Let's give credit where it's due: Kia and Hyundai are owned by the same company, and inarguably, Hyundai gets the better seat at the corporate table. Many of the products the two companies build, such as the Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage, are essentially the same, aside from the nameplates. So what's a company such as Kia to do to differentiate itself from its bigger, older sibling?
The Kia Rondo, maybe. This slightly peculiar vehicle -- part minivan, part station wagon, part SUV -- doesn't have a Hyundai counterpart, though many of the components, including the two engine choices, can be found in other Hyundai and Kia products.
But, for better or worse, the Rondo is all Kia.
And that's fine, because for what it is, the Rondo works quite well. Its mission is that of a simple people-mover, able to move five adults and quite a bit of cargo. You can get an optional third-row seat that adds two more passengers, but given that the Rondo is only 179 inches long, it would be a very tight fit. The shortest Dodge minivan -- which is the shortest minivan available -- is still more than 10 inches longer than the Rondo.
The test Rondo did not have that optional third seat, which meant loads of under-the-floor storage compartments instead.
The Rondo is offered in two models -- the LX, and the slightly more deluxe EX. The test model was the EX, powered by a 2.4-liter, 162-horsepower four-cylinder engine and a four-speed automatic transmission. You can get a 2.7-liter, 182-horsepower V-6 as an option, and it comes with a five-speed automatic. All Rondos are front-wheel-drive; it's a little surprising there is no all-wheel-drive model offered.
Still, our EX seemed quite sure-footed, with a good ride and better handling than I expected. The four-cylinder engine (EPA-rated at 21 miles per gallon city, 29 mpg highway on regular gas) never lacked for power. If I carried adult passengers often, or quite a bit of cargo, I probably would want the V-6's extra 20 horses.
As it is, the EX tester was reasonably well-equipped. Standard equipment included 17-inch tires and alloy wheels, antilock brakes, side and side-curtain air bags, roof rails, fog lights, keyless entry, cruise control, steering wheel-mounted audio controls for the six-speaker stereo, and power windows and locks. Base price was $19,195, and an optional sunroof and upgraded Infinity stereo, plus shipping, raised the sticker to $20,995. Base price of the LX model is less than $17,000, but it doesn't even include air conditioning.
I'm wondering if Kia will run into a pricing problem with the Rondo: The company's base-model 2007 Sedona minivan has a 3.8-liter, 250-horsepower V-6 engine with a five-speed automatic transmission, seats seven, and has some equipment our Rondo doesn't. With shipping, that Sedona lists for $21,195. Add the V-6 to our Rondo, and it would cost $21,995. The Rondo might find its toughest competition also is under the Kia tent.