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, although engine-speed variable assistance comes with the LS upgrade. 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 plant, now produced by Kia in Korea, delivers more horsepower than Civic and Corolla as well as 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 Honda or Toyota.
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 for $975 at every trim level but saps some of the engine's bonus power points.