- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 8, 2007

Every once in awhile, an auto manufacturer comes along with a unique marketing approach for a new vehicle that is both refreshing and pointed. Such is the case with the folks at Kia and their latest midsize station wagon, errrr, make that crossover utility vehicle (CUV) to be more properly in tune with today’s new-car-speak.

The vehicle is the all-new Rondo, which is derived from the Optima platform, but happens to be unique from the rear floor forward.

Kia refers to the lighthearted philosophical approach used in their advertising campaign as “Rondoism,” which represents a whole new vehicle for a whole new road, and which comes with several meaningful new Rondoisms such as: Huge Cabinosity; Precision Steerosity; Safety All-Overness; MPG Happiness; and perhaps best of all ‘Giddyupedness. I could explain each new term explicitly, but they’re really self-evident in their Sincere Cleverness. If you desire a more in-depth reference, there’s even a special Web site: www.rondoism.com.

The Rondo is all new to the U.S. marketplace, but is in essence entering its third generation in the global marketplace, having been on sale for the past few years abroad as the European Carens. Rondo begins its existence on our shores as either a five-passenger or seven-passenger CUV, or station wagon, or hatchback, or mini-minivan or whatever works best for you. It comes in two trim levels, LX and EX, with either a 2.4-liter,162-horsepower four-cylinder engine, or a 2.7-liter, 182-horse V-6 that also generates a like amount in terms of foot-pounds of torque. Both are front-wheel drive, with no four-wheel variant currently projected. The four-banger mates to a four-speed, manually shiftable Sportmatic automatic transmission, while the V-6 couples to five-speed Sportmatic. The LX rides on 16-inch wheels and tires, with the EX rolling on 17-inch stock.

Kia’s Power to Surprise tag line is most appropriate for the new Rondo as it does just that without question. The visual appeal of the Rondo is quite appealing, if not exceptionally emotional in its design, while its performance and handling characteristics are pleasingly surprising. Rondo’s exterior form is easy on the eyes as is, but the overall impression can be bumped up a notch or two by adding such accoutrements as an accessory body kit that includes argent-colored fender flares, front, rear and side fascia extensions; and a lower rear spoiler. Other optional add-ons include an upper rear spoiler and roof-rack cross bars.

My driving partner and I were able to experience both engine and transmission combinations, noting that the four-cylinder engine provided actually provided sufficient “giddyupedness,” while the V-6 elevated both the giddy and upedness factors by offering a quicker throttle response. Both transmissions automatically shift themselves before reaching redline even when left in the manual shift mode — a good thing according to Martha Stewartness.

Pricing for the LX four-cylinder starts at $16,995 (including inland freight and handling charges of $600). Add $900 for the V-6 engine and five-speed transmission. The EX with a four-cylinder amounts to $19,795 with handling fees. The V-6 version EX starts at $20,795 including handling.

A body kit runs $995, the 50/50 split third-row seat costs $500, leather and heated seats amounts to $1,000 extra, and the Premium Package with Infinity audio system and power sunroof will set you back another $1,200. Our main test vehicle was an EX V-6 with the Leather and Premium Packages and third-row seat, which rang up at the register for $23,495.

The Kia Rondo EX V-6 is a great form of transport offering lots of Stylatude and functioness. It’s fun to drive, finished off well, rides comfortably and it doesn’t cost an arm and leggedness.

I actually perceive the Rondo to be a station wagon with a rear hatch, but if it makes you feel better to refer to it as a CUV, go for it. Others will look at it as an unsanforized minivan, and that’s okay too. The important thing to keep in mind is that the Rondo performs all of its intended tasks enthusiastically and well. The only issues that entered the negativeness column for me was the ouchedness — if you’re tall and not paying attention (I wasn’t), and the limited space aft of the third-row seat when it’s in the up position.

The Kia folks expect the sale mix to be 30 percent EX and 70 percent LX with only 30 percent opting for the V-6 and the balance choosing the four-cylinder powerplant. For those who are still undecided on its official vehicle type, let’s call the Rondo a Hatchwag with fun to drivedness and practicalityness.

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