By on February 23, 2012


TTAC commentator DougD writes:

Hi Sajeev,

I put the snowtires on Dad’s 2007 Kia Rondo yesterday, and right on cue we’ve got snow today. While we worked we talked about cars, of course. My parents are in their mid 70’s, Dad bought the Rondo new and there’s a lot to like about it. Upright seating, good ingress for seniors, easy to park in the condo parking spot. It’s been reliable and still looks good, so the Rondo’s held up well.

Unfortunately Mom hasn’t held up quite as well as the Rondo. She’s got some back problems now and finds that the Rondo’s so-so seats, jouncy ride and boomy interior make it a literal pain to be in for more than short trips.

Ideally they’d like to replace it with something that combines the Rondo’s good points with great seats and a serene, quiet ride. They drive about 15,000 miles a year including the 900 mile trip to Myrtle beach each fall. All options are open from something new to a couple of years used.

What should they be looking at? I really have no idea since their wish list is pretty different from my own, but I guess this is the demographic that buys new cars.

Really enjoying your column.

Steve Answers:

It all depends on the size and the spaciousness they seek.

For a small ride with a bit of cushiness, I would test drive a Buick Verano. It seems to be the one small vehicle these days with Rondo like proportions that can provide your folks with a luxurious ride.

To be frank, the small ‘luxury’ car market has struggled for eons on end. From 1990’s Dynastys and Skylarks, to 1980’s Cimarrons and Sevilles. It’s very hard to build this segment into something sustainable for most automakers. The choices in this segment are just slim due to a lack of interest in ‘small’ luxury.

So if they’re willing to consider a midsize, I would opt for a gussied up prior gen Camry or a Lexus ES350. Both cars have rides that are like marshmallows with handling that is direct and easy. They are also the two most popular retiree vehicles I see in West Palm Beach.

Mature folks love these cars.Easy to drive. Soft. Nothing to worry about. It may not be your ideal. But for those who wish to simply go on a magic carpet to their favorite retiree villa, they are optimal vehicles.

Sajeev answers:

You people are quite literally torturing me!  How can I not recommend Panther Love in this case?

I will stop pigeonholing myself. I like Steve’s recommendation of a Buick Verano, even if I’ve never even seen one, much less driven it to know its worth the depreciation.  But the baby Buick reminds me of my time in a Camry LE on a business trip to Long Island, NY.  While I quite enjoy the stealthiness of the SE, the LE earned a bit of respect for its ability to absolutely obliterate bumps and smooth out a long hike down the Interstate.  It made a hectic commute much less so. If I had a bad back…you see my point.

Granted it lacked the isolation of a Panther in the same circumstances, but they are more common, easier to park, easier on fuel and perform well enough compared to a Rondo.  The ride is heavenly for someone like your Mom, it is the best in its class. So do it, go for a 2007-2011 Toyota Camry LE.


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52 Comments on “New or Used: No Rondo in the Condo?...”

  • avatar

    Maybe they should wait for the new Buick Encore? It would offer them the same shape and size as the Rondo, high seating not found in Camry or Verano, and probably better seats. I cannot guess how the ride will be, still…

  • avatar

    custom seats

    • 0 avatar

      Here’s what you do.

      Order up some custom seats from a local hot rod shop. They’re sure to have recommendations, but anything from a Buick or Cadillac is probably safe. My faves are the 1998-2005 Seville seats, which aren’t that wide.

      Order up $250 of Dynamat and two sets of Harbor Freight trim removal tools. Get a few spare trim fasteners from the Kia parts dept.

      Then get all the extended family together on a Saturday. The moms watch the kids, the men go to work on the car.

      Pull out ALL the interior trim and carpet. Slap the Dynamat on the sheetmetal, going double-thick on wheelwells, flat door panels, and the trunk floor. Replace the interior trim.

      Everyone gets together for a big dinner afterwards and lots of beer.

      Leave the Rondo at the hot rod shop for the seat install. I’m only recommending the shop do it because of the tricky work involved with the airbags and seat weight sensor. With enough research I’d tackle this myself, but you want this done quickly. Bring Grandpa so he can chat cars with the young whipper snappers at the shop. Get the passenger seat heated for Grandma.

