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Mazda5 vs. Kia Rondo

Faceoff: Two compact wagons duke it out Add to ...

Kia (Rondo) and Mazda (Mazda5) are about to lose ownership of the small minivan space - a space they've had to themselves since Chrysler abandoned car-sized minivans several years ago.

Chrysler brass cite all sorts of reasons for dumping the unpretentious, perfectly affordable and utterly useful Dodge Caravan with the last minivan remake. Kia and Mazda, however, have carved out a nice little niche where Chrysler once ruled.

Now, Ford and others are rethinking minivans, seeing big opportunity in thinking small. They are planning compact minivans and wagons with three rows of seats, fuel-efficient four-cylinder engines and $20,000-something sticker prices. Why?

"Minivans have become very expensive, very fuel-inefficient," said Jim Farley, Ford's group vice-president of global marketing.

Ford's seven-seat Grand C-Max, shown at the recent Paris Motor Show, is scheduled for sale in Canada and the United States next year. Based on the Ford Focus platform, it will surely be priced in the very low $20,000s. The similarly sized Chevrolet Orlando also is scheduled to arrive next year. Auto analysts predict Honda and Toyota will bring equivalent models, now sold overseas, to North America, as well.

So the Mazda5 and the Kia Rondo won't have the field alone for much longer. Whatever you call these two - compact wagon, small minivan, multi-activity vehicle - until the new contenders arrive, these are your options in a vehicle class ideal for budget-constrained families.

That's true more than ever right now because today both are real deals. Mazda Canada has a basic $3,000 factory-to-dealer rebate on the 5, and it can be combined with a Grad Award ($750) and a Loyalty Bonus for repeat Mazda buyers ($500). That's a potential $4,250 discount on Mazda5 GS with a base price of $20,795.

The Rondo? Similar story. A $19,995 Rondo LX has a $4,000 factory-to-dealer incentive on the table. So the Rondo can be had for less than $16,000 plus fees and taxes, while the Mazda5 is a sub-$17,000 ride.

The Mazda5 may be a little more money, but it comes standard with seating for six - three rows of seating, in other words. If you want three seating rows in the Rondo, you'll need to move up to the $24,795 LX Premium seven-seater. Kia's $4,000 deal is still in play, by the way.

Of these two, the Mazda 5 with its sliding side doors is a pure minivan - a good thing. The sliding doors make for easy entering and exiting and they provide generally unimpeded views through big windows. Its compact size makes the 5 ideal for manoeuvring shopping malls and hockey rink parking lots. The Rondo's hinged rear doors are not as parking-space friendly as the Mazda's sliders.

2010 Kia Rondo LX five-seater

2010 Mazda5 GS



No one would ever call the Rondo stylish or lovely or beautiful. It's basically a lumpy-looking box designed entirely for utility.


While still boxy, the Mazda5 has some interesting lines and creases and shapes that catch the eye. The nifty design of the sliding doors on each side make for smooth, aerodynamic sides.



What's boxy on the outside is usually big on the inside when it comes to vehicles. The Rondo is extremely roomy inside, especially the front seats. The base model in this test had a tightly built cabin, but the look - basically all-black - is hugely uninteresting. This cabin is all about function and everything does work nicely.


The seats could be better padded and more comfort able for long distances. On the other hand, Mazda has dressed up the cabin with interesting instruments and shiny trim bits. The tilt and telescoping steering wheel is a plus for drivers, as is standard lumbar support.



Nothing sporty here in the ride and handling, but wow is the grocery-getting comfortable. The Rondo is quiet, too. The engine is powerful enough, transmission shifts are smooth, too. This is an easy car to drive.


The Mazda5 is a little noisier than the Rondo at highway speeds and the Rondo is a little bit more comfortable, too. But the Mazda has a sportier feel, with quicker steering and tighter turning responses.



Standard safety gear includes antilock braking and airbags in front, at the side and overhead. The Rondo is not the biggest vehicle in the world, but has done quite well in crash tests.


The Mazda5 comes standard with antilock braking and airbags in front, at the side and overhead in the curtain style. Crash test performance is good.



Fuel economy here is pretty decent, but the Mazda5 is better on this front.


Pretty decent fuel economy, but the next-generation 5 promises to be less thirsty, still.

The Verdict


If pure functionality is what you want in a wagon that drives nicely, then Kia has nailed the formula for you. You'll like this vehicle if you want a small, affordable family wagon/minivan and don't care about the looks of the thing.


Families with one or two kids and a tight budget should definitely give the Mazda5 a thorough look-see. It's a screaming deal right now, as is the Rondo. You'll like this vehicle if you are a family buyer on a tight budget.

Like the Rondo, the Mazda5's base engine is a four-cylinder (153 horsepower). It is mated to a five-speed manual transmission; a five-speed automatic is an extra $1,200.

The basic Rondo's four-banger comes in at 175 hp and is standard with a four-speed automatic gearbox. The Kia has a power edge; the Mazda gets better fuel economy (9.6 litres/100 km city, 7.0 highway, while the Rondo gets 10.6 city/7.5 highway).

The Mazda can haul six people, but not for long distances; those rear-most seats are pretty tight. Small kids can live there for a little while, but sitting in the third row is really out of the question for normal-sized adults.

The rest of the Mazda's interior is straightforward and well finished, though some of the plastics and fabrics have a whiff of economy car. Sporty gauges and metal-look trim inserts dress the cabin up, at least. The seats are covered in a decent cloth and the driver's seat has lumbar support, Mazda includes power window, door lock and side mirrors as standard and the steering wheel tilts and telescopes.

The Rondo is similarly equipped - all the power features and cloth upholstery, though in the base model the steering wheel only tilts. All the bits and pieces are tightly put together, too. The Rondo's cabin does look a bit more basic than the 5 - more like a working family vehicle.

Speaking of its workhorse qualities, the Rondo has more space inside than the Mazda5: 3,052 litres in total passenger volume versus 2,768 for the 5. The Rondo's seats are more effectively padded, too - more supportive and comfortable than the Mazda5's base seats.

Where the Mazda clearly has an edge is in those cleverly engineered sliding doors. Though they are not power-operated, they open and close so weightlessly that a small child can operate them.

Moreover, these doors create a huge entryway. In fact, if you pivot the second-row seats forward in a smooth one-touch operation, the Mazda offers access to the third row that no hinged-door model can touch - including the Rondo.

Mazda will bring to market a completely new version of the 5 in just a couple of months. But this older 5 is still pretty competitive and it has a slight edge overall on the current Rondo. But with more entries on the way, this minivan/wagon story, however, is far from over.


2010 Kia Rondo LX five-seater

2010 Mazda5 GS


Compact wagon/minivan

Compact wagon/minivan


$19,995 ($1,650 freight)

$20,795 ($1,595 freight)


2.4-litre, four-cylinder

2.3-litre, four-cylinder


175 hp/169 lb-ft

155 hp/148 lb-ft


Four-speed automatic

Five-speed manual




Fuel economy (litres/100 km)

10.6 city/7.5 highway; regular gas

9.6 city/7.0 highway; regular gas



Kia Rondo

70 Automobile Journalists Association of Canada members selected the top vehicles in 11 categories at four-day TestFest

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