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Kia Rondo EXL (copyright image) Kia Rondo EXL

Road Test

by Ian Barrett

30th December, 2008

If we askedour readerstothink of Kia, which model comes most readily to mind? For most folk, we suspect,there is onename whichimmediately comes to mind: Carnival. First released in the Australian market back in1999, with a 132 kW 2.5L V6, and standard 5-speed manual (optional 4-speed automatic), it quickly won the hip-pockets of families looking for a stylish value-for-money people mover.By 2001, it had managed to become the top-selling people mover in the country. The Carnival isarguably the most successful and respected of all Kia's offerings, with the larger Grand Carnival being added to the stable in recent years, with seating for eight, and a longer body for additional luggage capacity.

Andthe carnival's not over yet. Now a new 'baby brother' has arrived on the scene: Rondo 7. As the name suggests, Kia's latest people mover is a 7-seater like the original Carnival, but comes with compact and stylish dimensions.

Kiaare pitchingthe Rondo as an Urban Recreational Vehicle in much the same way as Skoda does with its Roomster. But the Rondo has the advantage of 7 seats, along with a clearly defined SUV look and feel. Top marks to the designers, who have turned out a great looking vehicle, both inside and out. We tested the top specification Rondo7 EXL, which was beautifully finished in 'Titanium Mica' paintwork ($350 option), and set off withfat 225/50 tyres on 17" alloy wheels,giving the cara purposefulon-road stance. Other external features included with the EXL are glass sunroof, roof rails with cross-bars, front driving lights,and chrome highlights on door handles and grille.

The interior design is no less impressive, beginning with a bold looking dashboard layout and well integrated centre console. Leather wrapped gearshift and steering wheel (with audio controls, but adjustable for tilt only) complement the classy looking leather seat trim. An AM/FM radio with MP3/WMA compatibility (with built-in auxiliary socket) and single-CD player gives acceptable sound quality through the 6 speakers, but a 6-stacker unit wouldn't go astray in a vehicle at this level. Cruise control would, likewise, be desirable as a standard inclusion. Heated exterior mirrors are a very useful idea fordamp and frosty winter mornings.

Ian Barrett with the Kia Rondo EXL (copyright image)

Speaking of the weather, the climate control air conditioning features rear ducting to ensure that all 7 occupants stay comfortable and happy. Well shapedfront seats offer plenty of adjustment,with 6-way manual adjustment for the driver. The 2 rows of rear seatsoffer adequate head, shoulder and leg-room for 7 average adults when needed, and allpositions featureindividual head restraints. While middle and rear seats don't appear overly shapely, they were pronounced comfortable enough by our mixed male and female passenger teamfora 2-hour open roadtrip.

The interior features lots of storage, with no less than 8cup holders, in addition to the obligatory door and seat back pockets. Covered storage boxes cater to 3rd-row passengers, while a pull-out tray resides beneath the front passenger seat, and the driver scores a sunglasses holder. And there's additionalunderfloor storage in the cargo area.

A2,700 mm wheelbase,together withthe SUV-inspiredstyling makes for a spacious load area. With all 7 seats available, luggage space is a modest 184 litres. But Kia have further optimised the space available with a wide choice of seating configurations to give plenty of versatility in accommodation. Bed-flat, split-fold, or cargo-flat capabilities enables fairly long or bulky items to be carried, and there's even stretch room for sleeping, with the 2nd row folded flat to give 2,083 litres of space. In fact,we like the idea ofa weekend camp-out for 2 at our favourite getaway, if a suitable tailgate annexe were available - how about it, Mr. Kia?!

Buyers opting for the EXLversion, as tested,are treated to a full array of safety gear. Dual front,side and curtain airbags (the latter 2 optional on lower models)enhance the feeling of security in the event of the unthinkable. This EXL specification also features active head restraints for driver and front passenger.

But the unthinkable is less likely given the Rondo's evident primary safety credentials. Four wheel disc brakes are coupled with ABS and EBD, while ESP (Electronic Stability Programme) and traction control (TCS) are also included. Very car-like handling and ride are provided by coil and strut-type front suspension with anti-roll bar, while the rear end sports the latest thinking in coil and multi-link layout, with anti-roll bar and stroke-dependent dampers. The final result is pleasantly safe and secure for this type of vehicle. And in any case, it's not likely to be driven like a sports car.

Kia Rondo EXL (copyright image)

Another reason for that is the excellent 2-litre, DOHC engine, which features CVVT to give outputs of 106 kW @ 6,000 rpm, and 189 Nm of torque at a relatively high 4,250 rpm. Smooth and quiet, it provides a very good balance between performance and economy, especially considering the use of a 4-speed 'tiptronic' automatic. We didn't test it against the stop-watch. Overall fuel consumption is quoted at a very respectable 8.6L/100 km (combined cycle). It goes well enough with a few on board, buta full complement of7 passengers is afair askfor2-litre 4-cylinder petrol engine. We'd like to see the larger 2.4 litre engine tucked under the bonnet, as fitted to Kia'sMagentis sedan.

That said, most buyers will find performance more than adequate for most requirements. Overall, we think the Rondo 7 will satisfy a lot of buyers in the hunt for a stylish and practical people-mover with room for 7. The top-level EXL comes as afairly complete package,with a surprisingly modest price tag.The asking price is from $31,990 plus on-road costs, which includes Kia's 5-year factory warranty.

There'sno doubt that Kiahas thepower to surprise -and entice - with the Rondo 7, particularly when value for money enters the picture!

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