GALVESTON, TEX.? Flashy cars get all the press, but many people are just looking for something simple and inexpensive that gets the job done.
I?ve always considered the Kia Rondo to be an excellent choice for that, and the new version for 2014 gets even better.
Its tall-wagon styling provides lots of interior space, it?s very comfortable and, for those who like creature comforts, it can be outfitted with some rather nice premium options.
Rondo starts at $21,695 for the base LX with a six-speed manual transmission, which Kia admits is primarily to advertise a rock-bottom price. The clutch-shifter combination is nothing special, and there really isn?t any reason to order it other than price.
The other choice is a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic. Adding it to the LX is $23,995, which also bundles in automatic headlamps, rear parking sensors and alloy wheels. That?s for a five-seater; you can also opt for a seven-seater, for $25,195.
Even the base model has air conditioning, cruise control, heated seats, Bluetooth and satellite radio.
The well-equipped EX trim line, which only comes with the automatic, is $26,995 in five-passenger, or $28,195 for seven, adding such things as leather seats (including a power-extendable seat cushion for longer-legged drivers), rearview camera, auto climate control, rain-sensing wipers, and heated steering wheel.
The final touch, the EX Luxury in seven-seat only, is $32,195. It brings a panoramic sunroof, xenon headlamps with washers, navigation, heated rear seats, and a front parking warning system. There?s also a ventilated driver?s seat, although the passenger has to sweat it out (the company says it may offer two in the future, which it should have done right from the start).
That?s a lot of stuff, and the Luxury will probably be a relatively small seller ? the EX looks to be the volume trim level ? but Kia?s serious about dominating the segment.
The outgoing Rondo had a choice of a 175-hp four-cylinder or a 192-hp V6. The new one has only one powerplant, a 2.0 L four-cylinder. It sounds wimpy at 164 horses, but there?s a wider power band thanks to its gasoline direct injection and six-speed transmission, and the new version weighs a little less than the old one.
It?s no acceleration powerhouse, but it does the job. Throttle response is smooth, it?s confident at highway speeds, and it?s rated for better fuel economy than before.
Roads don?t get any straighter than in this part of Texas, so I didn?t have much chance to assess its cornering performance, but body roll around turns was within acceptable levels for a tall wagon.
There?s also a button to switch the electric power steering between Comfort, Normal and Sport. The first two feel vague and over-boosted. Sport tightens it up to where it should be, without making it too harsh and tiring on a day?s drive.
Where the old Rondo was a boring box, the new styling turns it into a pretty handsome piece (in Europe, where it?s called the Carens, it won a prestigious Red Dot award for design). From the side, it looks rather like the Mercedes-Benz B-Class.
The windows seem small from the outside, but visibility is good thanks to the tall seating position, and the large rear window provides an excellent view out the back. It?s also packed with sound deadening, with almost no road noise making its way into the cabin.
This is primarily a people mover, and a lot of thought went into the interior. It?s the little things that add up, such as rear-window sunshades on the EX, so you don?t need to use the suction-cup type from baby stores; USB ports inside a covered cubby to hide a phone; flat-folding seats; shallow storage bins in the floor behind the front chairs; hard-drive music storage even on the base trim; a rechargeable flashlight in the cargo area; and, on five-passenger models, a large bin under the cargo floor (the seats occupy it in the seven-passenger, but both have a smaller bin near the liftgate).
It?s also very easy to get in and out, both in the front and second row, an important consideration if you?re ferrying elderly parents. The third row is too cramped for anyone other than children or shorter adults on very short trips, but those seats are fairly well cushioned, unlike the straight planks that many seven-seaters use.
I liked the outgoing Rondo. It was plain, but I really liked its practicality, generous headroom and reasonable price. The new one is all that, but considerably better.
It?s not an exhilarating driver, but Kia has researched the market and packed in a lot of the items you want in a family hauler. Flashy may be nice, but functional wins every time.
Preview: 2013 Kia Rondo
Price: $21,695 to $32,195
Engine: 2.0 L four-cylinder
Power/torque: 164 hp/156 lb.-ft.
Fuel consumption L/100 km: 9.4 city, 6.2 hwy (manual); 9.2, 6.3 (automatic)
Competition: Chevrolet Orlando, Chevrolet Trax, Dodge Journey, Hyundai Elantra GT, Jeep Compass, Mazda5, Toyota Matrix
What?s best: Practical interior, improved styling, available premium features.
What?s worst: Average driving experience, no AWD option.
What?s interesting: It?s not sold in the U.S.
- 2014 Kia Rondo - photo by Jil McIntosh - for Wheels