John Ralston is Living in Your Car. More specifically, he's starring in the new HBO Canada comedy of the same name, playing Steve Unger, a fallen corporate CEO caught cooking the books who loses everything - his job, wife and home. He sleeps in his one remaining asset, his car, a Rolls-Royce.
In real life however, Ralston doesn't own a half-million-dollar ride. He drives a 2008 Kia Rondo. At least it's a top-of-the-line EX V-6 luxury seven-seater.
"Money was no object," he laughs. "At the time we had a strict budget … This vehicle is, in my humble opinion, the most underrated family vehicle with family value on the market today.
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"It's loaded with safety features - when you have kids you worry about that. It has everything - curtain airbags all the way to the back, electronic stability control, traction control. It seats seven. It was a no-brainer," says the married father of two boys.
"I'm a walking cliché of a soccer dad. We car pool a lot so I can throw a bunch of kids in a relatively small vehicle and be more than comfortable. Practicality is the name of the game. Its price point is really, really reasonable. It's great value," says the 46-year-old New Brunswick-born actor. "I'm not a man of gimmicks. I'm not into a car with a sporty edge to it. By the same token, it's a really forward-looking vehicle - it's a funky direction to go in.
"What I really like is the space. This thing is so deceiving. It's a mixture of a squished up minivan-slash-hatchback with the styling of a pope-mobile, all mixed into one. It has a high roof and oodles of space. Although I wouldn't put an adult in the third row, the kids absolutely love it."
Ralston is a fan of how it handles. "I love the drive. It rides like a car, but you're not low. But you're not as high as you are in a minivan or SUV. You're kind of in the middle. It has the best of every world without being gimmicky. It's very simplistic. It doesn't pretend to be anything else.
"People often comment on the design - it's not as exciting, but I like it. It doesn't make a huge statement. I always found those cars that have bold designs in another two years actually look out of place and old and tiresome. It walks its own walk in a simple, unassuming way," says Ralston whose acting credits include Life with Derek, Flash Gordon, and This is Wonderland.
Unlike Unger, the character from his TV show, his car does not define him. "His car is his own identity. It's his last vestige of his former life. Cars have never been my identity."
Still, it was memorable driving the Rolls. "It was like driving a boat that made no noise. It was the finest Corinthian leather. One of the characters on the show said if you ripped out that console in the back you could put in a piece of plywood and have a nice living space back there."
And if he shared the same fate as Unger in real life, he could do the same with his Kia. "I'd just slap that second row down, put in some plywood, a sleeping bag and Bob's your uncle," he laughs.
Ralston's first car was a Plymouth Volare. "I remember I had to sell it to get through my last year at St. Francis Xavier University (in Nova Scotia) … Every time it got the least bit damp or wet out, it would stall. It would stall at traffic lights. Being in the Maritimes it's not the place you want it to stall when it gets damp or wet."
He also owned a Toyota Corolla and a Nissan Altima. "Not too long ago I was driving a 10-year-old Altima and listening to cassettes." But it was too small for his wife, kids, and dog. So they moved to the Kia Rondo.
He's familiar with Kia and South Korean cousin Hyundai. "I can say I was in a Hyundai Pony back in the '80s outside of Halifax and the engine blew up. From those days of people scoffing at it to see where the Koreans have come now is really quite remarkable.
"I absolutely love the Kia. If I had a nickel for every time somebody came up to me, especially that first year or two, saying, 'What is that?' in a curious, enquiring way, I'd be a rich man."
But he'd stick with his Rondo. "You're going to see many people going to an urban utility vehicle or crossover to try and get away from the minivan and not have the styling of an SUV. I think you'll find this segment explodes. I got into it at the very beginning and I see more and more of them around."
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