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This week we take a look at the 2014 Kia Rondo, one of the newest entries into the ever-growing mini-minivan segment.
Nick Tragianis: I've made myself a promise, in that wherever life takes me, I'll never find myself behind the wheel of a minivan. As practical as they are, you absolutely do not look cool driving one, and with the growing trend toward the anti-minivan, I'm not alone.
That's why I don't mind the Kia Rondo; redesigned for 2014. It gets Kia's "Why don't we try to cram as many features into this car as possible?" treatment, as well as fresh new sheet metal (that may or may not look like a robot when viewed head-on).
Jodi Lai: I'm in the same anti-minivan camp as you. I will not, ever, in a million years, no matter how many children I have, drive a minivan. And I'm sure there are a lot of people who feel this way, too. Luckily for them, the RondoBot (which I have affectionately named it for its robotic looks and inherent practicality as a utilitarian machine) just looks like a regular hatchback that happens to have an extra row of seats hidden in the back.
And it really is a machine. I must admit the Rondo doesn't give me great joy when driving it (it's a machine, not a sensuous, leather-swathed straight-six-powered sexy thang), but I was terribly happy when I was able to haul all 10 of my new dining chairs in it because of its massive cargo capacity with all the seats down.
So, the drive is uninspiring, but the Rondo's utility far outweighs that.
NT: It's an appliance, and you really can't expect balls-to-the-wall performance out of something as utilitarian as the Rondo. It is powered by a 2.0-litre direct-injected four-cylinder engine, good for 164 horsepower and 156 pound-feet of torque, mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. The Rondo isn't mighty powerful, but it's tolerable on the highway.
The transmission comes with a manual shifting mode, which definitely helps dig up power, should you need it on the highway. It's a little noisy and whiny under acceleration, like a teenager who doesn't want to get out of bed, but knows they have to, so they do it anyway.
Where Kia has made strides over the years is interior quality. The 2014 Rondo certainly reflects that, with solid materials used throughout and a logically laid-out centre stack. Being the $32,195 top-line EX Luxury model, our RondoBot was filled to the brim with features you'd expect to find on more expensive cars, including heated seats all around, a cooled driver's seat, a heated steering wheel and an absolutely beautiful panoramic sunroof.
Another thing I appreciated about the Rondo was its LED interior lighting. It brightens up the cabin considerably, especially when you're shuffling through the cargo area.
JL: You're right Kia stuffed its Rondo full of features you'd normally find only in more expensive cars, and that's a huge win for the Rondo. When compared with its closest competitor, the Mazda5, they start at essentially the same price (in the $21,000 range), and have engines that are also quite similar. The Mazda5 has 0.5 L more displacement than the Rondo, but the Rondo has a few more horsepower (Mazda5 is rated at 157 hp). The Mazda, however, has a bit more torque available at a lower rpm (163 lb-ft at 4,000 rpm), and judging from my experience with Mazdas, the 5 may be a bit more engaging to drive than the Rondo.
This means the Mazda5 is slightly thirstier with fuel (9.5 L/100 km in the city and 6.7 on the highway vs. the Rondo's 9.2 city and 6.3 highway official rating). This could also come down to the fact the Rondo's automatic transmission has six gears, while the Mazda's has only five. The Kia (1,505 kg) is also slightly lighter than the Mazda5 (1,569 kg).
Here's one more win for the Rondo: At 1,840 L of cargo space behind the first row, it smokes the Mazda's 857 L. After a quick glance at the spec sheets for both cars, they seem pretty well-matched otherwise.
NT: Here's another win for the Rondo, and it's probably the biggest one: The current Rondo is all-new for 2014, whereas the Mazda5, despite its smiley-faced refresh two years ago, has been around with its current underpinnings since 2007. The Rondo can also be optioned with three rows of seating. While the second row is plenty roomy, I'll admit I wouldn't bother with the third row. I knew it just by casting one glance, but I sat in there just to make sure. Yep, the third row is impossibly cramped for long trips.
JL: The Rondo is definitely better looking than the Mazda5, but it's well known that third-row seats are really only for emergency situations, and most people will barely have to use them. Unless they need a full-time, seven-seat car, then they'd have to buy a real minivan and then, well, all hope is lost.
Pros: Huge cargo capacity, well equipped interior, solid-feeling build quality
Cons: Noisy engine, robotic looks, uninspiring drive
Value for money: Great
What we would change: Pop a turbocharger in it, sharpen steering.
-- Postmedia Network Inc. 2014