      For $1200 and some quality family time, your parents have the perfect car. All the kids pitch in on the expense.

      Once the noise and seats are fixed, they probably won’t notice the tires and ride. If so, get some quiet Michelin MXV4s and supple Monroe Quick Struts. Figure another $1000 and more quality time with the family.

      It doesn’t matter if the seats and Dynamat are worth nothing on the used market. They tax alone on a used car would eat almost the entire project budget.

      If you haven’t experienced a big family barn-raising project, it’s highly satisfying

  • avatar

    How about a Toyota Avalon? It’s not the same shape as the Rondo, but the seats would be better I’m sure and from what I’ve heard they are smooth and quiet. You might even try a used Lexus LS 400/430. Good Luck!

  • avatar

    If it was just the seats, I’d say just get better seats. But it will cost too much to try to quiet the interior down, and try to fix the ride as well, and most of those ‘upgrades’ will worth nothing in the used car market. This is where extensive test drive is a must. Didn’t they do that with the Rondo? How come your mom complained only after they bought the car? Wasn’t she involved in picking the car to buy? BTW Buick Verano or Encore sounds perfect, assuming she is compatible with their seats.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s more than the seats, it’s the NOISE as well. I know of the noise as I test drove a 2009 Rio5 and it was NOISY, so much so that the engine began to intrude into the cabin as little as 2000rpm, road noise, tire noise etc all intruded and it became a drone at highway speeds. True this is the Rio, but the poster did mention the Rondo being noisy as well.

      Makes Mom’s 2004 Stratus or my Mazda seem positively quiet in comparison and even they aren’t exactly quiet. Now, I don’t know how KIA fairs in the interior noise beyond 2009 but I’m assuming it’s improved quite a bit.

    • 0 avatar

      Doesn’t cost much at all to quiet a car interior. The material is cheap and DIY. Guys are doing Fits and Miatas for $200.

  • avatar

    My in-laws solved a similar problem with a Ford Edge. YMMV.

  • avatar

    Ford Flex?
    By all reports has excellent seats. Also, like the Rondo, should be at the right height for older folks to get into without having to lower themselves (like a sedan) or climb in (like most SUV/CUVs)

    • 0 avatar

      As much as I like the Flex, I think it would be overkill for a 70 something couple with no kids. It really is enormous. If they are going to drop that kind of money, better off getting something smaller with even better seats like a Volvo XC60.

      • 0 avatar

        I tried to steer my grandparents to a Flex, but the step up into it was a deal breaker. They like the flat floors of minivans. Any vehicle that you had to step over and down into was off the table. They ended up with a Chrysler Town and Country and love it sans for its putrid fuel economy.

        My grandparents wanted a bigger car so they can take their friends out to breakfast from their snow bird community in AZ. Don’t underestimate the social life of an octogenarian!

  • avatar

    This one’s easy, the Venza. Easy ingress and egress and a gentle ride. It’s a car that was literally designed for seniors, and it’s the perfect choice (and the Crosstour would be comparable).

    Another good vehicle to try would be the Mercedes B200. Ingress is easy, visibility is good, and the ride is not bad. I know I really liked it a lot (but wasn’t a big fan of the styling). If it seems a bit pricy, you can usually get a good deal on a gently used one (a year or two old). (Oops! I forgot that this isn’t available in the U.S.)

    A used Infiniti E35 is also a very nice ride for a smaller vehicle.

    I haven’t tried the Verano, but if it’s anything like a Cruze then ingress will not be as easy as the Rondo, nor is it in most compacts (with the exception of the Soul and the Cube).

    As a long shot, you might also have them try a van. The ride is usually quite gentle and ingress is not too bad.

    • 0 avatar

      The Merc B200 is a great choice, I agree on that one wholeheartedly.

      I don’t think the EX35 will work, though. The step-in is a bit much and the roof is low. It’s basically a G35 hatch on stilts, and shares the G’s problematic ingress.

  • avatar

    I like Philosophil’s recommendation on the Venza, but they might find it pricey new or used coming from a Rondo.
    If it’s not too big, I recommend 2012 Dodge Caravan Super American Value Package. Under $20,000 on sale, and surprisingly good visibility (older folks still like to do head checks). 283 horsepower on paper, should get out of its own way. I drove a 2010 recently, I found the ride comfort surprisingly soft, but was not in it long enough to ever gauge seat comfort, and I wasn’t in the passenger seat.

