New car reviews

2007 Kia Rondo

A slice of the pie

Lou Ann Hammond, Wed, 31 Jan 2007 08:00:00 PDT

January, 2007, Phoenix, AZ - Some folks say that the SUV "fad" is over. They are right, sort of. Sport Utility Vehicles add a lot of functionality to the family vehicle. The problem is, the SUV is based on a truck platform, so the ride is tough and trucks don't get as good gas mileage as cars. So, it's not that the SUV fad is over, it's that something smoother, with more miles per gallon and all the functionality of the SUV has arrived. And the new Kia compact CUV on the block is the Rondo.

The competitors in the compact CUV market are numerous. According to Power Information Network (PIN), the segment includes, by sales; Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, Toyota RAV4, Chrysler PT Cruiser, Chevrolet Equinox, Chevrolet HHR, Saturn VUE, Scion xB, Hyundai Santa Fe, Honda Element, Hyundai Tucson, Subaru Forester, Pontiac Torrent, Kia Sportage, Mercury Mariner, Mazda Tribute, Suzuki Grand Vitara, Mazda CX-7, Jeep Compass, Mitsubishi Outlander, Suzuki Vitara, Kia Rondo. Yes, Kia Rondo. According to Len Hunt, Executive Vice President, Chief Operating Officer, Kia Motors America (KMA), there were about 1,000 Rondos sold without mainstream advertising, such as TV.

BG Lee, President and Chief Executive Officer, Kia Motors America, hasn't been in his position long. He came from Australia where Kia Carens, the name of the Rondo in the rest of the world, were sold. The Rondo was first seen in the United States as a concept called the "Slice". Lee knows the United States is "most important for Kia Motors". In his speech to the journalists Lee talked about improving production and how Kia will continue to work on improving satisfaction "day by day".

Safety is big for Kia and their warranty is part of the reason for this push. The Sedona got five stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and, according to Len Hunt, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) told Kia that the Sedona "was the best minivan we've ever tested". Hunt went through how Kia started off building confidence in Kia with their warranty, and stepped up their integrity, so that people could have pride in their cars. He went on to talk about how once people have pride and passion in their vehicles they have an emotional allegiance to that brand.

Since safety is the number 3 reason why consumers buy a Kia, we know safety will be big in the Rondo. Standard in the Rondo are six airbags; front, side and curtain airbags. Also standard is 4-wheel disc anti-lock braking system (ABS), active front headrests and electronic stability control (ESC). NHTSA says that if all cars had ESC there would be 10,000 less deaths a year (out of 40,000).

The Rondo is derived from the Optima platform, sharing some stampings, suspension, steering and brake components. It is unique from the rear floor back, so if you like the Optima you'll like the Rondo.

There are two engines and two models available for the Rondo and I drove both engines. The 2.4-liter double overhead cam (DOHC) 4-cylinder is mated with a 4-speed automatic with sportmatic. The 4-cylinder gets 162 horsepower and makes 164 lb.-ft torque. The LX base 4-cylinder starts at $16,395 and is available only as a 5-passenger. The LX 4-cylinder model with air conditioning starts at $17,895 and can be a 5 passenger or 7 passenger configuration. The LX V-6 starts at $18,895 and comes standard with a 5-speed automatic and can be a 5 passenger or 7 passenger configuration. The 4-cylinder gets 21 city, 29 highway miles per gallon.

The 2.7-liter DOHC V-6 is mated with a 5-speed automatic with Kia's sportmatic using upshift/downshift. The 6-cylinder gets 182 horsepower and makes 182 lb.-ft of torque. The EX comes in the 4-cylinder as a 5 passenger only and starts at $19,195. The EX V-6 starts at $20,195 and can be a 5 passenger or 7 passenger configuration. The 6-cylinder gets 20 city, 27 highway miles per gallon.

Both engines are aluminum block and head and feature continuously variable valve timing (CVVT). The five-seat layout is standard, but the seven-seat is available for only $500 more. But be careful, you will give away some hiding space if you put in the last row of seats. Kia says the anticipated sales mix is 70 percent LX and 30 percent EX models and 70 percent 4-cylinder and 30 percent V-6 models.

The interior is easy to maneuver through, with lots of storage spaces and cupholders. The rear door is larger than normal for easy ingress and egress for the people that get the third row seat. The steering wheel has audio controls and the front row has cupholders en masse. There are eight cupholders for the five passenger version and ten cupholders for the seven passenger version of the vehicle. The low beltline of the car gives a real greenhouse effect, meaning lots of window room and light.

