1 Dec 1996
By CHRIS HARRIS
KIA broke into the Australian small-car market with the attractive and keenly priced Mentor hatchback in late 1996.
But what lurked beneath was a front-wheel drive platform based on the 1989-1994 Mazda BG 323, but costed down. So the driving experience was neither very modern nor particularly impressive.
Under the bonnet lay a 59kW/120Nm single-cam eight-valve 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine related to the units found in the Mazda 121 bubble and Ford Festiva. With almost 1200kg of car to push around, it had to work very hard to keep up with modern traffic.
The styling and body engineering, by an English firm IAD, gave the Kia a European flavour missing from subsequent models, but the cabin, filled with cheap-feeling plastics and trim, seemed older than it really was, and didn’t offer much space for adults in the back.
Two models were offered – a basic SLX and well-equipped GLX. The latter included powered steering, windows, door locks and mirrors and cloth trim.