There is no official category of vehicle on the market known as the not-quite-sure-what you call it. But some vehicles, such as the Kia Rondo, fit this description. We recently wrote about the Mazda5, a sort of minivan, sort of sedan, sort of wagon-type thing that also would be in this group.
The Rondo is equally blended - sort of wagon, sort of car, sort of small SUV, maybe even a hint of minivan. The Rondo is a bit taller and wider than the Mazda, but enjoys the same amount of versatility, the thing we liked most about that car, 'er van, 'er whatever. What we like about the Rondo is how nicely it's priced.
For a seven-seat vehicle that's not too big and not too small, it's hard to beat the Rondo in value. Our tester had a sticker price of $23,495, about two grand cheaper than the similarly equipped Mazda5 we had. At that price, our Rondo was the higher trim level EX (the other one is the LX), with 17-inch alloy wheels and options such as leather, heated seats, a power sunroof and a third row of seats, which is tiny, but OK for small kids. The EX also offers a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, lighted vanity mirrors and an MP3-capable audio system with extra speakers and controls on the steering wheel. The EX's exterior gives you chrome door handles, roof rails, body-side molding and a crossbar on the grille. LX models have 16-inch alloy wheels, full power accessories, a height-adjustable driver seat and a 60/40-split folding rear seat.
The LX Convenience Package includes remote entry and cruise control. If you've got a small crew or a little stuff to haul, the Rondo is a fine choice. The second- and optional third-row seats fold flat to give you a nice amount of cargo capacity. The third row seats split 50/50.
If your crew members are thirsty, the Rondo lets them drink up with quite a few cupholders. Storage bins also aren't lacking, another cool convenience feature. The Rondo is a front-wheel drive vehicle only, and comes with either a four- or six-cylinder engine. The Rondo is on the same platform as the Kia Optima sedan.
The four-cylinder engine in both vehicles is a 2.4-liter that is linked to a four-speed automatic transmission. It makes 162 horsepower and 164 pounds-feet of torque. The V-6, which we had in the tester, is a 2.7-liter linked to a five-speed automatic transmission. It makes a stout 182 ponies and 182 pounds-feet.
We were very impressed with the engine, as it offered decent passing and merge power on local highways. We tried out the manual shifting feature a couple of times and got an even sportier response. Most people buying in this category of vehicle aren't terribly concerned with dynamic performance, but it's nice to know that you don't have to feel like your senses have died when you get behind the wheel of the Rondo.
Mind you, BMW isn't exactly trembling with fear at the prospect of huge numbers of Rondos taking on the twisty roads of America, but for a low-$20,000 car, performance ain't too shabby. Also, the engine was much quieter than we expected, even at highway speeds.
We thought sure we'd get a little bit of that high revving whine that you seem to get with value-priced cars, but if there was any, it was barely audible in the Rondo. Gas mileage was OK. The Rondo's EPA figures are 18 mpg city, 26 highway. In combined driving, we got about 20, which was a bit of a disappointment, but not altogether lousy.
The Rondo presents a fine list of safety features, including front-seat mounted airbags, side-curtain airbags for all three rows, electronic stability control, antilock disc brakes and a tire-pressure monitoring system.
All are standard. Kia calls the Rondo a crossover utility vehicle, and that label seems to fit as well as any, one supposes. But whatever your needs might be, it's nice to have a multipurpose vehicle that can wear a few different hats - and they all seem to fit well on the Rondo.