Kia has had 13 years of sales growth, having started in 1994. The Spectra and the Sportage create 40 percent of sales. In order for Kia to continue sales they are going to have to step up design. The Rondo is a rather bland exterior design. The standard roof-rack gives it a little form, and the backend is nice, but the design could use work. Fortunately, Kia knows their design is lacking and they have hired Peter Schreyer as global head of design. The Kia Kue concept won the Eye on Design award for functionality at the 2007 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit, Michigan, so give Schreyer two years and we should see some new designs coming out of Kia.

Another way to know that Kia has increased sales and increased in stature is where they are being sold. There are 638 Kia dealerships in the United States. One would assume that the largest number of sales in one dealership would be in California. In a "you've come a long way, baby" moment, the dealer with the most Kia Rondo sales was in - drumroll, please - Des Moines, IA. That's right, the midwest; home of the flex-fuel; corn ethanol country. No, the Rondo is not flex-fuel, but in Iowa, it's the little Kia that could.

Another way to know that Kia has increased sales and increased in stature is where they are being sold. There are 638 Kia dealerships in the United States. One would assume that the largest number of sales in one dealership would be in California. In a "you've come a long way, baby" moment, the dealer with the most Kia Rondo sales was in - drumroll, please - Des Moines, IA. That's right, the midwest; home of the flex-fuel; corn ethanol country. No, the Rondo is not flex-fuel, but in Iowa, it's the little Kia that could.

Interestingly, I liked the 4-cylinder on this car better than the 6-cylinder. I say interesting because it's the same engine that is in the Dodge Avenger and I liked the 6-cylinder Avenger better than the 4-cylinder. You can get the EX 4-cylinder with 7 passenger seating for a little over $23,000. All that and a 10-year warranty.

Hunt mentioned in passing that Kia was working on fuel economy, and "with the President's recent announcements we are working on it with interest." Kia says they are working on hybrids, flex-fuel, clean diesels and they have a test fleet of fuel cell vehicles on the road. Sang Un (Spencer) Cho, Senior Executive Coordinator and Product Planning for Kia Motors talked to me about Kia's plans for alternative fuels.

Cho is part of the engine development product planning that reports up the chain to E.S. Chung, President & CEO, Kia Motors Corp (KMC). Cho says that Kia is studying hybrids, diesels and flex-fuel vehicles. The issue, Cho says, is not the engine, but the capacity to develop. For example, Kia could have a Sorento hybrid in 2008 if they could get the price down. Korea's government has a "couple hundred" hybrids. It wouldn't be out of the realm of possibilities to see flex-fuel vehicles in 2009 if Kia reviews the material costs and sales volume, but Cho would be concerned about the lack of E85 stations to fill flex-fuel vehicles with ethanol.

In Korea Hyundai and Kia dominate the market with 75 percent of the 1.1 million sales per year in Korea. KMC's SUVs and minivans are 40-50 percent diesel worldwide, with the rest going to gasoline. Cho is concerned that the American public won't accept diesel, that they still have the memories of noisy, smelly diesel from the '70s. If KMC does decide to bring diesel into the US, Cho says, the earliest would be 2009-2010. Cho wants that diesel engine to meet the emission requirements of all 50 states. Hyundai and Kia might possibly develop the engine to meet U.S. and Europe regulations.

Cho knows diesel engines are more expensive than gasoline and the newer ones would be even more expensive. Cho gave examples; A Kia Rio diesel engine right now costs about $2,000 more than the Rio gas version. To produce a diesel engine that met California Air Resources Board (CARB) over the current Euro 5 regulations would cost about $1,500 more per engine. The calculations have to be done as to how many diesel units KMA can sell and the profit volume they could expect.

Cho's number one effort right now is improving fuel economy for European, domestic (Korean) and U.S. market. Power-to-weight ratio is a big part of Cho's waking consciousness, but he says, it can't be done at the expense of Kia's safety record.

Kia's number one effort right now should be getting more Rondos to Iowa. When you can sell 140-150 Kias in a month where it is a balmy "zero", I'd be making sure those folks were treated right.

 


2007 Kia Rondo new car view on carlist.com


2007 Kia Rondo new car view on carlist.com


2007 Kia Rondo new car view on carlist.com


2007 Kia Rondo new car view on carlist.com

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