If you live in Australia and need to cart around seven the choice generally comes down to three vehicle types: SUVs with third rows, vans or peoplemovers.
The Kia Rondo falls into the smaller range of the latter category. And with just one or two other (more expensive) rivals, the Citroen C4 Grand Picasso or possibly (the six-seat) Subaru Exiga, it pretty much has the segment to itself.
At its local launch in 2008 the Rondo was offered in three grades, but it's now available in just two: an entry level Si (manual or auto), from $25,990 and the range-topping auto only $31,390 SLi tested here.
Compared to similarly priced vehicles, the Rondo SLi is reasonably well equipped. Climate control air-con (with outlets for the second-row), single CD six-speaker audio with USB/aux input and steering wheel controls, Bluetooth connectivity, remote central locking, front foglights, 17-inch alloy wheels, trip computer, eight cup holders, three 12V outlets, and leather for the seats, steering wheel and gear lever are all standard.
Safety is taken care of with antilock brakes, traction and stability control, 10 airbags, including side curtains for all three rows, and lap sash belts throughout.
Kia's stylists have done their best with essentially a box shaped cabin, but the plasticky interior is starting to look dated. Our purple-painted test vehicle with its blacked-out alloys and splashes of chrome was particularly striking, however, attracting more than a few admiring glances.
We're not sure if the 'Violet Iris' paint was a one-off for our press car, as it's not officially listed as a colour option, but if nothing else it did bring back some pleasant memories of similarly-hued two-door Holden Monaros of the 1970s… Minus the fluffy dice!
The 4.5m long Rondo makes the most of its compact dimensions, delivering Tardis-like interior packaging. Helped by a tall roofline, it provides plenty of options inside for juggling various combinations of people and goods. The second row folds 60:40 and also slides fore and aft. At the rear there's a 50:50 split third row that will "dive flat" to extend the load area.
Shoulder room is an issue in the second row only if you have to squeeze in three adults. Although it's feasible to load it in a 2-3-2 configuration, in reality it's 2-2-2, unless the middle passenger in the second row is a younger child.
The third row with its restricted knee and headroom is also limited to young children over long hauls. While the second row can be adjusted on its rails, there's really only a limited amount of space to play with.
Another potential problem is that the tilt single seat access to the third row is on the driver's side, posing a safety issue for parents trying to load kids on the traffic side of the vehicle. They can still enter from the kerbside, but have to inconveniently clamber across a folded down, second row backrest to get in.
With the third row in use, there's very little room for anything but a couple of shopping bags in the 'boot'. But drop the third row seats, and second row (it won't fold completely flat) and there's room for surfboards or a bike.
Behind the wheel, the Rondo proved a mixed bag. While there's good all round visibility from the driver's seat, this 180cm tester struggled to find the ideal position with my long legs. As the seat only moves so far back and the steering wheel adjusts for height, not reach, my legs ended up slightly splayed in order to operate the pedals.
While the seats were comfortable and offered reasonable lateral support in corners, I would have liked more under-thigh support.
The biggest problem though was the overworked, 106kW/189Nm 2.0-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine,
I reality this has been the car's Achilles heel since its launch here three years ago. While it motivated the 1.6 tonne Rondo through traffic well enough, there's very little torque under 4000rpm and pressing the go-pedal to the floor merely saw the four-speed auto reluctantly kick down a cog or two, a manic rise in revs and a steady but specifically unspectacular increase in speed.
The result was higher than expected fuel economy, with 11.9L/100km recorded over the week. This is well above the ADR figure of 8.6L/100km figure and worse than the much larger Honda Odyssey we tested recently.
The Rondo is really crying out for a more refined and efficient turbo four or torquey diesel that would provide some much-needed low down grunt without impacting too much on fuel economy. A five or six-speed gearbox wouldn't go astray either. The shame is Kia has both components available in other models.
Due to the revvy engine and lack of noise insulation, cabin noise was on the high side. At 100km/h on the freeway, at 2500rpm in top gear, the engine emitted a steady hum. Add in some wind noise around the A-pillars and tyre noise and I often had to reach for the '+' volume button on the steering wheel.
The Rondo leaned disconcertedly through corners, depending on speed, although there's good grip from the Dunlop Sport tyres. The ride was generally unforgiving, ranging from jittery on less than smooth roads, to rock 'n roll on some of Melbourne's more pot-marked bitumen.
The hydraulic steering was reasonably direct but lacked feel but despite an 11.0m turning circle, it's easy to slot into tight parking spots.
Thanks to local tuning on models like Cerato and Sportage, we know Kia can do much better in terms of both suspension and steering.
Despite its shortcomings, the Rondo is worthy of consideration as there's very little else for the price and feature set in the mini-mover stakes. Just make sure you go on a decent test drive and can live with its foibles before signing on the dotted line.