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SEE ALSO: Kia Buyer's Guide

1998 Kia Sephia

by John Heilig


ENGINE:             1.8-liter DOHC inline four
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE:  122 hp @ 6,000 rpm/117 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION:       Four-speed automatic
FUEL ECONOMY:       23 mpg city, 30 mpg highway, 24.7 mpg test
WHEELBASE:          98.4 in.
OVERALL LENGTH:     171.7 in.
OVERALL HEIGHT:     54.7 in.
OVERALL WIDTH:      66.7 in.
CURB WEIGHT:        2,586 lbs 
FUEL CAPACITY:      12.7 gal.
LUGGAGE CAPACITY:   11.0 cu. ft.
TIRES:              P185/60R14
INSTRUMENTS:        Speedometer, tachometer, fuel level, 
                    water temperature, digital clock.
EQUIPMENT:          Air conditioner, AM-FM stereo radio 
                    with cassette, dual air bags.
STICKER PRICE:      $11,000 (est.)

The Kia Sephia is definitely a right lane car. In the past couple of weeks, I've driven several left-lane cars--the Mustang Cobra, a couple of BMWs and a Mercedes. These are cars you can put on a highway, get in the left lane and pass everything else there.

The Sephia, on the other hand, is a more conservative car. We were easily able to get the car up to speeds that would be ticketable offenses in most areas, but it was more comfortable in the right lane. And I felt more comfortable driving it in the right lane and with right-lane traffic.

In fact, on one of the instances when I drove the Sephia in the left lane, the traffic ahead stopped short and I discovered that the car didn't have ABS. I left some rubber on the road. Fortunately, there was enough space between the Sephia and the car in front that it didn't create any major difficulties.

The Sephia is one of two cars being offered in the United States by Kia Motors of Korea. they are making their U.S. entry with the Sephia, which is a small sedan, and the Sportage, which is a small sport utility designed to compete with the Suzuki Sidekick. I had driven the Sportage a few years ago at a track event and was favorably impressed. It falls easily within the parameters of the small sport utility market and seemed to do everything that was expected of it.

The Sephia is about the same. It can be compared most likely with the Hyundai Accent and Ford Aspire, which is built by Kia. In size it's somewhere between the Accent and the Sonata. It's more Civic-size, but it is a comfortable size. Legroom in the rear is tight. You would want to put smaller passengers in the rear if you're taking four people along. I was able to put my overloaded briefcase between the front and back seat on the floor, but it isn't a wide area back there.

Front seats are individual buckets with a decent amount of side support, about the same as the old VW Beetle. For the rear seat to accommodate two passengers, the front seats should be on the front stops.

The Sephia is powered by a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that drives the front wheels through a four-speed automatic gearbox. Acceleration is decent. Entry onto Interstates requires some planning. In order to get up to the ambient speed of the traffic you need plenty of merge and acceleration room. You can get all of the performance out of the Kia you need to drive safely on any road.

Kia used an intelligent approach when it designed the Sephia. It didn't try to break new ground. It just tried to build a car that would do the job and do it competently. So you feel very comfortable when you sit down behind the wheel. Instrumentation is standard, with a speedometer, tachometer, fuel and water gauges. There's a digital clock and a well-labeled HVAC system that helps you direct the air where you want it to go. The air conditioner compressor was noisy and it didn't seem to want to cool the air as well as I would have hoped.

We had manual windows and manual exterior mirrors. I almost forgot how to use them both. The design of the i.p. and the dash is very modern with an "eyebrow" over the instruments to prevent glare on the windshield at night. However, the eyebrow itself reflects sunlight so that if you're driving into the sun it's reflected into the windshield and makes vision difficult.

Styling is very modern. Parked next to a co-workers Buick we were both surprised at how similar the cars looked.

All in all the Sephia is a comfortable car to drive. Unfortunately, like the Accent, it's also fairly tinny., But with a list price in the neighborhood of $11,000, you can't expect Cadillac solidity. But for its price alone, it's worthy of consideration.