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Kia Rondo

Family hauler sells well in Canada - but not in the U.S. Add to ...

Whether you think of Kia’s Rondo as the minivan of crossover vehicles or perhaps as a new-age replacement for a mid-size station wagon, this sensible shoes category vehicle has won enough Canadian hearts and minds since its introduction for 2007 that it remains firmly in the lineup here for 2012 despite skidding off the road south of the border.

The American’s apparently “got” the Rondo for a while, but then all of a sudden they didn’t, causing U.S. sales to side-slip into a death-slide and Kia to quietly euthanize the vehicle after sales barely doubled the Canadian total in 2010.

In Canada, however, the Rondo remains a strong contributor to Kia’s annual numbers, with 6,307 sold last year and this year it’s tracking ahead of that pace with 3,619 delivered in the first half.

Those numbers show Rondo running neck-and-neck with its sole rival in this tiny two-vehicle niche, the Mazda5. The two vehicles may be filling at least part of the gap in the market left by the departure of Chrysler’s short-wheelbase minivans.

“With optional seven-passenger seating and great overall utility, it’s a vehicle that along with Sedona offers a lot for families, but at a more affordable price,” says a Kia Canada spokesperson. And given its success here, he says there are no plans to drop the Rondo. In fact, the company is eagerly anticipating the arrival of a new-generation Rondo within the next couple of model years.

The Rondo is available as a base five-seater powered by a 2.4-litre, 175-hp, four-cylinder engine with four-speed automatic starting at $19,995, with a more fully equipped EX listing at $22,795 and an EX with seats for seven going for up to $25,095. The five-place EX V6 – the model reviewed here – is priced at $23,895, the seven-seat version is $24,895 and the line-topping Luxury $27,195.

The Rondo falls into the crossover category, but drew its inspiration from the minivan rather than sport utility vehicles, which gives it a look that lacks some of the typical crossover’s stylishness, replacing it with a pleasing but more van-like profile. The mixed message is reinforced by swing-open rear doors rather than minivan-style sliders.

In overall length, the Rondo’s 4,545 mm is 589 mm shorter than Kia’s Sedona minivan and 15 mm longer than its compact crossover Sportage.

Rondo offers seating for five or seven, although the final pair of occupants had better be on the petite size, and in both versions the centre seat will only really prove a comfortable place to travel for two. This seat slides to increase legroom, but at the expense of cargo space in the five-seater and rear legroom in the seven-seat model.

Cargo capacity with second seat folded and accessed through the large rear hatch is 1,431 litres (less with seven-seat models), which is a bit shy of the 1,546 provided by the new-for-2011 Sportage and obviously not in the same league as the big Sedona van’s 4,006 litres.

Which rather begs the question, why would you opt for the frumpier Rondo over the sexier Sportage, even though the latter’s starting price is some $2,000 higher? Or if you really needed to haul people and stuff, why not the Sedona with its $23,895 price matching the mean of Rondo pricing?

The mysteries of marketing and what motivates buyers aside, the Rondo, typical of Kia’s latest creations, is a nicely put together and pleasant vehicle to drive and live with, particularly the well-equipped interior.

Changes for 2011 were minimal: a new “Tiger” grille and some added exterior garnish, the shiny bits including a new chrome exhaust finisher, minor trim changes inside and an electric fuel-door release and there’s little change planned for 2012.

The V-6 is a 2.7-litre, twin-cam, 24-valve unit rated at 198 hp and producing 184 lb-ft of torque, which finds its way to the front wheels via a five-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted by the driver in the unlikely event he or she might want to do that.

Throttle tip-in is a tad abrupt, but aids a lively step-off, and the transmission taps into the torque to make driving in traffic effortless, although downshifts aren’t particularly smooth. This combination delivers enough acceleration to accomplish merging or passing manoeuvres without undue driver stress.

Fuel economy numbers are less than brilliant though at 11.5 litres/100 km city and 7.7 highway, considering the 3.5-litre Sedona minivan’s ratings are a nearly identical 11.5 city and 8.0 highway.

This is a hard-to-define vehicle, which may be why – along with the Mazda5 – it makes up a class of just two, but it works well in virtually all areas and likely makes a pleasant little workhorse for those who own one.

Tech specs

2011 Kia Rondo EX V-6

Type: Compact minivan

Base Price: $23,895; as tested, $25,795

Engine: 2.7-litre, DOHC, V-6

Horsepower/torque: 192 hp/184 lb-ft

Transmission: Five-speed automatic

Drive: Front-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 11.5 city/ 7.7 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Mazda5, Ford Transit Connect, Nissan Cube, Kia Soul, Chevrolet HHR, Scion xB

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