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Car reviews - Kia - Mentor - SLX sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Value, space, pep
Room for improvement
Low-rent plastics, cheap interior ambience, budget image

16 May 2001

KIA has built a better Mentor and it needed to. The old car was well below par.

Mentor now comes in sedan flavour (albeit limited to the 1.5- litre engine) as well as a five-door hatch precociously dubbed coupe. The hatch is sold as a 1.5-litre as before or with a more powerful 1.8-litre engine, on par with Hyundai's Lantra.

The new Mentor range is a vast improvement and marks a coming of age for the now Hyundai-owned South Korean car-maker (no submarines or fridges in this corporate portfolio). The new cars are all its own work, from the styling to the engines.

Styling is typically South Korean in execution with some cribs from better known European marques. The sedan works best to our eyes, though the quad lamp nose on the five-door is easy to pick in traffic. Its bluff tail offers another clue that the Kia designers were out to make a bold if brash fashion statement.

All Kias now come with standard power steering, air-conditioning and driveaway pricing. This is a marked reversal from the brand's launch in 1997 when brave executives were betting that Kia's finesse would win over buyers in the cheap as chips bargain basement sector.

They were wrong. And don't they know it. Sales fell short of the ambitious 10,000 target by almost 30 per cent that year.

On the bright side, buyers can spot a bargain and know a good car from a mediocre one, so only a short drive in a Mentor should swing them Kia's way.

The sedan is our pick of the two. It is squeak and rattle free, has a willing engine and tidy, if predictable, handling. It rides acceptably although, despite Kia's claims of multi-level insulation liberally slathered over the floor and bulkheads, it is not a quiet car.

The responsive 1.5-litre engine is surprisingly punchy, revving freely without too much harshness, but is quite loud flat out. The throttle mechanism could do with more damping as the car leaps forward at just the sniff of shoe leather.

South Korean gear shift quality is usually appalling but the Mentor manages to be well above average and the shifter knob is shaped to meet your palm, another nice touch. Throttle and brake are ideally placed for heel and toeing, something the peppy engine encourages.

The steering, suspension and braking system is up to the job of reining in the 65kW and agreeably torquey 120Nm produced by the multi-point fuel-injected, double overhead camshaft, 16-valve, 1.5-litre engine.

The 1.8-litre engine has 26 per cent more power and 27 per cent more torque, yet this is most noticeable when the car is fully loaded. Driving solo, the 1.5-litre copes just as well with the cut and thrust of traffic.

The interior reeks, literally, of budget plastic but the woven seat facings are reasonably bright. The dash is simply and clearly laid out but one of our test cars had a loose instrument panel surround.

Further build woes surfaced at 60km/h with a resolute whistle permeating from the left-hand side suggesting a misaligned seal or skew door panel. But over rail tracks the body stayed strong and silent.

A heavy hatch on the five-door twists the C pillars when handled roughly but swings open to reveal a large load bay.

A tall person can sit behind another tall person without feeling cramped and shoulder space is adequate for full size adults.

Opening the sedan's boot lid reveals a squared-off boot. A neat touch is the warning placard on the underside of the boot lid cautioning loaders to avoid decapitation on the sharply protruding boot latch.

With competitive driveaway pricing, Mentor is actually cheaper than the car it replaces, which makes the old car seem an even poorer buy in the first place.

- Automotive NetWorks 26/05/1999

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