Turkey Day Classic: Kia (not the) Besta – Like Your Turkey Extra Rare?

How about some really rare turkey? The exact details of how the Kia Besta van came to Canada might just be lost to us. I do have some theories but no real concrete facts. The first one involves Hyundai, which had just come to Canada in the early 80s with the Pony and Stellar. Success had come fast especially with the Pony. They were actively scoping out the American market as well. So perhaps Kia thought they’d run a trial in import and cheap car friendly Canada. The Besta van would have been a curious choice however.

So perhaps it was Mazda, whose van Kia was producing that was driving this? Perhaps they wanted to gauge the market reaction to their Bongo van without damaging the Mazda name. Adding strength to this theory is the vans were sold out of Mazda dealers but only in a handful in Canadian cities. I know Bestas were sold in Calgary and Vancouver but not sure of any others. The one below was spotted in Ontario. Can’t have been more than a few hundred ever sold.

Mechanically they are very close to the Mazda B-series pickup truck. In Canada they were sold with the same FE 2.0L inline four cylinder engine putting out only about 80hp. I owned a 1986 B2000 truck that was reliable but slow with a manual five speed so I can’t imagine the performance of the much heavier van. This lack of speed was likely one of the strikes against its customer acceptance. Overseas the Mazda Bongo, Kia Besta and also sold by Ford as the Freda had decent success and a long life span but was offered with diesel engines as well. The Kia even offered an electric version.

I’ve never actually had the good fortune to see one before but a friend of mine took who took the top photo has seen two. A few years back I did see an online ad for one in BC. Survival rates would have to be pretty low even with the parts commonality with the Mazda trucks.