The marque: Korean bit-part player seeks starring role.

The history: Kia began making bicycle wheels in Seoul in 1944. A bicycle range followed in 1953; 1961 saw motorcycles, 1963 a three-wheeler delivery vehicle.

Trucks and the first car (the Brisca) came in the 1970s, and in 1979 it began building the Fiat 132 and the Peugeot 604 under licence. Then it all fell apart.

New management came to the rescue, and Kia made Mazda vans under licence. Mazda and Ford bought into the company, which led in the late 1980s to the Kia Pride -- a locally-built Mazda 121 sold in the US as a Ford Festiva.

The 1990s brought Kia's own designs: the Sephia and Sportage 4x4. These were cheap and crude, but getting better. It all fell apart again in 1997, but Kia's rival, Hyundai, rescued the company. The Magentis saloon deserved to be taken more seriously, and the Sorento is a pleasing 4x4.

Remnants of the past have yet to be purged, though. Drive a Mentor for proof.

Defining model: Sorento. It shows what Kia can do.

They say: Think before you drive.

We say: Drink up, the Kia aura is coming.

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