History of Kia’s Large Full-Size Sedan (Part Three)


We’re well into the late ’90s or more in Kia’s midsize sedan history.This was a period of modernization for Kia’s product portfolio, especially 1998 and 1999 were expansion periods: Kia launched an impressive Nine Brand new for the past two years.

For its largest sedan lineup, the outdated Potentia (a redesign of the 80s Mazda Luce) continues to be popular in the Korean market. Potentia has been updated from its original 1992 look to 1998. That same year, however, Kia introduced a new large luxury sedan to its lineup. Once again, the company relies on its friendly product partner, Mazda. Let’s talk business.

Enterprise is the sedans that your author originally thought of when he considered Kia’s large sedans. It went on sale in 1998 as a replacement for the Potentia, although the older of the two was so popular that both sedans dominated Kia dealerships until 2001.

Below, Enterprise is again a slight redesign of Mazda’s largest luxury sedan. Mazda calls it the Sentia in its home market and the 929 elsewhere, such as North America. As mentioned, the HD Sentia is an evolution of the HC Mazda Luce, a car that became the Potentia after Mazda was finished.

Sentia is part of a major luxury brand campaign that Mazda plans to launch globally, including the Aamti and ɛ̃fini brands. With Japan’s housing crisis in the early 1990s, the company’s gathering of leather and Lexus racing dreams shattered on their side.

In most markets, that means the more sophisticated Mazdas join the company’s standard fare and are not happy shortly after, so they are cheaper to produce. Think the refined Eunos Cosmo, Xedos sedans and hatchbacks, the new bolder Sentia/929 and Millennia, among others.

Mazda went in a new direction with the HD Sentia platform: they wanted their flagship sedan to be modern and reflect a bolder, more dynamic attitude. This is quite different from HC Luce and its conservative boxy nature. Development of Sentia began almost immediately after the launch of Luce in early 1988.

Lead designer Shunki Tanaka worked hard to please Mazda executives who wanted something unconventional. They kept rejecting his designs, which were initially more formal and developed in the “Prince Coach” style in honor of Crown Prince Akihito.

Mazda was frustrated and turned to American designer Peter Montero for new ideas. Mazda asked Montero to come up with a new styling theme to continue. Montero reviewed the proportions that were rejected and made his suggestion: Emphasize those truly luxurious rear-wheel-drive proportions.

The new look was achieved by taking the previously rejected Sentia design and moving the front wheels to the corners of the car. With a longer axle ratio and less overhang, the Sentia looks even more impressive.

The design was completed by Dori Regev, a new employee at the company’s Hiroshima Design Center. After the design was completed, it was approved in December 1988. The Sentia prototype was ready for 1989, with a subsequent planned production date of 1991.

Production began in 1991, the Sentia and 929 went on sale as 1992 models, and the dealership chain ended with the MS-9. All examples of global consumption are made in Japan.

Sentia is available with two engine options, an option designed to appeal to customers in their home market who pay road tax based on engine displacement. The smaller of the two is a 2.5-liter V6 that produces 158 horsepower. High-end examples (and all in North America) use Mazda’s J-series 3.0-liter V6, which is good for 197 horsepower.

Even though the Sentia was all-new, unfortunately the 3.0 engine was just a port of the old Luce and was still available throughout Sentia production (albeit with more power via a new intake manifold). The 2.5-liter is a newly developed engine. The Sentia tries to up its luxury accolades, as in all form it only offers six-cylinder power.

Mazda has thrown all its cutting-edge technology into the new Sentia, including speed-sensitive four-wheel steering. Solar ventilation is also provided, with cooling fans ventilating the interior of the Sentia when it is parked outside. Solar cells in the sunroof collect energy to power the fans. Some markets even have all-wheel-drive Sentias.

Overall, the 929 wasn’t a success in North America, as large sedans with luxury pricing but no luxury badges had limited appeal. Notably, unique to Canada is a new suffix for the 929’s nickname: Serenia. For Canadians far from Serenia in Toronto and elsewhere, the name didn’t do much. Mazda pulled it from Canada in 1994 and the US after 1995.

