You probably hadn’t noticed, but Kia’s U.S. lineup has expanded to ten nameplates, twelve if you count the Rio5 and Spectra5 as separate from their sedan counterparts. Is the brand’s lineup mushrooming because it’s building cars that resonate with U.S. consumers, or because delusional corporate management is pushing products onto the U.S. market? A little of both, methinks.
Kia Rondo The Kia Rondo has been around for a couple years, but this year the market has really caught up with this compact people mover. Like its only real competitor, the soaring Mazda5, the Rondo has seen sales increase this year, up 10%. Whereas the Mazda5 has sliding side doors, the Rondo has four conventional doors, but its high roof, short hood, and available three-row seating still give it the functionality of a minivan, albeit a small one. True, the third-row seat is no better than kid-sized, but the second-row, which slides fore and aft a bit, is extremely spacious and comfortable. Fold all the seats down—a procedure that requires removing the headrests—and you have a big box of a cargo area; I carried a clothes dryer inside with plenty of room to spare. Fuel economy can’t quite match the Mazda’s: the four-cylinder Rondo, which has only a four-speed automatic, is rated at 20 mpg city, 27 highway. With a V-6 (which Mazda doesn’t offer), it checks in with 18 city, 26 highway. Still, compact outer dimensions can be a boon in and of themselves, for maneuverability and garage-ability. The innovative Rondo is a hit-‘em-where-they-ain’t entry in an overcrowded market, and represents the right kind of thinking for a brand looking to grow.
Kia Borrego The Kia Borrego, by contrast, is a clear case of pushing water uphill. This me-too vehicle arrived on the scene only about a decade after the sport-utility craze peaked, making its debut this summer, just as SUV sales fell off a cliff. A mid-size, body-on-frame SUV with three rows of seats, an available V-8 engine, and a 7500-lb towing capacity, it’s essentially Kia’s version of a Ford Explorer. Too bad nobody wants a Ford Explorer anymore. The Kia version isn’t necessarily a poor imitation; it’s lighter, more powerful, and ever so slightly more economical (although 14 mpg city for the V-8 4x4 is nothing to get excited about). On the debit side, the ride is bouncy, the rear suspension hops around over bumps, and its third-row seat is more cramped than the Ford’s and harder to access. Overall, the Borrego isn’t a bad vehicle, just a pointless one, a fact borne out by the most recent sales figures, which show Kia dealers able to push only one Borrego out the door for every five Rondos sold.