  • avatar

    Chevy Impala. Simple, comfortable, economical, “old school” feel, reasonably priced, big, roomy and quiet. What’s not to like? ‘Nuff said.

    Sorry, but like Sajeev’s panthers, that’s how I roll, and I look forward to buying another Impala.

    • 0 avatar

      No offense to your Impala love, but it doesn’t have the same kind of easy ingress as the Rondo, and since that was explicitly referenced in the letter, then I’m assuming that’s a fairly important feature for these folks.


      • 0 avatar


        None taken. What I didn’t reference was the relative low cost of an Impala compared to your average CUV-type vehicle that may suit the folk’s needs as well, but easy-in, easy-out is very important, to be sure!

  • avatar

    @Zackman…Yesterday we had about 3 hrs of sunshine. I used the time to detail my Impala at the local “you wash it”

    It looked so nice,I was tempted to boot the Mustang out of the garage,and park the Impala.

    I love all my cars equally,but the Impala is still my favorite.

    • 0 avatar


      My Imp looks at me with sad eyes when it gets too dirty – the highway take a heavy toll on it. I’m going to have it professionally detailed this spring – fix a few small dings, then I will proceed to wax the daylights out of it, inside and out and do a general upholstery cleaning too. I need to do something about my headlight lenses – they’re getting pretty beat up, too.

      I spoke with a Chevy rep at our local auto show and he hinted that the new Impala will have styling cues similar to the upcoming Malibu, which was on display – looked, but couldn’t touch. Guess I’ll have to wait and see, but I have no idea of what I will buy when I replace my car at this time.

  • avatar
    Chipper Carb

    If I were his parents I would be looking at a Subaru Forester. Nice ride and a good upright sitting position with lots of window space to see out. My wife’s 92 year old grandfather routinely drives his every day to Wendy’s for lunch in a combo of city and interstate traffic without many issues.

  • avatar

    How adept are your folks at getting in and out of the their Rondo? The seats are probably higher up in it than they would be in a Panther. Lots of older folks are trading Panthers and Camcords in on vehicles like a CRV, RAV4, even Scion xBs due to their higher seat height, which makes getting in and out of the car a breeze.

    A RAV4 with a V6 (265 hp!) would propel them along quite briskly and it has a decent ride and seats.

    A Panther would be a good suggestion if they were 10 years younger.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Personally for me I find that the more adjustable the seats are the better, lumbar adjustment is a must for long drives. Verano is one of the better new choices because what I’ve seen says that the Verano was given the buckets from the LaCrosse which should be very comfortable.

    The only reason I hesitate to suggest the Panther is the car’s sheer size. Having said that I am the aquaintence of a teacher in the district who has owned everything from BMW to Saturn and her latest purchase is a slightly used Lincoln Town Car. Why? The seats, which she proclaims to be the most comfortable for long drives of any car she’s ever driven.

  • avatar

    For ease of entry & exit the Nissan CUBE cannot be beat! Will fit in any parking spot and has decent mpg. I ALWAYS hit my head getting into my fusion but stepped into a cube while waiting for a salesman while shopping the altima.

    If the MB trip is not extended then rent an avalon or a taurus.

    • 0 avatar

      +1 for the Cube. If your folks are in the Kia demographic they should find the Cube very affordable ($16k +/-). The flat floor, high seating position (if you adjust it that way), compact packaging, and easy to drive handling make it very easy to own. Plus the long warranty (120k on the CVT) should be comforting.

      Recently is seems like most Cube drivers that I see are over 50 years old. However, the odd looks can be very disconcerting for some older drivers.

      • 0 avatar

        I think it’s interesting that most of box-look cars I see are being driven by older folks. My friend’s mother is in her late 50’s and the last time she went car shopping she looked at Soul’s, Cube’s, and xB’s. She liked that they were “funky looking and different”. That styling seems to play very well with baby boomers.

      • 0 avatar

        It’s really the set entry level height that sells them on these kinds of vehicles. They like the tall door openings as well.

    • 0 avatar

      The problem with the Cube, and Soul, and Scion xb are that they’re all pretty noisy at freeway speeds. They don’t have a smooth ride at those speeds either, so they’d be not much different from the Rondo.

