Real-life Review: 2009 Kia Rondo LX

Second in an occasional series of used car reviews

Is it a minivan? Is it a hatchback? This car can be whatever you want it to be.

Make: Kia Model: Rondo LX Year: 2009 Safety: NTSA 5-star ratings for front and side crash test.

IIHS ratings: Good

KIa Front

2009 Kia Rondo LX features a wide-eyed expression, 16′ wheels, and an impressive suite of standard features. The Rondo trim line features the LX and the EX models.

I won’t lie. Not having a car of my own at present really sucks at times, but no so much when I get a chance to borrow a friend’s car. In this case, a vacationing friend tossed me the keys and said, “I’ll be out of town for two weeks. It’s not like I’m gonna need it where I’m going.”

The interesting thing about the Kia Rondo is its shape. Not quite a minivan, not quite an SUV, but close to a hatchback. This model was popular in Europe, but never really caught on here in the U.S. Bummer. It’s a great entry in the crowded mid-size segment and a solid find for used car shoppers.

Car about town

I took the car on errands, which is taking your life into your hands where I live. The streets are pitted, narrow, and date back to the 40s. Toss in some errant out-of-town drivers, and errands become a high-risk venture.

The Kia Rondo takes some of the stress out of taking one’s life into their hands on the way to the grocery store. For one thing, interior visibility is outstanding, with the large semi- raked windshield.  Easier to see inattentive or lost tourists coming right at me. Rear window visibility was also adequate. Seeing “around” the large A-pillars was a non-issue.

The steering was responsive and the car maneuvered easily in and out of cramped parking lots. It was a breeze to parallel park which is saying a lot. Somewhere, my Driver’s Ed teacher is weeping uncontrollably to this day. I am not, nor will I ever be, a parallel parking whiz.

The Rondo made it bearable and no tears were shed.

Inside job

The interior headroom blew my mind. I’m life-size at 5′ 8″, and claustrophobic on top of that, so I welcome a car with adequate leg and head room. The Rondo had it to spare, front and back.

The model I drove had cloth seats. The driver’s seat offered outstanding lumbar support.

The interior was two-tone brown and tan. The center stack was well within my reach, and I didn’t have to take my eyes off the road to adjust the climate control or radio settings. The knobs are large and well-labeled.

Can we talk about the cup holders in the Rondo? There are 10 of them. 10. If you’re hauling kids all day, this should cut back on some of territorial squabbling that can erupt over cup holder space.

There are also enough nooks, crannies and hidey-holes to hold change and all the stuff of life.  My neighbor uses the interior storage to its full capacity, giving the car a loved and lived-in look. She had enough change in there to pay off my student loans.

The front door pockets offer plenty of space for a water bottle or commuter mug, along with a map or three (people still use those, right?)

The downside: the Rondo is not for you if you’re plastic-averse. Like most economy cars, there is hard plastic throughout the interior cabin. The interior fit and finish is excellent, however,  owing to Kia’s closer attention to quality and workmanship over the years.

The interior has held up nicely, thanks to tinted rear seat windows and loving care, even during California’s blast-furnace heat waves the past few summers.

Kia Full

2009 Kia Rondo LX, 5-door. Prices start at $7500.00. Prices may vary by location.

Under the hood

  • Engine: 2.4 liter, 4 cylinder 175 hp (162 in CA due to emissions requirements)
  • Transmission: 4-speed automatic

The engine noise was this car’s main drawback. The transmission shifted smoothly on the uphill climbs, and the Rondo accelerated with surprising vim and vigor. How do I know this? The engine told me so.

If you can live with the engine noise, this car is a sure bet otherwise. Since this is a 2009 model, Kia has made strides with their noise-dampening technology since then.

The Kia Rondo LX also features a 6-speaker sound system, with AM/FM/CD and Sirius capabilities, in addition to two USB ports. The model I drove offered power everything, and steering-wheel mounted cruise control. There is also a climate control vent for rear-seat passengers.

There is generous cargo space, (60/40 split rear seat) and the Rondo can hold 5 passengers comfortably. Optional third-row seating ups the capacity to 7.

Fuel economy is rated 20/27.

The Rondo is hard to find, given its limited success here in the US, but you should be able to find one starting the the $7500.00 range.

If you can handle the engine noise and hard plastic interior, the Kia Rondo might be what you’re looking for in a solid used car. It’s well-mannered, eager to please, reliable, and offers tons of cargo space. And cup holders. Let’s not forget the 10 cup holders.

Not quite an SUV, not quite a minivan, but a great car about town.



The Five Fabulous Cars In My Fantasy Fleet

Admit it. You’d love to have a fleet of badass cars at your disposal. A car of every variety tops my “If I Win The Lottery” list. Here are the five cars that are in my fantasy fleet should I ever hit the jackpot.

