The History of Kia’s Larger and Full-Size Sedans (Part IV)

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We return to our coverage of Kia sedans today and discuss a mid-size just ahead of the flagship Enterprise we last talked about. Kia offered the first midsize car to carry its brand image in 1987 when it launched the new Concord. Concord was essentially a front-to-rear clip-swap take on the GC Mazda 626 platform. Mazda discontinued the GC 626 that year and immediately sold the platform and tooling to Kia. A few years later, the Concord spawned a little brother called the Capital. Capital was much like the Concord but sold to a more economical customer with its much lower level of equipment and underpowered engines.

When the Capital ended its run in 1997, it was replaced by a compact car Kia had had on sale for a few years already: the Sephia. However, Sephia would not suit Concord-level customers, and when the sedan was discontinued in 1995, they were directed to an all-new Kia. The company was ready with its new midsize to squeeze the Concord, and it went on sale the same year. Although the new car was once again on a given platform, it was the first time that Kia had some leeway to design its own mid-size car. Time to discuss Credos.

And so we come back to Mazda. GC-based Capital and Concord has existed for So long on Mazda’s old platform, Kia was able to skip a generation 626 when it needed another chassis. The one Kia skipped was the GD, which you know as the angular 626 four- and five-door on sale for the 1988 through 1992 model years.

When Kia requested another mid-size platform, Mazda was in the middle of the GE 626 generation. Said 626 for North American purposes was offered from 1993 to 1997 and was the first factory-built Ford- Mazda of Flat Rock, Michigan. The GE was part of a name consolidation effort at Mazda, as the long-standing Capella name disappeared. Capella was replaced by the more upmarket-sounding Cronos (four-door) and ɛ̃fini MS-6 (five-door) as Mazda was in the midst of the unsuccessful luxury product expansion we discussed in our last entry.

From 1993 to 1999, the Capella name was relegated to older GD-based wagons, which remained on sale after sedans and hatchbacks switched to GE. Capella reappeared for the 1995 model year, as a new, smaller car reserved for the Japanese market. The four-door sedan was built to meet Japanese size restrictions and rode on the CG platform with the luxurious Lantis.

In Japan, Autozam dealers had their own (very unsuccessful) version called Clef. With a different body, the Clef was outside Autozam’s product standard, which was very small entry-level cars. Ford sold a version of the GE under the Telstar name through its Autorama distribution network in Japan. It should be noted that the GE platform was also used for the Ford Probe and Mazda MX-6 sports cars, both built in Michigan.

In North America, the 626 remained with its traditional name, but in Canada it was a different story: from 1993 to 1996, Mazda once again tried to introduce a a little more chic name to Canadians. The 626 adopted a surname, Cronos. The word meant nothing to anyone and disappeared from marketing literature after 1996.

The GE 626 moved on from the angular look of the GD but retained the same transverse engine layout and front-wheel drive base. Four-wheel drive was again available in some markets, but in traditional Mazda fashion, it was not offered in North America. Recall that this was when Ford owned Mazda, which was obviously reflected in the use of many Ford components.

Overall, there were a total of six different engines available in the GE, ranging in size from 1.8 to 2.5 liters. Configurations were either inline-four or V6. The larger four-cylinder was a 2.0-liter Mazda mill, complemented by a Mazda V6 of the same displacement. Mazda liked to keep its V6 engines small, and the GE’s other two V6 options were both 2.5-liters.

Engines on the GE platform belonged to Mazda’s F family if they had four cylinders and to the K family if they had six cylinders. Outside of these families was a diesel inline-four, with a displacement of 2.0 liters and using a supercharger. Transmissions included a four-speed automatic or a five-speed manual.

Beginning in 1994, Mazda’s automatic transmission in 626 four-cylinders was replaced by a Ford CD4E built in Ohio under a joint venture between Ford and ZF. V6 automatics continued to use the Mazda transmission, which was a stroke of luck for their owners. CD4E had a high failure rate and was prone to overheating. Mazda issued several TSBs regarding the unwanted CD4E, but it was never recalled. Back to Kia.

