Because the Kia Sephia doesn't have a knockout price, why buy it? That's what I was wondering after spending a week behind the wheel of a silver 1996 Sephia LS. This car doesn't bring anything new to the party. The Sephia is a nicely styled
automobile with average - or slightly worse - quality. And its performance, fuel economy and safety features don't set it apart from the leaders in the class. (Sephia's main competitors - the Toyota Tercel, Honda Civic and Ford Escort - are three small
cars with well-proven reputations for quality and dependability.) Even though I don't dislike theSephia, I could find no compelling reason to own it. Some of the car's trim parts are very cheap-looking, and the car isn't as refined as a Honda or
Toyota. In a market that is filled with outstanding small cars, paying a premium price for an average car makes little sense. PERFORMANCE AND HANDLING The 2,586-pound Sephia offers pleasing all-round performance. It's very responsive from astop
and has good passing power. The Sephia is powered by a 16-valve, 1.8-liter engine that makes 122 horsepower. The engine is nearly a duplicate of the one Mazda installs in the Miata sports car. Kia uses Mazda's technology for a number of the
mechanical parts in the Sephia and the Sportage sport-utility vehicle. Mazda spokesman Fred Aikins in California said Mazda sold Kia the rights to the 1.8-liter engine. Kia manufactures the motor at its giant plant in Asan Bay, South Korea. Our silver
test car started quickly and ran smoothly. The transmission seemed somewhat slow to shift into drive from reverse, but otherwise it worked well. Fuel economy, though, is not impressive. Midsize cars from General Motors, such as the V-6 powered Pontiac
Bonneville and Buick LeSabre, are EPA-rated at 30 mpg on the highway. One would expect the smaller, lighter Sephia to do better than its EPA rating of 21 mpg city and 28 highway. The four-wheel independent suspension system delivers afirm, stable
ride. However, there is a small amount of wind noise at highway speeds, and on poorly paved roads the roaring noise made by the tires finds its way inside the car. The power steering is crisp and tight, and the front disc/rear drum brakes work well.
Average is the way to sum up the Sephia's performance and handling. FIT AND FINISH At first glance the Sephia LS appears to offer little in the way of accessories. Our test car did not have power windows, mirrors, door locks or cruise control.
Without such things, the car seems like just basic transportation. But it maybe a car that won't cost you a lot once you buy it. Our test car came with expensive 14-inch, 60,000-mile Michelin radial tires. It's very unusual for a small car to have
premium tires. The Sephia also comes with a 24-hour roadside assistance plan that pays the bill in nearly every possible emergency. The LS model comes standard with a b
uilt-in alarm system and power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering - two items that add to the cost of many other small cars. These things add value to the Sephia, but my impression is that the car's performance and overall quality are not good enough
to make me want to buy it - not at more than $13,000 (our car's two main options, air conditioning and a powerful AM/FM cassette, added $1,190 to the base price). Perhaps I would feel differently about the Sephia if its materials and quality matched
that of Honda, Toyota or Saturn. Some of the Sephia's interior trim pieces look and feel cheap or are sloppily applied. The sun visors, for instance, are among the cheapest and most flimsy I've seen. And carpet can easily become unattached from the
velcro strips that hold it to the fire wall under the accelerator. Some of the controls in the Sephia also make the car feel cheap. For instance, the round temperature knob turns so easily that it feels as if it is connected
to nothing, and the turn signal switch felt rubbery. But the cloth-covered seats were firm and comfortable, and the doors and trunk closed with a very solid thunk. There is plenty of head, leg and foot room front and rear. And Sephia's rear seats
fold forward, enabling you to load large items, such as a mountain bike, into the trunk. The Sephia hasn't earned a reputation for high quality - the car ranks about average. However, Kia has worked hard to ensure replacement parts are readily
available and that its customers are taken care of quickly and with as little fuss as possible when service is needed. Truett's tip: The Kia Sephia LS is adecent compact car - not the best or the worst in its class.