The Kia Mentor is a bit of a footnote in a long history of Kia cars. Compared to its cousins, like the wildly popular Kia Grand Carnival people mover, the Kia Mentor found a more muted reception in Australia. Still, for those looking for a quality car in the used market, the Kia Mentor is a very valid option.
The first-generation Kia Sephia, manufactured from 1992 to 1997, served as the basis for the Kia Mentor. To get a sense of what made the Sephia stand out, you could start by considering its name, which is an acronym containing these words: style, elegant, powerful, hi-tech, ideal, and auto. The Sephia in turn was directly based on the seventh-generation Kia Familia, indicating a long and connected history for the Kia compact car.
The first Kia Mentor launched in Australia was as a second-generation (1997-2003) Kia Sephia. In both sedan and liftback models, they were released under the name “Mentor” for the Australian market, and they were available in either the entry-level SLX or higher-spec GLX trim levels. The Kia Mentor itself was phased out after June 2000, when Kia changed its Australian distributor and discontinued the sedan. With the remaining liftback model, Kia renamed it a “Shuma.”
The Kia Shuma ditched the SLX/GLX monikers and the mediocre 1.5-litre engine, replacing them with Shuma, Shuma FX, and a 1.8-litre engine, respectively. A year later, in May of 2001, it received another facelift and a rebranding as a Kia “Spectra.” Like all international versions of the Kia Sephia, the Kia Spectra was discontinued in 2004.
The 1997 five-door hatchback SLX Kia Mentor did not have the greatest performance in a car of its class, but it was good enough for the money to warrant consideration. It had a 4-cylinder 1.5-litre engine with 59kW of power and 120Nm of torque. Where it really shined was in its fuel consumption, though, with an average 7.7L/100km.
In the 1998 GLX Kia Mentor, there were some slight improvements in performance. It featured a 1.8-litre engine with power of 82kW and 152Nm of torque, with fuel consumption unchanged at 7.7L/100km.
While no longer technically Kia Mentors, the Shuma and Spectra iterations of the Kia Sephia were spiritual successors to the Kia Mentor. They made improvements of their own in performance and equipment.
The 1998 SLX Kia Mentor came standard with a four-speaker radio and cassette player, air con, power steering, cloth trim, body-coloured bumpers, and tachometer. The entry-level SLX could be upgraded to the higher-spec GLX, which featured some additions like central locking, power mirrors, power windows, rear fog lights, electric aerial, tilt adjustable steering column, and a more powerful 1.8-litre engine. Both come standard with a roomy interior and a large boot area for storing luggage.
Both of the models could be upgraded to include a 4-speed automatic transmission rather than the standard 5-speed manual. Later models included higher-quality engines that gave the Kia Mentor more poke as well as improved responsiveness in handling and performance. Anyone who’s interested in looking for a Kia Mentor with good features would probably find it easier to look for the GLX trim specifically, because it’s more likely to have the desired kit.
As for safety features, there are options on the GLX five-door hatchback that include ABS, rear disc brakes, dual air bags, and alloy wheels. The later Shuma and Spectra versions of the Kia Sephia made many of the GLX’s features standard, including its central locking, alloy wheels, power mirrors, and power windows.
The Kia Mentor is a medium-sized sedan that belongs to an ultra-competitive class. Quality Japanese competitors like Nissan, Mazda, and Toyota all gave Kia a run for its money. The Kia Mentor was a vehicle of reasonable quality, but it suffered from build quality and performance problems that gave Japanese cars an edge. Its main advantage was a cheap price.
One of its flaws was shared with many other imported vehicles in Australia, which was its poor toleration of harsh Australian sunlight. Depending on where you live, the Mentor might have to get its paintwork redone. Otherwise, the Kia Mentor is a good small car that’s available for an excellent price in the used market. For running errands around town or as a first car for the kids, it’s an affordable, good value.