Quite a failure, production of the HD Sentia ended in 1996. You wish the Mazda part of the story ended here, but it doesn’t!The overlap with the last few months of HD Sentia production is other Generation Sentia, HE. Unlike HD, which is released globally, HE is limited to mainland Asia and Australia. It went on sale for the 1996 model year.

It’s a bit disingenuous to think of the HE Sentia as a new-generation model, as it’s clearly an update to an older model. The wheelbase remains the same at 112.2 inches. External dimensions are very similar (but smaller) as before, with length increased from 193.9 inches to 192.7 inches. The width is the same at 70.6 inches, but the height is slightly increased from 54.3 inches to 55.9 inches. The sporty look of the first Sentia didn’t work out well, so Mazda made the second look more upright and formal. Everything is more conservative, which is exactly what Mazda hopes to avoid by replacing the old Luce.Overall, the appearance is just a little bit less Modern and clean.

Mechanically, the engine and transmission are inherited from the HD. The HE has always been powered by a J-series 3.0-liter V6 and four-speed automatic transmission. Neither generation of Sentia has a manual transmission option.

The revised Sentia proved less popular than the first generation, and sales were slow. When Mazda pulled out of the new Sentia in 1997, it stopped selling it in Australia just a year later. Production in Japan will continue until 1999, but by then Mazda has a plan in place to buffer the money the company spent on its last full-size model, a rear-wheel drive.

While the HE Sentia was still in production, Mazda sold everything to Kia. Kia spent very little time transforming the Sentia into its proud new luxury vehicle, the Enterprise. It was built in Korea and went on sale in 1998.

Sentia is a boon for Kia, it gets fluent Modern and advanced platform. Not content with being discontinued like the old Luce platform was a leap forward, when Kia got the hang of it, it was 10 years old.

When transitioning from HD to HE Sentia, the shortened sedan’s front end is straighter, the more conventional headlights are taller, and roll into smaller corner marks. In the HD Sentia, the grille and lights are rounded and cling to the front edge of the very smooth hood. The grille and lights in the HE are more square, and the grille itself is more upright.

Most of the additional form on the second-generation Sentia comes through the front and rear square bumpers. Although the window glass has remained almost unchanged, the panels have been slightly reshaped with stronger creases than before. The plan is to transform the car from a “full-size non-luxury global appeal” to a “conservative Japanese transport businessman”.

At the rear, the HE’s curvy trunk and lights have been replaced with a squared-off trunk lid that appears taller than before. Combined with the boxier bumper, the rear looks more mature and less sporty. The brake lights are a square adaptation of the outgoing Sentia’s round version. Inside, the most notable change in the new Sentia is the addition of a plethora of wood trim (almost none on the old Sentia).

Fortunately for Kia, the company’s big executive sedan customers are very fond of the conservative design and formal appearance. Kia made almost no changes in the Sentia-to-Enterprise conversion. The most notable update is the grille. It changes from a Mazda-designed thin vertical chrome texture to a chrome sectional look. The new nose is reminiscent of the Potentia’s grille, but larger for more authority.

Kia then applied for a corporate badge and put their new car up for sale. (cool 360 degree pattern here.) Power is delivered via two Mazda engine designs, but interestingly there are more engines to choose from after Mazda discontinued its flagship. While all engines are V6 configurations, Kia’s existing access means buyers can have a 2.5- or 3.0-liter Mazda engine, or a 3.6 from an unknown party. The larger engine features a 24-valve design that produces 230 horsepower.

The Enterprise was quite successful in South Korea and even exported to the European market, with brash critics eager to call it “just a Kia.” Regardless of the merits of a business, however, the world economy has its own minds. In 1997, just before the launch of Enterprise, there was a financial crisis in Asia. That plunged Kia’s finances into complete disarray, and the company merged with South Korea’s largest automaker, Hyundai Motor, in 1998.

So the Enterprise, which replaced the old Potentia, only outlived its big brother by a year. The Enterprise was cancelled in 2002 as a new full-size Kia was ready for 2003. Kia will no longer rely on the Mazda platform as its new relative has a lot to do with it. Next time we’ll go back to 1996 and talk about the midsize Credos that replaced Concord and Capital.

[Images: Kia, Mazda]

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