The Kia Mentor was first introduced as Kia Sephia. It is a small passenger car per FCAI-Australia’s car classification criteria. That’s comparable to a compact car in the US and a C-segment/small family car in Europe. The South Korean carmaker Kia Motors manufactured the Kia Sephia from 1992 until 2003.
In 1992, it was introduced in two body styles—in 4-door sedan and 5-door hatchback variants. After a significant redesign, the sedan received some updates, while a liftback variant replaced the hatchback. The first-generation Kia Sephia was marketed under two other names—in the United Kingdom as Kia Mentor and Indonesia as Timor S515/S516.
In Australia, the second-generation Sephia was also released as Kia Mentor. In the early 2000s, however, the Kia Mentor sedan was phased out. The liftback variant remained in the market but was rebranded as Kia Shuma. A year and a facelift later, it again hit the market, this time as the Kia Spectra.
1st Generation: 1992-1997
Kia Motors attained a couple of “firsts” with the development of the first-generation Kia Sephia. Not only was it the first vehicle that Kia built using Kia-designed chassis, but it was also the first car to be exported by Kia to the USA.
1992 – Launching
The Kia Sephia debuted in 1992. Its name stood for Stylish, Elegant, Powerful, Hi-tech, and Ideal Auto. It was available in two body styles—4-door sedan and 5-door hatchback—with the following engine options:
- 1.5L B5-ME I4 EGI engine rated at 59 kW
- 1.6L I4 engine rated at 78 kW
1993 – The First-ever Kia in the US market
Over 100,000 units of Kia Sephia were sold in the home market alone. In the latter part of 1993, Kia made their first-ever entry to the US market with the 1994 model year of Sephia.
1994 – New engine
In 1994, upgrades were introduced for the 1995 model year, including taillights and grille facelifts and a new engine with the following specs:
- 1.8L DOHC I4 BP engine rated at 91 kW
Kia Mentor in Australia (1996-1997)
The Kia Mentor was first released in Australia in 1996 and stayed in the market until 2000. Only the Mentor hatchbacks were available at first, and they came with the 1.5L B5-ME I4 EGI petrol engine (59 kW, 120 Nm) paired to either 4-speed automatic or 5-speed manual gearbox.
There were two trims, namely, the GLX (base model) and the SLX. The base came with central locking, power mirrors, power steering, power windows, and a radio cassette with four speakers.
In the European market, it competed with imported budget cars, including the Hyundai Accent and Skoda Felicia. In Brazil, it was only available in 1.5L twin-cam engine rated at 82 kW, sharing the same market as Chevrolet Omega and Volkswagen Santana.
In Indonesia, the Kia Sephia was rebadged as Timor and offered the following range:
- Timor S515 – with SOHC carbureted engine
- Timor S515i – with DOHC fuel-injected engine
- Timor S516i LE – sports limited edition
- Timor SW516i station wagon – very rare as only a few units were manufactured
2nd Generation: 1997-2003
The Kia Sephia/Mentor underwent major modifications for its second generation, which was produced as sedan and liftback variants. This generation received an improved air-conditioning system. Two engines were offered:
- DOHC 1.5-litre with a power rating of 59kW and torque of 120Nm
- DOHC 1.8-liter engine with a power rating of 82kW and torque of 152Nm
In the North American market, only the sedan variant of the redesigned Kia Sephia was launched for the 1998 model year.
1998 saw the sedans enter Australia, coming in GLX and SLX trims and with the same 1.5L petrol engine that powered the hatches. Alongside the sedans came the new Mentor hatches with a new engine and an SLX trim added to the range.
The hatchbacks were now offered in both engines. The new one was a 1.8L BP DOHC I4 petrol engine (82 kW, 150 Nm) available in 4-speed automatic transmission and 5-speed manual gearbox. The GLX trim now offered air conditioning, alloy wheels, radio cassette with six speakers, and a remote hatch release. The SLX was available with metallic paint in addition to the base offering and had a radio cassette with only two speakers instead of six.
Back in North America, the liftback variant for the 2000 model year was launched and rebranded as Kia Spectra, selling alongside its sedan sibling, Kia Sephia.
In South Korea, the Kia Sephia marque was retired after over 620,000 units were produced and was replaced by the Kia Spectra.
Kia Shuma in Australia (2000-2001)
In Australia, Kia retired the Mentor sedan variant in mid-2000 and rebranded the remaining liftback variant as Kia Shuma. They were powered by the same 1.8L BP petrol engine from the previous years. The Shuma liftback was available in two trim levels:
- Shuma (base trim) – 1.8L engine; restyled taillight lenses, power steering, air conditioning, alloy wheels, cloth trim, remote hatch release, and radio cassette with two speakers
- Shuma FX – 1.8L engine; base trims central locking, enhanced audio (now with six speakers), power windows, and power mirrors
Kia Spectra in Australia (2001-2004)
A year after the Shuma nameplate replaced Mentor in Australia, the Shuma liftbacks received cosmetic alterations and adopted the international name of Kia Spectra. The facelift included restyled headlights and front bumper, driver’s airbag, seatbelt pretensioners, tilt-&-telescopic-adjustable steering wheel, and engine immobilisers, power windows and mirrors. Mechanically, the liftback also received suspension calibration adjustments and an overhauled 4-speed automatic gearbox.
The Kia Spectra hatches were released in Australia with the same 1.8L BP petrol engine, available in both automatic transmission and manual shift. There was only one trim model, but it did offer the enhancements mentioned above.
For the North American market, both the Sephia sedan and Spectra liftback models were updated for the 2002 model year. They were reintroduced under the Kia Spectra range, with three trim levels offered for the US market:
- Spectra S – entry-level; base trim
- Spectra GS – slightly upgraded
- Spectra GSX – top of the range
Production & Assembly
The Kia Spectra was produced in various countries outside of Korea. Some of these assembly plants continued production even beyond 2004:
- Egypt – manufacturing was undertaken by the Arab American Vehicles (AAV) in 2002
- Russia – production of the Spectra by the Izh-Avto was extended until 2011
- Malaysia – the HICOM Automotive Manufacturers and Naza Automotive Manufacturing (NAM) assembled the Spectra liftback from 2001-2010
Other cars were marketed as Kia Sephia, aside from the Sephia iterations. However, some are not true Sephias, and we have listed them below to avoid confusing them with the real Sephias/iterations:
- Kia Cerato LD (first generation) – Kia Sephia/Spectra’s successor was initially named Kia Sephia for the Latin American market, Kia Spectra for North America, and Kia Spectra5 hatchback for North America and Malaysia.
- Kia Rio JB (second generation) – in Colombia, the second-generation taxi version of Kia Rio was launched as Kia Sephia Sport
- Kia Forte TD (first generation) – in China, Kia Forte TD was also called Kia Shuma (Sephia/Mentor’s iteration).
By Jeannette Salanga (JMSL)