  1. Ford Mustang 350 GT, Shelby edition: Keep your Dodge Hellcat and your Chevy Camaro SS. The snarling hellbeast I’d want in my garage is the iconic Mustang, served up Carroll Shelby style. Its sporty looks and throaty growl would scare the locals right out of their Prius-induced slumber. 2015-ford-mustang-shelby-gt500-NCI-1-1024x627
  2. Honda CRV-EX: The perfect people-mover and daily driver. This top-selling crossover is dominating an already crowded segment. Dealers can’t keep them on the lot. I like the CR-V for its excellent road manners, reliability, and it’s fun-to-drive demeanor. I’ll take mine in white, please. maxresdefault
  3. Tesla P85D. I’ll just leave this right here. #InsaneModeTesla-Model-s-P85D-exterior
  4. VW classic Microbus. I love these, man. I always have. Load up some friends and drive along the coast. 3-Our-Bus-047
  5. An old-school Volvo brick. There is nothing like a steadfast and loyal old Volvo. You’ll learn more next week about the 1991 740 that stole my heart. Volvo-740--1991LR

What’s in your fantasy fleet?Leave me a note in the comments below.

These days, I dream of a car that actually runs, but hand me the winning lottery ticket and these babies are mine. Once I get done buying cars for other people, that is.

May the road you travel this holiday season keep you safe and carry you home.

Dirty Dealer Deed #2: Buy Here, Pay Here

Last week, I talked about yo-yo sales.

Yo-yo sales are bad enough, but Buy Here Pay Here (BHPH)  dealerships are the dirtiest dealer deed  of them all. They target vulnerable consumers (that’s you, o broke one) with predatory practices, their loan terms are not of this planet, and the cars they sell are pure crap (It’s my blog and I’ll opine if I want to).

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How it works: Unlike an established franchised dealer (Three Stooges Honda, for example) BHPH dealerships are completely independent. They’re typically located within low-income communities or in communities with a large immigrant population. Why? Because space rents are lower and the populace is easy pickins for a sleazy car dealer.

Their cars are stacked in front, complete with whirligigs, signs, and other gizmos intended to suck in, er, attract buyers.  If you’re broke and in need of a car, that buyer is you. You may have no credit, or poor credit, or are new on the job.

You might also be the first in your family to buy a car, and may not know how the process works.

Everything is done in-house, from your purchase to the loan servicing. Unlike traditional auto loans, where you make your payment to a third-party lender, you make your payments directly to the BHPH dealership. Here are some other key differences:

  • You’ll need to make weekly or bi-weekly payments, very often in cash.
  • Unlike a traditional dealership, where you have a selection of cars to suit your budget, BHPH dealerships offer a narrower range of cars to choose from.
  • Their stock typically consists of older, high-mileage vehicles that traditional dealers may have passed on at auction. One look at the Carfax report will tell you why.
  • Miss a payment with a traditional lender, and you’ll get dinged with some late fees plus some annoying phone calls. Your car will typically be repossessed after30-90 days of non-payment.
  • If you miss a payment with a BHPH dealership, you can expect to have your car repossessed the next day, and expect to pay several hundred dollars in late fees.
  • You can expect to pay a higher down payment.
  • Your interest rate will typically be in the double-digit range, essentially torpedoing your budget and your ability to repay the loan.

The Ripoff is strong with this one

BHPH dealers in California came under fire for such practices and for “churning” vehicles, e.g. rapidly selling a repossessed vehicle to a succession of buyers.  The Los Angeles Times outlined the saga of the “Golden Kia” in their story from July 2013.

BHPH vehicles are typically sold for much more than they’re worth, leaving you with making payments on a car that’s not even close to being worth what you are paying on it. In other words, you’re hosed. In more elegant terms, you’ll be underwater on your car loan.

Do you see where this is headed?

You will also have very little recourse if the BHPH dealership closes, as they are wont to do.  A high default and repo rate means little to no cash flow, which means very little opportunity to pay rent and other expenses.

These dealers are in the news, and with good reason. You need to be careful. Just because you’re broke and can’t qualify for that shiny  zero percent financing the big dealerships offer, doesn’t mean you have to put up with BHPH shenanigans.

Tomorrow: How to buy a car without going the BHPH route, and tips if BHPH is your only option.

“BHPH you’re my only hope!”

Sorry.  Couldn’t help it.

Until next time.



Dirty Dealer Deed #1: Yo-yo Sales

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Watch out for this dirty dealer deed 

Most dealers are on the up-and-up. They sense the stiff competition from online car buying services and have cleaned up their act for the most part. This post isn’t about the good guys, however.

Learn how to recognize a yo-yo sale, the go-to dirty trick for sleazy car dealers.

It finally happened. Your old car reached the point of no return. The cost of repairs exceeds your car’s value…by a few thousand dollars, no less. You’re tight on cash, but you also have a postcard from a local dealer running a “we can help anyone!” campaign.

You found a car that you love. It’s perfect. Not too expensive, but it’s not a beater, either. You sign on the dotted line and take the car home. The dealer assures you they will be able to find financing at the terms you negotiated with them. Cool. You hop in your new car and head home. Your #ICantBelieveItsMine selfie hits your social media feeds within seconds.

