While the reverse used to hold true not a decade ago, currently, Canadians get a number of exclusive products not found south of the 49th parallel. Smaller vehicles, designed for global markets, that include the likes of the Chevrolet Trax and Orlando, as well as the Mercedes-Benz B-Class.
|1. A 2.0L 4-cylinder engine makes 164 hp and 156 lb-ft of torque.
2. Fuel economy is 26/37 mpg (9.2/6.3 L/100 km) with the automatic transmission.
3. Coming standard with five seats, a seven-seater option is available.
4. Called the Carens in global markets, the 2nd generation Rondo isn’t sold in the U.S., but pricing in Canada starts at $21,695.
Add the new 2014 Kia Rondo into that mix too. The first generation sold poorly in the U.S. and was euthanized a couple years back. But even as it aged rapidly, Canadians still found its utility and honest nature (not to mention its price) to be highly attractive. So this second-generation Rondo was adapted for Canadian roads and tested in places like Northern Minnesota (that’s in Canada, right?). The mules were tested for hundreds of thousands of miles, then torn apart and scoured for any long-term problems or issues back at Hyundai’s engineering centre in Michigan.
And although it was fine-tuned with Canadians in mind, perhaps it would do just fine hauling football equipment as it does hockey gear. That said, we traveled to Houston, TX to drive the second-generation MPV (multi-purpose vehicle) to see if it warrants another shot on American soil.
KIA STYLE ALWAYS PLEASES
The design of the original, which was upright and purposeful, if not especially pretty, has been thoroughly transformed. The Rondo follows the Cadenza and new Forte with its more dramatic design, offering a revised version of Kia’s signature grille.
From the profile, it’s sleek and compact with plenty of appeal, including the rising beltline and short overhangs. The ‘vent’ window is large enough to be useful, while rear fender and window line honor the original’s. The rear, though, could be any number of modern five-door hatchbacks from Ford or others. Every model gets an integrated rear spoiler and new wheel designs, starting at 16-inch steelies up to 18-inch stunners on top-end versions.
GIMMICKY STEERING, STIFF RIDE
The Rondo rides on a so-far unique platform with MacPherson struts up front and a space-saving torsion bar out back. Brakes are discs all around and have good response and adjustability and provide drama-free stops. However, Kia adopted sister-brand Hyundai’s driver-selectable steering weight adjustment, dubbed Flex Steer, which feels more gadget than solution. It alters how much assist is given by the new electric steering pump – Normal and Sport are the two I used most often – but there’s still a big lack of feedback.
Turn-in itself is pretty quick, and body roll is kept to a minimum, but ride quality still needs a little work. Admittedly, the roads around Houston, TX where we had the chance to test the car are rough at best, but there were plenty of bumps and thumps that made their way into the cabin. Like other Kias we’ve driven recently, it’s just that last five per cent that needs help to turn stiff into sporty. The smaller 16-inch wheels did provide a more isolated ride and on smoother roads, the cabin is significantly quieter.
ONE ENGINE DOES THE TRICK
Although the original Rondo was the only mini-MPV to even offer an optional six-cylinder engine, the newest version only gets one choice. The 2.0-liter 4-cylinder debuted on the recently revised Soul and second-gen Forte, but here produces 164 horsepower and 156 lb-ft of torque. Those amounts fall equally between the original engines, and with direct injection and other modern tweaks the Rondo rarely feels out of breath.
The six-speed automatic is a willing partner too, downshifting when needed and not feeling like it was locking into higher gears early to save fuel. One new aspect of the 2014 Rondo is that base models can be had with a six-speed manual transmission, much like the Mazda5 and Canada-only Chevy Orlando, but it does use more gas.
One benefit to the new construction is that the Rondo weighs less than before. Depending on trim, the 2014 comes in between 85-120-lb lighter than the outgoing model. Even the full-blown seven-seat EX Luxury still comes in just over 3,500 lb.
Overall, efficiency is much improved with fuel economy ratings of 26 MPG (9.2 L/100 km) in the city and 37 MPG (6.3 L/100 km) on the highway for the automatic transmission, and 25/38 MPG (9.4/6.2 L/100 km) for the manual. Even with the high-compression and direct injection, the Rondo doesn’t require premium fuel.
NEW LUXURY FEATURES
Also, few will miss the hard plastics of the Rondo’s dated interior. The new one gets upgraded in every way possible from the design to the softer, more expensive pieces used. The overall look is shared with newer Kias, meaning great touches and well screwed together. As with the previous generation, you can get your Rondo with either five- or seven seats; the second row in either is easy to access thanks to large doors and a low floor height. As with its competitors, though, you’d only want to subject children – or adults you’re not fond of – to the third row.
New features that Kia’s using to make the Rondo even more useful for families include things like a cooled glovebox, underfloor storage in the second row, and a removable rechargeable flashlight in the cargo area. However, the lids used for the bins are too thin and the tabs feel like they’d suffer damage easily. The Dodge Journey does this more elegantly.
With all three rows raised, though, you only have a meager 8.1 cu-ft of cargo space, which is basically enough for some soft bags or day-trip items. Anything larger and you’ll need to fold the third-row flat and access a total of 32.2 cu-ft, which is quite substantial. With everything flat, that expands to 65 cu-ft, which is seriously generous.
HOW MUCH YOU CAN’T PAY FOR IT
Kia’s popularity comes from jamming its vehicles full of standard content. Every model gets niceties like heated front seats, air conditioning, power windows and locks, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls and more. Canadian pricing has manual-transmission LX models starting at a very competitive $21,695, although most will opt for the regular LX at $23,995, which adds the six-speed automatic, back-up sensors, satin roof rails, 16-inch alloys and leather-wrapped interior bits. Opting for seven-seats is$25,195 for LX and $28,195 for EX.
The mid-range EX enjoys 17-inch wheels, LED running lights, chrome exterior trim, keyless ignition, a rear-view camera, leather seats, power-folding exterior mirrors with integrated turn signals, integrated rear sunshades, heated steering wheel, climate control and UVO. The top-end EX Luxury only comes with seven seats but also adds 18-inch wheels, a panoramic sunroof, HID headlights with washer nozzles, LED taillights, a ventilated driver’s seat, heated rear seats, plus the premium audio/navigation system with an eight-inch touchscreen for $32,195.
The list of the Rondo’s more generous standard – or exclusive – equipment at every level is quite long and can’t be outlined well here.
Its natural rival – the Mazda5, which is the driving-enthusiasts default choice, – does offer six seats as standard to the Rondo’s five, which means it’s an additional $1,200 to get three-rows in the Kia rather than two. But the Rondo’s interior quality and exterior wow-factor mean plenty of people will opt-in. The Dodge Journey, although a more traditional SUV compared to the others, is one of the most popular seven-seaters around, but its non-V6 models are still left with underwhelming four-cylinder/four-speed-auto combos.
But those are just the established players for now. Soon, Ford will be offering a two-or-three-row Transit Connect wagon, while Nissan will probably offer a person-hauling option for its new NV200 commercial vehicle. And the Fiat Doblo-based Ram competitor wouldn’t be out of place either since the original accommodates rear seats in Europe.
Given its standard features, class-leading power and interior appointments – not to mention the dramatic design – there’s every reason to believe that the new Rondo would be welcomed back to the U.S., were it given a shot.