Used 1997 Kia Sephia Review

Edmunds expert review

What's new for 1997

RS models get body-color bumpers this year, and a tan interior is newly available with black exterior paint.

Vehicle overview

Based on the 1990-1994 generation platform of the Mazda Protege, and utilizing many Mazda components and technologies, the Kia Sephia is truly a compact sedan bargain. Kia is a new name to many Americans, but Kias have actually been cruising the highways of North America since mid-1987, when the Ford Festiva was introduced to showrooms on the West Coast. Also based on a Mazda design, the Festiva was assembled at Kia's assembly plant near Seoul, South Korea, and has proven to be a reliable, inexpensive set of wheels. Currently, Kia produces the Ford Aspire.

The Sephia is a Korean product, but unfairly suffers the stigma attached to all autos from that country that depicts Korean cars as unreliable garbage. Thank Hyundai for that image, the first Korean automaker on U.S. soil, and Daewoo, who in 1988 unleashed a reliability nightmare called the Pontiac LeMans on the American public. The crummy Hyundais are history, and the LeMans died at the end of 1993. Meanwhile, Kia has been sending us small Fords, which consistently rank among the most reliable subcompact cars available.

We've determined that Kias are a step above other Korean cars; now the reasons you should consider one. RS equipment levels are rather impressive; front and rear stabilizer bars, dual exterior mirrors, theft-deterrent system, remote trunk release, rear defogger, split-folding rear seat, and fabric upholstery come standard. This year, the RS looks less cheap thanks to body-color bumpers. Dual airbags, a powerful engine (except on RS and LS five-speed models sold in California--these cars are equipped with a dinky 105-horsepower 1.6-liter engine), suspension work and styling tweaks that make it look like a far more expensive car arrived barely two years ago. With base prices starting at less than $10,000, the Sephia offers better value than the Chevy Cavalier, Ford Escort, Geo Prizm, Mercury Tracer, and Toyota Tercel, among others.

Those of you on the eastern side of the country have probably been wondering what the heck a Kia is. You'll be getting them soon. The company is expanding slowly, taking a cue from the massive expansion that Hyundai embarked upon in the late '80s, only to see sales and quality suffer in the early '90s. Kia doesn't want to have a poor image to overcome, so they are taking their time. Take yours too, and then test drive a Sephia. We think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Edmunds expert review process

This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.

We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.