Continue reading

#GivingTuesday: 5 Cool Ways to Volunteer With Your Car


If you love to drive as much as I do, you can understand wanting to spend time in your car besides commuting and running errands. One of the coolest ways to get in some extra drive time is to use your car to help others. Here’s a look at five great ways to volunteer with your car:

1. Save a life. If you love animals, rescue groups in your community can always use transport drivers to either get pets to their forever homes or to transport animals from shelters into a rescue-sponsored foster home. Groups such as the Underground Railroad Rescued Kitty Network (URRKN)  rely on drivers to deliver pets relay-style to their new home. Interested? email them for an invite.

2. Deliver food…and companionship. If you have a heart for seniors, Meals on Wheels could use a hand. Sign up with your local chapter and help deliver warm meals to home-bound seniors in your community. You’ll not only provide a nutritious meal, but you visit will also brighten a senior’s day.

3. Give someone a lift. Some non-profits, such as Jewish Federation and Family Services of Orange County, CA offer ride services for seniors  and working people in need who lack reliable transportation. Volunteer drivers are the heart and soul of such programs; your ride can mean the difference between getting out and about or remaining at home. Keep track of your miles and fuel; both are tax-deductible within IRS limits.

4. Play Santa: Round up some friends, buy some gifts, and distribute them to kids in pediatric hospitals. You will win hearts and blow minds. Always check with the hospital of your choice beforehand. Chances are, they will welcome you and your friends with open arms.

5. Treatment transport: Sign up to drive a person with cancer or AIDS to treatment or doctor’s appointments. Groups such as local chapters of the American Cancer Society rely on volunteer drivers to get people with cancer to and from treatment each week. Give someone a lift and reduce their feelings of isolation at the same time. A clean car and friendly smile will mean much to someone with no other way to get to treatments and appointments.

You won’t need a killer car for any of these gigs. My departed 1991 Volvo, Nigel, held up great when I drove for a local pet rescue. All that matters is a clean driving record, an open heart,  a clean background, and some free time.  You’ll get more road time and make a difference in another person’s life at the time time.

It doesn’t get much better than that.

Note: I have no affiliations with any of the groups mentioned in this post.



Real-Life Review: 2015 Honda CR-V

(Note: My phone died just as I was getting ready to snap some pics, so here’s a photo courtesy of

The cool thing about having friends with new cars is that I get to drive those cars. (I’m not affiliated with Honda in any way, nor am I affiliated with any Honda dealers… bummer).

Without further adieu, here’s the review.

Model tested: Honda CRV-LX base model MSRP: Under $25,000

NTSA Crash Test: 4 out of 5 stars for front impact and rollover, 5 stars side-impact crash test ratings.

IIHS crash test ratings: Good

Let’s face it. Most base models scream “Hey world! My driver is broke AF and this is all they can afford!”  You worry that the grey plastic interior will crack during the first heat wave. The door gives a weak *plink* when you shut it, instead of that satisfying *whoomp!*

The base model CR-V, however, engages in none of those shenanigans. The first thing I noticed right off the bat was excellent workmanship throughout the interior cabin. Are you going to find wood grain inserts and glove leather seating? Nope.

You will, however, find soft-touch plastics and solid construction throughout. The model I drove had leather seats. More on that in a minute. Fit and finish on the exterior was outstanding.

Drive train: All models of the CR-V  are equipped with a 2.4 liter engine mated to a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) that replaces the 5-speed automatic for better fuel economy. 185 horsepower ITEC engine.  On the road, the CRV is eager to please and up to the task. I whooped it around the narrow, hilly streets of my community and was delighted with how well-mannered it was, even on the curviest of the local roads. Continue reading



Much More Than A Hashtag

Each Tuesday, I’ll be spotlighting a car-related charitable organization. Cars have the power to change lives.

Cars are a source of economic and social mobility for all of us, but especially for those who live in areas where public transit is inconsistent or non-existent. Having access to safe, reliable transportation can mean the difference between employment and unemployment for working people.

Earlier this year, the Detroit Free Press ran an article on  James Robertson, who walked to work each day in the brutal Detroit weather. Donations poured in from all over the country, and a local Ford dealership gifted him with a brand-new car. His commute is now completed in minutes instead of hours, and the additional donations allow  him to have a financial safety net that was otherwise impossible on $10.55 an hour.

Robertson’s plight is representative of working people across the country who lack access to reliable transportation. Charities such as Vermont-based Good News Garage buys and repairs used vehicles to give to people in need. By donating funds or a used car, you can change a person’s life.

A safe, reliable car will give a person in need access to employment, school, daycare, medical appointments and so much more. Good News Garage is accepting vehicle donations from CT, VT, NH, MA, and Rhode Island. Cars coming from States outside of the New England  area will be given case-by-case consideration.

If you’re looking to spread some car love, check out Good News Garage. I am not affiliated with them in any way, but I do appreciate the power of a car to change a person’s life. ❤