      • 0 avatar

        I’ve read that the 2012 Soul is a big improvement over earlier models, as far as ride and NVH are concerned; but it’s too early for opinions on the seats (which tend to either get better or worse over time).

  • avatar

    Chrysler Town & Country. Easy ingress/egress, room for the kids and grandkids in back, and when they are on a road trip, they can fold the seats down and “get busy” in the back.

  • avatar

    A lot of this depends on how much they’re willing to spend. Volvo has a reputation for great seats and it’s deserved. Very good support and comfortable for any length of drive. You can pick up a CPO V50, V70, or XC70 in the mid 20’s. Plenty of space, style, and comfort.

    If price is a major factor then look at a CPO Pontiac Torrent or Saturn Vue. Easy ingress, cushy ride, good visibility, and rock bottom prices.

  • avatar

    Sounds like these people are in the market for some kind of conversion van. If they could find a small van like a T&C conversion, which usually includes upgraded seats and more sound insulation it might do the trick for them.

    The downside is a conversion probably has a lower mpg, a lot of unneeded bells and whistles they won’t use, and it will cost more cash than a stock van. But for comfortable seats for long trips nothing beats a conversion van seat.

  • avatar

    Having been through this personally, a few points:

    1. You’re right about the Rondo’s seats being fatiguing over time. They aren’t well-padded and the cushion is a little short. You can get them restuffed.

    2. What works about the Rondo is the high hip point and ease of entry. By this metric, anyone suggesting any kind of sedan, and especially a Panther, is on drugs . No low-roof car is going to work as well here.

    3. Similarly, forget anything that has a high step-in, as the roof will still be too low and now there will be a additional climb-in. Many SUVs, crossovers and more than a few minivans have this problem.

    I’d look for tall-roof cars with big doors. Candidates:
    * Mercedes B-Class (if you’re Canadian, this is an option)
    * Scion iQ, xD or xB (old or new)
    * Toyota Echo, Yaris and Matrix (and the Vibe)
    * Nissan Versa and Cube
    * Honda Element (maybe) and Fit
    * Chevy Aveo (don’t laugh)
    * Kia Soul (watch the step-in)
    * Mazda5 and MPV
    * Ford Five Hundred, Taurus (post-Five Hundred, pre-re-design)
    * Mini Crossman

    • 0 avatar

      They could certainly try the Element (I absolutely love mine), but I think they might find the ride a little harsh.

      The Scion XB is another one I was going to recommend. It’s a good option for seniors.

      The expressed interest in a “serene and quiet ride” would seem to rule out the Cube, Soul, Aveo, Mini and so on (though the softer ride in the Versa might be appealing).

      I still stick with the Venza or the Mercedes B200. Those would be my top choices given the conditions outlined in the letter.

      • 0 avatar

        I didn’t really find the Cube all that harsh-riding. It is a little noisy, but the actual ride is pretty soft. Mind you, that’s coming from a Honda Fit, which is noisy and jittery.

        The Venza is a good choice, but it’s big and feels it (even moreso than the Sienna). Of those types of cars (Venza, Edge, Murano) it’s probably the most user-friendly, though. If it’s too big, there’s always the step down to the Matrix or xB. I spent a bit of time in the current xB recently and it’s quite an easy ride. A betrayal of the original, sure, but otherwise it’s a great car.

        But yes, the more I think about it, the more I think Mercedes B200. It pretty much nails all the marks, especially seat comfort.

    • 0 avatar

      Love my Element too, but my 82-year-old mom can’t climb in without help. The step-up isn’t much by SUV standards, but it is there.

  • avatar

    If they’re like my parents, ingress and egress are the major factors. Vehicles that you have to step up into, but not too far into) such as minivans and small SUVs are better than cars that you sit down into.

    I’d recommend a minivan of some sort. A Chrylser Town and Country with leather would probably work.

  • avatar

    Some great suggestions so far, thanks!

