GALVESTON, TX – The Rondo has been a good seller for Kia Canada. So much so that the company has decided to import the second-generation Rondo even though the Americans have decided against doing so.
Chalk that difference in opinion up to differing consumers. Canadians like hatchbacks, wagons and small cars – Americans not so much. Their loss.
While not bringing in as many customers as the big sellers in the lineup – Rio, Forte, Sportage and Sorento – the Rondo is a key pillar in Kia’s successful strategy to cast a wide net of models and cover as many segments and shoppers as possible.
There are more than 50,000 Rondos on Canadian roads and the innovative mini-minivan accounts for 8% of Kia sales in this country, a pace the new Rondo is expected to maintain.
Doing so shouldn’t be too tough because the new Rondo is a vastly improved vehicle with very few competitors in this small three-row category. And those are either aging and in need of replacement or on their last legs with no replacements planned.
The new 2014 Rondo is built on a new platform, has a new interior, new engine and transmission and can be equipped with a host of high-end features and technologies not associated with a vehicle of this size and price range. The result is a much more refined vehicle at a very attractive price.
Visually, it carries the company’s signature grille, flanked by LED running lights, and on upper trim levels, HID headlights.
The overall shape is similar to the outgoing model, but more contemporary with softer edges and a cleaner overall look than its predecessor, which arrived in 2006. It is also more aerodynamic and, thanks to more glass, visibility has been improved.
Wheels range in size from 16-in to 18-in depending on trim level. The colour palette is limited to white, black, blue, shades of grey and an interesting new brown.
More inspired interior
The interior is much more inspired and upgraded from the outgoing model. Not only are two-tone treatments available, the instrument panel and other surfaces are fresh.
There are soft touch materials where hard plastic used to reside. The seats are all new and conform to a new corporate design regarding support and safety. And there are no less than 14 storage areas of cubbyholes, including under-floor storage.
The 2014 Rondo is 38-55 kilos lighter than the outgoing version. It is also 20 mm shorter and 15 mm narrower and the overall height is down by 40 mm although the wheelbase has grown 50 mm longer.
It continues to come in either five-passenger, two-row, or seven-passenger, three-row, seating configurations, but the lower roof and shorter body mean slightly less head and legroom than in the outgoing model.
As for that third row, it's best left to the small and athletic, but it is there when needed and folds flat to the floor the rest of the time.
Where the outgoing model offered both four-cylinder and V-6 engines, there is no engine choice with the second-generation Rondo. It comes only with a 2.0-litre DOHC four-cylinder with direct injection and variable valve timing on both intake and exhaust valves.
The new engine and transmission result in a 13% reduction in fuel consumption compared to the older four-cylinder and a 20% reduction compared to the V-6. Highway numbers have improved by 16% and 18% respectively.
While smooth, quiet and thrifty, the engine is tasked with a lot of vehicle so performance is not its’ strong suit. There is a decent amount of motivation but load the Rondo with people and or heavy loads and patience becomes a virtue.
There appears to be room under the hood for one of Kia’s impressive turbo applications, however. Maybe next year?
Impressive ride and handling
While power may be average, the ride and handling situation is much more impressive.
The new Rondo is the first Kia sold in Canada vehicle to be developed in collaboration with the company’s R & D centre in California.
The engineers there tuned the suspension specifically for Canadian roads and drivers, with unique engine- and transmission-mounts, springs, shock absorbers and bushings. They even altered the shape, cushions and support of the seats, which are after all, the largest interaction between driver and vehicle.
As a result, the new Rondo has vastly improved road manners with more compliance and less head toss over rough surfaces as well as reduced body-roll in the corners. It is also much quieter.
Kia's “Flex-Steer" system includes a button to alter steering effort from comfort through normal to sport. But the novelty will soon wear off as it reverts to normal every time the ignition is recycled.
The 2014 Rondo also has a new generation Vehicle Stability Management System (VSM) that uses input from the electronic stability control and electric steering sensors to help counter understeer and oversteer.
Three trim levels
The new Rondo is available in LX, EX and EX Luxury trim levels. The base model, with a six-speed manual transmission is a price-leader, allowing the marketing department to advertise a low $21,695 price. But it will account for less than 2% of sales.
Even at this level, however, the standard equipment list is impressive: air conditioning, heated height-adjustable front seats, tilt & telescope steering wheel, power windows, and locks, remote keyless entry, heated power mirrors, Bluetooth connectivity, a cooled glove box, windshield wiper de-icer system, hill assist and an audio system with voice recognition and internal music storage.
The real action begins at $26,995 with the EX trim which is expected to account for the majority of salech alloy wheels, push-button start, UVO entertainment system and a heated steering wheel.
If you want to go the whole way – and Kia expects a large number of buyer to do so as they downsize in return for features – the $32,195 EX luxury version gets a new multimedia interface with navigation, power folding mirrors, panoramic sunroof, power sun-shade and driver’s seat, rear window sun shades, dual zone climate control, Xenon HID headlights with power washers, front and rear parking sensors, premium audio system, heated and cooled driver’s seat, heated rear seat, 18-inch wheels and an electronic parking brake.
Kia continues to enjoy impressive growth – 113% since 2007 – and it has established an enviable customer base, among the most loyal in the industry.
While a large number of customers return for a second, or third Kia, the company’s phenomenal growth depends on conquest sales. Fully 82% of Kias sold in Canada are to folks coming from another brand.
There is no reason to think this trend will change thanks to a steady stream of new models like the 2014 Rondo.
Known as the Carens in global markets other than Canada and Australia, the new Rondo is known as the Carens in markets around the globe. The 2014 Rondo is in dealers now, there was no 2013 model.