When Kia first handed us the keys to the Rondo back in October 2007, our biggest debate had been what to call this vehicle. It has three rows of seats, yet no AWD or 4WD (so it isn't a crossover or an SUV), no sliding side doors (calling it a minivan is out), and a cargo area (could that make this the only seven-passenger hatchback in the U.S.?). Perhaps it would be best to refer to it as a wagon. Whatever you call it, the Rondo has proven a reliable, capable, and frugal SUV alternative. For an as-tested price of $23,495, our EX came with the 182-horse, 2.7-liter V-6, optional third row, heated (front) leather seats, power sunroof, and an AM/FM/CD system. The small-size/big-cabin combo appealed to many staffers, who went to work putting miles on the hard-to-define vehicle.
The second question that popped up about the Rondo: How long do we get to keep it? What started out as a basic one-year long-term evaluation has continued for nearly two years, making the Rondo the elder statesman of the long-term fleet. It was here for the housing boom and the recession. It was in our fleet for two presidents. It was here during the Beijing Olympics and saw two Super Bowl and two World Series champs get crowned. It's been with us a long time. That's not to say it hasn't been fun. Within a week of getting our hands on the Rondo, senior editor Ron Kiino took advantage of the generous cargo area for a fishing trip to Mammoth Lakes. A buddy rode shotgun and the rest of the cabin was filled with gear-but the Rondo easily held it all. A month later, photographer Brian Vance used the Kia to scoot up to Reno, noting that his trip "was done in record time on Thanksgiving morning; the Rondo's bean shape and dark blue paint allowed me to skip past slower traffic and fly under the radar of the California Highway Patrol." Sometimes you can drive faster in an economy car than in a sports car.
Mark Williams used the Rondo to drive his daughter and her belongings home from college in San Francisco. Even with the seats folded flat and "every inch of the rear cargo area" used, "there was still plenty of good visibility out of all the windows." However, on a run to dinner, he filled the Rondo with people, noting "with seven aboard, the engine and suspension felt tapped out. It's not made for adult passengers all the time, but it still got us there and back safely."
Everyone who drove the Rondo for an extended amount of time was impressed with the vehicle's economy and surprising spaciousness, but many were not so thrilled with its plain-Jane cabin and strange yet dull styling. The interior was noted by more than one staffer as having an odd plasticky smell. Also, many were disappointed with the seats: You sit on them rather than being nestled in them. And it didn't have navigation, an iPod/aux jack, satellite radio, or tire-pressure monitoring system. We know these aren't things you can't live without, but for a 2007 model, these were options available in similarly priced vehicles. That, plus the somewhat outdated styling, and old-tech, small V-6 made the Rondo feel decidedly behind the times. As of the 2009 model year though, all the aforementioned interior features have been made standard (TPMS) or options.