Whither the tall wagon, space wagon, or whatever your chosen moniker is – the key point being that these supremely useful, if nerdy-looking vehicles are all but extinct. The Mistsubishi Expo/Colt/Vista/etc./etc. variants all died away in the early 90s. Other casualties included the Nissan Stanza and the Honda Civic Wagovan. Killed off by the ever larger and ever nerdier minivan, the space wagon seems to have a nicely-defined niche in the marketplace, but can never seem to stick around (I don’t include the Mazda 5 here, as it seems to me to be more on the minivan side of the spectrum). Perhaps with the upcoming Ford Focus C-Max, interest will pick up. Truth is, for a small family, the space wagon is an ideal vehicle – plenty of room for passengers and cargo in a very efficient package.
Such is the case with the late and lamented Kia Rondo – sold in the United States for only 3 years, the Rondo, also known as the Carens overseas – has actually proven to be a fairly consistent seller in Europe and Southeast Asia, where fuel efficiency and ease of parking takes precedent over sheer size. Available as a 5- or 7- passenger version, the Carens was powered by a variety of four-cylinder engines, including a highly efficient diesel.
It seems to me that a diesel-powered space wagon with that sort of room, returning mid- to high-30s fuel economy would be a hot seller, but I’m just a guy who drives a goofy wagon, so what do I know?
This particular Rondo is the top-line EX model powered by the ubiquitous 2.7 V6 found in many other Kia and Hyundai products. With a leather interior, sunroof and Infinity sound system, the EX model was fairly luxurious while maintaining the Kia reputation for low, low prices. A 10-year warranty covered lose nuts and bolts too. Also included with the EX package are beefy 50-series tires on 17 inch wheels, helping the Rondo to handle surprisingly well. Those big wheels also help the Rondo maintain somewhat normal-looking proportions – something many other space wagons never achieved.
In the interest of full (and perhaps shocking) disclosure, today’s Design Review subject is my personal ride. Yes, the hatchback guy doesn’t drive a hatchback. Life is full of contradictions – but in my defense, I bought this car because (a) it was cheap, and (b) it could pull a camping trailer (likely to be the subject of a future article):