Good morning, and welcome back to another week of scraping the bottom of the automotive barrel! Today we have a couple of cars that will make you wonder, “How the hell are those still so nice?” But first, we need to finish up with Friday’s cruisers:
Looks like the Ambassador got some love, but not enough. But I mean, come on – we’re talking about a straight-eight Roadmaster, in green! Nothing stood a chance against that. Congratulations, Buick. Long may you run.
“Long running” is not a trait often associated with some other cars, like early South Korean imports, for example. Hyundai’s early efforts have almost completely vanished from the landscape, and if you see an early Kia, it’s almost certain to be on its last legs. Yet somehow, here are two low-mileage examples of Korean econoboxes that still look almost new after a quarter of a century.
Almost, that is.
I need to give a shoutout to Sam Blockhan on Opposite Lock for finding these two cars for sale. Sam, like many young members of Oppo, loves posting what I struggle to think of as “old” cars: vehicles from the ’80s and ’90s that they’ve never seen, but I recall vividly and not fondly. Still, it’s always a fun trip down memory lane, seeing what forgotten gems they’ve unearthed. Let’s take a look at a couple of them now.
1998 Kia Sephia – $4,911
Engine/drivetrain: 1.8-liter dual overhead cam inline 4, four-speed automatic, FWD
Location: Fort Pierce, FL
Odometer reading: 41,000 miles
Kia’s first entry into the US market was a dowdy little sedan called the Sephia. Designed in-house by Kia, but using license-built engine and chassis designs from Mazda, the Sephia was meant to be cheap, reliable, and a good value. Well, one out of three ain’t bad.
But it was enough of a success to give Kia a foot in the door, and that’s all they needed. This is Kia’s second-generation Sephia, a little roomier, a little more refined, with the same Korean-built variant of Mazda’s twin-cam BP engine. A Sephia with a manual is actually kind of a fun little car to drive. This one, tragically, is not a manual.
It is, however, practically new, with only 41,000 miles on the clock, and only minor blemishes. It’s being sold by a dealership, so history is going to be hard to come by, but with the condition this thing is in, I’m not sure it matters. It is a little pricey for what it is, even with the low mileage, but dealer prices on cars like this are usually pretty flexible. Just wave some cash in their faces.
It’s a dull, uninspiring little turd of a car, frankly, but damn, do I miss plain silver steel wheels on economy cars. There’s just something wonderfully unpretentious about them.
1999 Hyundai Accent – $3,993
Engine/drivetrain: 1.5 liter overhead cal inline 4, four-speed automatic, FWD
Location: Poquoson, VA
Odometer reading: 49,000 miles
Runs/drives? Sure does
Hyundai and Kia were rivals early on, but in 1998, Hyundai became part-owner of Kia, so now they’re kind of on the same side. Hyundai got off to a rocky start in the US, with the Excel subcompact earning a reputation for unreliability and disposable-ness. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I saw a Hyundai Excel on the street.
But you do see its replacement, the Accent, here and there, and the nameplate is still in production.
Where Kia licensed designs from Mazda, Hyundai got their engines from Mitsubishi in the early days. This 1.5-liter motor is all Hyundai, however, and it actually holds up pretty well. It puts out a thundering eighty-eight horsepower through a four-speed automatic in this case, making on-ramps exciting in the wrong way.
This little Hyundai is in remarkably good shape, and clocks in at just under 50,000 miles. The seller (a dealership again) says it’s a one-owner car that runs well, and has functional air conditioning, though with that tiny engine I bet switching it on makes it feel like you’ve dropped anchor.
The upside to the small engine is fuel economy – you can flog this thing for all its worth and still pull 35 miles per gallon out of it.
I do find it funny when the young’uns start waxing nostalgic about cars like these. But it’s all relative: either one of these is as reliable as a Camry and as luxurious as a Rolls-Royce compared the economy cars of 20 years earlier. You could probably get a great many trouble-free, boring miles out of either of these. So which one will it be?
(Image credits: Autotrader.com sellers)
Which would you rather eat, cream of liver soup or haggis pie?
This is a choice between two crummy cars in ugly colors. Would you like to die from sheer boredom or from boredom with aftermarket aluminum wheels that you did not get to choose?
The one from the dealership should have its Carfax checked. Low mileage cars from dealerships are still, even in 2023, subject to odometer shenanigans.
There is one good use for these cars – if you’re planning to go on a date with someone that you never want to see again. Once she gets a look at you driving either of these, she will never want to be seen with you again.
If anyone pays more than ten dollars for either of these, they deserve the ensuing nightmare. It’s amazing either of these still exist. Absolute shitboxes.
I would rather walk than drive either of those.
I will take the Hyundai, it is a grand less, I like the charcoal interior better, and it has alloy wheels, nothing says I have a bottom feeding car like steel wheels, though both cars still broadcast their low man on the totem pole status pretty clearly.
Hyundai for me… partly due to the name ‘Sephia’ makes me think of a Sexually Transmitted Disease.
Sidenote: Can some Seltos cure a case of Sephia?
And no, they’re not the same car. The 1999 Accent was a 2nd gen model and used the Hyundai-designed Alpha engine… which was not a bad engine at all.
The Sephia was kind of like a cheapified Mazda Protege. It’s about the same size, used a Mazda engine design that Kia licensed, but the chassis was of Kia’s own design – which is to say it was worse than the Protege.
And this particular design was a 2nd gen model that came out in 1997 as Kia was going through bankruptcy.
Bankruptcy usually does help product quality.
And then Hyundai swooped in and scooped them up from under Ford’s nose.
So this is a Kia design from the Pre-Hyundai era.
So in the late 1990s, a Hyundai was a much better bet than a Kia.
And it’s ironic because in the late 1980s to early 1990s, Kias were better than Hyundais. The Kia Pride/Ford Festiva was a much better car than the Hyundai Excel, Pony or Stellar.
But through the 1990s, Hyundai steadily got better and Kia got worse and went bankrupt.