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Kia Sephia delivers a reasonable ride for not a lot of money. It's a basic car without a lot of luxuries, but with a base price of just over $10,000. An entry-level buyer can expect a twin-cam four-cylinder engine producing 125 horsepower, four-wheel independent suspension, intermittent windshield wipers, and an AM/FM stereo with cassette player.
What buyers of entry-level cars don't expect, however, is the type of warranty that Kia is now offering for its 2001 models. Coverage includes 10 years/100,000 miles on the powertrain (the engine and transmission), a five-year/60,000-mile basic warranty, five years of unlimited roadside assistance, and rust protection up to 100,000 miles.
With good gear ratios in the manual transmission and engine torque slanted to excel at lower speeds, the Sephia more than holds its own in commuter traffic. Factor in the spark of Sephia's energetic powerplant and a price several thousand dollars below Japanese competitors like the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, and this Kia shines in a crowded field of compacts.
Take a Sephia out for a test drive and it sells itself with zippy acceleration and precise road manners. It particularly impresses with tight control for steering and the independent suspension. The suspension keeps body roll in check and maintains a relatively flat stance through a set of curves.
We played with a Sephia LS on winding strips of blacktop strung around granite ramparts in the pine-clad Black Hills of South Dakota on a cold and windy day. The narrow roads, cleared of summer's crush of vacationing tourists as well as speed patrols that would otherwise challenge our forward line, were best suited for nimble sports cars geared for aggressive action. But our Sephia romped through the mountainous terrain and transformed a morning's run into an exhilarating driving experience.
Sephia behaves well because it contains good equipment. To create its mechanical components, Kia teamed with noteworthy names from around the world for subsidiary automotive systems. Lotus Engineering of England was involved in the design of Sephia's four-wheel independent suspension system, while Germany's Getrag worked on the manual five-speed gearbox. Kelsey-Hayes devised the anti-lock brakes and Bosch LH Motronic did the engine's fuel system.
The suspension, with MacPherson struts in front and a multi-link design in back, incorporates front and rear stabilizer bars to check the body roll. Installing sway bars in this economy class of compact sedans may be unusual but they're a welcome addition because they allow Sephia to handle the curves with confidence and comfort.
Brakes are conventional with front discs and rear drums linked to power assistance. ABS may be added to LS models for $800.
Power for Sephia comes from an iron-block engine originally developed by Mazda, which once owned a piece of Kia. The engine, now produced by Kia in Korea, delivers more horsepower than most other compacts in this class, with lively acceleration in lower gears. However, fuel economy figures for Sephia's engine do not score nearly as high as the competition.
A manual five-speed gearbox is the standard transmission and shifts easily through a short-throw stick. The electronically controlled four-speed automatic is available but saps some of the engine's bonus power points.
The Sephia makes most sense in barest form, where the bottom line at $10,845 clearly becomes an advantage amounting to several thousands of dollars.
However, even the top Sephia with additional power equipment and comfort features carries the cachet of a bargain when measured against competitor compacts. The Koreans have obviously figured out how to develop and build a nice Japanese-style compact sedan without the mark-up inherent with Japanese pricing. The fact that these models lock out vibrations and noise makes Sephia an even better selection.