    A couple of additional points:
    – We are in the Toronto area of Canada so yes the Mercedes B Class is an option
    – Size is a major issue here, the Rondo replaced a Dodge Caravan which they felt was too big for their needs and too hard to park in the small garage. They liked the seats though.
    – Sorry Sajeev, I did leave the door open a bit there but no Panther Love this time, no way Dad would go back to RWD in the winter and it’s also too big. My initial suggestion was that they keep a Town Car in storage for summer and long trips.
    – Dad’s a retired teacher which means he has a comfortable middle class pension (that’s what it means in Canada anyway). He’s not worried about MPG and could afford any “normal” vehicle out there.

    Thanks again, keep em coming!!

  • avatar

    Easy to step in, quiet and comfortable ride: CRV.

    I’d even suggest the Outback, I love ours and my grandparents (early 80s) sold their 5-series wagon for an Outback, mostly because my grandfather needed to slow down a little but they live in the San Juan Islands of Washington and find the traction helpful. As well as ease of ingress and egress for not just getting in the seat but cargo area.

  • avatar

    I would second a B200 as well. Front seats are orthopaedic with multiple adjustments, It’s very easy to drive and park, ingress and egress is easy, ergonomics are first rate, fuel economy is impressive, its very versatile, over the last 4 years, it’s proven to be very reliable and durable and maintenance hasn’t been too bad (oil changes every 18000 km’s, Rear bulb $1.29 at MB dealer, one front headlight $8 at MB dealer). You see tons of them around the Toronto area.

  • avatar

    What about the boring Honda CRV?

  • avatar
    Downtown Dan

    Check out the Dodge Journey– it’s very, very quiet, easy to get in and out of, has that upright seating position, and is subject to some major discounting. The four-cylinder starts at $19k, and even with the Pentastar V6, you’re only looking at $24.5k. Your folks don’t seem like they need 283 hp, so I think the four-cylinder would be perfectly adequate.

    • 0 avatar

      Hadn’t thought of that. Has about the same seating position as a Caravan, but a bit easier to handle plus it is available with AWD. I spent a few minutes in one, so I don’t know how supportive the seats are for the long haul.

      • 0 avatar
        Downtown Dan

        Haven’t taken a very long trip in one either (45 mins. was probably my longest haul). OP’s folks sound like they’d benefit from renting one to try it out for a few days– I know Enterprise stocks Journeys, and I saw a lightly used one in a Rent-to-Buy program around here.

  • avatar

    Chevy Cruze has terrific cloth seats (leather seats are not as good) and is extremely quiet. The ride is sublime, as good as Lexus LS but quieter.

  • avatar

    My suggestion would be to shop around at dealers with your parents and see which one fits the bill. Then once you find one or two that fits your mother, rent one for a week or so to see how well they can live with it.

  • avatar

    I was doing research a while ago for my in-laws who have similar back problems and lots of driving to do, and my conclusion was that they should look into the Volvo XC60. Now, I’ve never driven one, but have sat in a few and their seats ARE comfortable. They had the added requirement of AWD / 4WD because they live in the mountains.

    They chose to go with an Escape though – closest Volvo dealer is 120 miles.

    I have driven and am a fan of the Journey – it’s got the SUV ride height, which might be TOO high for easy ingress/egress.

  • avatar

    My grandmother had similar problems – bad back, trouble with ingress, annoyed at noise levels – and needed real doors to get into and out of her car (she was driving an Impala – can’t remember what year) and she picked up a pretty nice Aura.

    Might an Aura/Malibu/G6 fit the bill? All with the 4-pot of course, unless your parents are willing to pay for the V6 fuel bill.

  • avatar

    The Volvo XC70 has seats designed by Chiropractors. It isa little higher up too, because of its AWD/Offroad abilities. Lots of cargo room and very nice in general.

  • avatar

    I’m thinking the BMW Gran Turismo is designed with these folks in mind. It seems like it’s just the right height, not too high yet not too low. The seats look mighty comfortable too. Too bad its cost can exceed $90,000 quite easily, and probably have the maintenance costs fit for a car that costs that much.

  • avatar

    Ding! We have a winner!

    Just over two years later Dad picked up his new vehicle yesterday. 2014 Ford Escape SE, 1.6 Ecoboost
    Dad approves of the acceleration, Mom approves of the seats and NVH levels. Fits in the parking spot. Not too many buttons and doodads inside.

    The Rondo is going to my niece, who is attending college. Thanks again for the suggestions.

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