Midway through GE’s tenure, Mazda sold use of the platform to Kia for their new mid-size. Kia was able to design “its own” sedan for once, though it certainly wasn’t a clean sheet of paper. At first glance, we notice that the windshield and the doors of the 626 were directly worn, as well as the shape of the headlights. Kia installed its own grille.

The side profile of both cars was largely identical, although the Credos used Kia-designed trim and wheels. At the rear, Kia has opted for its own brake light design, with lenses that are generally egg-shaped. The lenses ran along the edge of the trunk lid, which had a different shape than the Mazda. The rest of the rear elements were generally the same as the Mazda.

The interior was absolutely different from the Mazdas, and Kia took it a bit more upscale. There was a new wood-covered center console and the dashboard was also remodeled. The 626 had a pod around its instruments that was separate from the vents and created a kind of wave-like ridge across the dashboard. Credos adopted a much more traditional layout, with a sweeping shape that ran downwards just past the center console. Credos also used lots of wood trim and ruched leather not found in the Mazda.

Compared to the linear, serious front end of the first Credos, the facelifted 1998 version was more rounded and didn’t seem so far removed from a mid-’90s Ford Contour. Kia made the design cleaner with the update , but also more like Ford. The rear changed slightly, with a revised boot lid and narrower but taller brake lights. The updated version was called Credos II.

However, similar to its base Mazda in appearance, Kia has gone its own way when it comes to the Credos platform. It lengthened the GE wheelbase by 2.1 inches (to 104.9 inches) to make it a larger midsize. Credos was longer than the 626 right off the bat, at 185.4 inches overall versus the Mazda’s 183.9 inches. Kia added a few inches in width, because in that country there was no dimension-based road tax: Credos was 70.1 inches wide when the 626 was 68.9 inches. Most of the extra length was used to give Credos passengers extra space and a huge trunk.

Kia’s other use of the GE platform was worth a quick mention. They held him for a while and stretched him Even further while they were developing a new model. When completed, they had a 114.6-inch wheelbase and a new van called Carnival. You might remember it as the first generation Sedona.

The Credos’ body styles were different from Mazda’s offerings: Mazda stuck to a four-door sedan and a five-door liftback and never made a wagon version of the GE 626. The liftbacks were not popular in the midsize segment in Korea, so there was a four-door sedan and a five-door wagon, instead.

The Credos was powered by a trio of engines, only two of which made much sense. At the bottom end was Kia’s 1.8-liter inline-four, called the T8D. This engine was widely used in Kia products at the time and even found its way into examples of the rare Kia Elan.

Mid-level power was aptly provided by a 2.0-liter Mazda F-family engine, ported directly from the GE 626. The 2.0 was available as standard, as well as with DOHC. Another engine arrived with the facelift in 1998, courtesy of… Rover. A new V6 was offered with the revised and larger Credos! It was the KV6 taken straight from the Rover 800. With 2.0 liters the engine found its way into various Rovers, MGs, Land Rover Freelanders and Kias like the Credos and Carnival. The KV6 was built under license by Kia and produced a nice 148 horsepower.

Kia exported the Credos to the European market, where it was renamed Clarus. And while the wagon was sold in Europe as the Clarus, in its home market it took on the name Parktown. The Parktown was hugely unpopular in Korea, and customers stayed away from the bulbous shape that resembled a Taurus wagon. Credos was also sold in Australia, but proved very unpopular there as well: 839 were sold in three years. The Credos was not sold in any form in North America, as the company’s lineup was thin at the time. In 1999, Kia only offered the Sephia and Sportage in North America.

Moderately successful, the end of the Credos came in 2001. It was a tumultuous time at Kia, where all of its original Mazda products were phased out in favor of models that shared platforms with new parent company, Hyundai. Next time we’ll come back to our big cars and talk about the big sedan that replaced the Enterprise – the Opirus.

[Images: Kia, YouTube]

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