I’ve changed. Traditional automotive luxury no longer impresses me.
Expensive vehicles that get relatively few miles per gallon leave me cold. They make no sense at all. The same goes for automobiles that can move from 0 to 60 miles per hour at lightning speed. What is the point?
I and the two co-producers of this column have gotten into trouble going faster than the law allows. My wife, Mary Anne, cried her way out of a ticket, shamelessly using me in her plea to the officer, blaming me for putting her in a Mercedes-Benz sports coupe without adequately educating her about the car’s power and performance capabilities.
Ria Manglapus, this column’s associate for vehicle evaluations, copped a similar plea sans tears. But she was going way too fast to escape penalty. Luckily, it was her first-ever speeding offense, for which she wallowed in contrition in an appearance before the Fairfax District Court. Her penalty was reduced.
I’ve paid enough in speeding fines to put several children of police through college. There is nothing pretty, honorable, glorious . . . or fun about that waste. It was salary and time ill-spent. I’ve learned my lesson, and it is this: A car or truck does not have to be ridiculously expensive, nor excessively powerful and fast in order to be enjoyed.
It could be as spectacularly ordinary as this week’s subject vehicle — the 2008 Kia Rondo wagon.
I dismissed the Rondo a year ago, having succumbed more to its banality than I was seduced by what turns out to be its many virtues.
But that was before soaring U.S. fuel prices and a collapsing national economy exposed the ugliness of motorized greed. My associates and I thus decided to take another look at the Rondo, to evaluate it in the context of a vehicle designed to deliver maximum good at minimum cost. We like what we found the second time around.
First, overall craftsmanship is excellent. Fit and finish are on point. Interior materials are high-quality.
Second, there is the matter of thoughtfulness, such as the manner in which an interior is laid out. In the Rondo, it’s all good. All gauges, dials and switches are easily readable and accessible. There are multiple, well-formed storage bins. The middle and rear seats are easy to raise and lower; and when they are lowered, they fall flat, creating the perfect load floor.
Third, Kia, a subsidiary of South Korea’s Hyundai Motor, takes a democratic approach to safety — making premium protective technology available in a modestly priced vehicle. Standard safety equipment in the Rondo includes four-wheel disc brakes with antilock protection; side air bags with full-length ceiling bags protecting the heads and necks of passengers in the middle and the rear; active head restraints designed to reduce the possibility of whiplash in a rear-end collision; electronic stability control, and a tire-pressure monitoring system.
As a result, the Rondo gets the U.S. government’s top rating — five stars — for frontal crash protection for driver and passenger. It gets a five-star side-crash protection rating for the front-seat passenger and a four-star side-crash protection rating for passengers in the rear. The Rondo also gets a good rollover protection grade — four stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, all for a little front-wheel-drive wagon with a base price near $20,000.
The Rondo is offered with an economical 162-horsepower, inline four-cylinder engine and a more authoritative 182-horsepower V-6. Both engines get the job done. The V-6, tested for this column, adds some joy to the work.
The Rondo isn’t fancy. But it is substantial. That makes it a solid bargain in the current economic environment. And there’s something remarkably attractive about that.
ON WHEELS WITH WARREN BROWN Listen from noon to 1 p.m. Tuesdays on WMET World Radio (1160 AM) or http://www.wmet1160.com.