2014 Kia Rondo first drive
Revised Rondo no longer feels like family black-sheep
Houston, Texas – While most people might consider Canada and the United States as very similar when it comes to the availability of certain car models, in truth, there have always been a few nameplates sold exclusively on only one side or the other. Currently, Canadians get exclusive products like the Chevrolet Trax and Orlando, smaller vehicles that are designed with global markets in mind but one Americans probably won’t buy. The Mercedes-Benz B-Class is another example. Explain to people that it’s a front-wheel-drive compact Mercedes-Benz and they look at you funny.
Add the new 2014 Kia Rondo into that mix too. The first generation sold poorly in the U.S. and was euthanized not long after its launch. But even as it aged rapidly, Canadians still found its utility and honest nature to be highly attractive. So this second-generation Rondo was adapted for Canadian roads and tested both in places like Northern Minnesota and Quebec. The mules were tested for hundreds of thousands of kilometres, then torn apart and scoured for any long-term problems or issues back at Hyundai’s engineering centre in Michigan.
The result is a vehicle that’s closely tailored to the way Canadians drive and use their cars.
Rondo now quite a charmer
First, the design is quite obviously the biggest change between the generations. Where the original Rondo is unapologetically upright, the newest gets the full “Schreyer” treatment (as in Peter Schreyer, Kia’s design star credited with the company’s turnaround and new president). The nose gets a revised version of Kia’s corporate grille and a face similar to the new Forte, but otherwise, there are very few similarities between generations. It’s a sleek compact-ish MPV with plenty of appeal, including the dramatic headlights, a rising beltline, and short overhangs. The vent window – the little window just ahead of the main front doors – is large enough to be useful, while the shape of the rear fender honours the original car’s.
The back end, although handsome, could really be any number of modern five-door hatchbacks. There’s a strong vibe of Ford C-Max or Mercedes-Benz B-Class to it. Depending on who you ask, that’s either a good or bad thing.
Some will miss the unique rear-headroom-boosting bulge for setting the original Rondo apart; others will appreciate the move forward. Every model gets an integrated rear spoiler and new wheel designs, starting with 16-inch steelies up to 18-inch aluminum stunners on top-end versions.
All-new underpinnings and engine
Mechanically, the Rondo rides on a new – and so-far unique – platform with MacPherson struts up front and a space-saving torsion beam out back. Brakes are discs all around and have good response and adjustability and provide drama-free stops.
Although the original Rondo stood out amongst its rivals by offering an optional V6 engine to supplement the base four-cylinder, the newest variant only has one engine. It’s the 2.0-litre four-cylinder that debuted on the recently revised Soul and second-gen Forte, but here produces 164 horsepower and 156 lb.-ft. of torque. Those amounts fall about halfway between the original engines, but with direct injection and other modern tweaks, the Rondo rarely felt flat-footed on the road. The six-speed automatic was a willing partner too, downshifting when needed and not feeling like it was locked into higher gears early to save fuel. One new aspect of the 2014 Rondo is that base models can be had with a six-speed manual transmission, much like the Mazda5 and Orlando. Manual versions weren’t available to test at the launch, so keep your eyes peeled for a follow-up test.
One benefit to the new platform is that the Rondo weighs less than before. Depending on trim, the 2014 comes in between 38-55-kg lighter than the outgoing 2012. Even the full-blown seven-seat EX Luxury still comes in well under 1,600 kg.
Overall, efficiency is much improved with fuel economy ratings of 9.2 L/100 km in the city and 6.3 on the highway for the automatic transmission, while the manual uses slightly more gas with ratings of 9.4/6.2. Even with direct injection, premium fuel is not required.
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