engine in the Rondo is vastly quieter than in the Cerato.
The effort that has gone into sound deadening and vibration and harshness shows, the Rondo is really quiet on-road, even on coarser bitumen surfaces.
The suspension, we reckon, is really good. Some commented that they found the bigger-wheeled Platinum a bit too firm (which we didn’t test), but we found both the Si and SLi very much to our liking.
Struts up front, and a torsion beam rear, it’s standard fare and works well. There is enough initial compliance to iron out sharp corrugations, broken tarmac and hollows, but is firm enough to keep things relatively flat when cornering quickly.
It understeers a little of course, it’s high and carrying a bit of weight in the tail, but it’s quite an enjoyable drive - more like a hatch than a wagon or SUV.
The three mode steering - normal, comfort and sport - is also ok. It’s a bit wooden at the dead-ahead, and there’s a bit of resistance just off-centre, but it provides quite acceptable feel and, in sport, certainly tightens things up when cornering.
Lastly, the fuel consumption was a very pleasant surprise. We pushed along in both petrol and diesel, and returned 6.3 l/100km in the diesel, and 8.3 l/100km in the petrol. That’s pretty darn good in a tight new car.
FIRST DRIVE VERDICT
Yes, we like the Rondo. We think third row passengers should also get a curtain airbag, but park that debit and you’ve got a very appealing little wagon.
It’s certainly stylish, and is an equally good drive. The diesel in particular has both the power and the fuel economy to make the ideal versatile family package.
To drive it is no different to driving a slightly larger hatchback. And that will win over a lot of family city drivers.
Its price though might be a blocker. It’s nearly $5k more than the out-going model. In the mid-spec SLi model, in particular the diesel, it’s rubbing up against the popular Euro badges.
But Kia has a reputation for strong, reliable cars. And we’ve no doubt the Rondo will provide similar robust service when pressed into the hard graft a family can inflict on a car.
As Kia’s manager of marketing Steve Watt said at its launch in Sydney, “This is a tough car to get right; it needs to perform in a multitude of tasks, with optimum driveability and optimum practicality.”
And in our view, yes, certainly worth consideration.
Pricing (excludes on-road costs)
- Si - $29,990
- SLi - $33,990
- Platinum - $38,990
- Si - $32,490
- SLi - $36,490