2009 Kia Spectra

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2005 Kia Spectra

This 2005 review is representative of model years 2005 to 2009.
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Rating: 7

Bottom Line:

Latest Kia Spectra shows that marginal, low-priced cars are mostly gone.
Pros:
  • New sporty hatchback version
  • Roomy
  • Fairly refined
Cons:
  • Long-throw clutch
  • Small tachometer
  • Questionable resale value

South Korean automakers generally trail Japanese car producers by a few years when it comes to such things as refinement, but the latest Kia Spectra shows that the South Koreans are catching up fast.

Kia is owned by South Korea's Hyundai, which once sold inexpensive but junky "throwaway" cars here in the U.S. The autos eventually were considered so undesirable that it was felt that Hyundai would become yet another foreign car producer that would disappear from the U.S. market.

Enticing Warranty
But Hyundai wasn't about to desert the lucrative American auto market, and it improved also once-marginal Kia models along with Hyundai-badged vehicles. As the Japanese initially did, Hyundai and Kia offered well-equipped cars for low prices—and then backed them with an eye-opening long warranty, which included a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain protection.

The $12,700-$16,225 Spectra has become one of Kia's top-selling models and helped Kia sell 143,086 vehicles for the first six months this year in America, compared to 135,901 in the same year-ago period.

While Kia resale value is an unknown, the solid feel of the Spectra promises a long life. This model is placed above Kia's entry level Rio, which costs less but doesn't have the power or features of the Spectra, although it does have the same long warranty.

Safety Features
The front-wheel-drive Spectra is among the least costly autos with standard head-protecting side-curtain airbags, besides torso-protecting front-seat side airbags. Kia knows that safety is a valuable feature of small, relatively inexpensive cars—partly because some are bought by parents for their children.

It used to be simple to buy entry level cars such as the Spectra because they came in only one body style and featured few options and trim levels.

New Hatchback
The Spectra shows that's generally no longer the case. For example, it comes as a sedan in entry LX, mid-range EX and top-line SX trim levels. And it also is offered as the sporty new Spectra5 mini wagon with a convenient rear hatch.

Most Americans prefer a sedan with a conventional trunk, so Kia has given the SX sporty features of the Spectra5. They include a stiffer suspension and low-profile 50-series tires on 16-inch alloy wheels instead of standard narrower tires on 15-inch wheels.

Other Spectra5 items shared by the SX include a rear spoiler, side sills below doors for a lower appearance, fog lights, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, "sport fabric" on seats and door panels and metal-finish trim throughout the interior, including metal pedals.

Decent Base Version
The base Spectra LX doesn't look as sporty as the SX or Spectra5 and has fewer standard features. Still, it's fairly well equipped, with a tilt steering wheel, a height-adjustable driver's seat, an AM/FM/CD player, a split folding rear seat, variable intermittent wipers, rear defogger and all-disc brakes.

Nearly all car buyers want air conditioning, which is a $960 LX option.

The EX also doesn't look very sporty, but adds air conditioning, heated power mirrors and power windows and door locks with remote keyless entry.

The Specta5 and SX have features of the LX and EX, besides their sportier items.

A $700 power sunroof is optional, as are $400 anti-lock brakes and $250 cruise control.

Soft Ride Emphasized
The SX and Spectra5 have sharper handling than the LX and EX, thanks to their sport suspensions, wider tires and such. However, while all Spectras have front/rear stabilizer bars for better roadability, all versions emphasize a soft ride.

Low-speed maneuverability is good, with quick steering, but the Spectra doesn't like to be driven more than moderately hard.

Sophisticated Small Engine
Power flows from a sophisticated 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine with dual overhead camshafts and continuously variable valve timing. It produces 138 horsepower, but must be revved high for the best acceleration because it's small. Also, it turns over at a high 3000 rpm at 65 mph in top gear, although there's no problem with fast highway cruising.

The engine works with a 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic transmission.

While in-town performance is lively, the 65-75 mph passing time is average, even after downshifting from fifth gear to fourth gear. The manual transmission shifter works smoothly, but the clutch has a long throw. The brake pedal helps allow easy stops with its progressive action.

The automatic transmission is generally responsive, but soaks up power and thus stifles performance a bit.

Noteworthy Fuel Economy
Fuel economy with the manual is noteworthy: an estimated 25 mpg in the city and 33 on highways. The figures are 24 and 34 with the automatic.

The quiet, nicely designed interior provides impressive room for four adults. Five fit in a pinch, but the firm center of the back seat is only comfortable for short trips.

Large Cargo Area
The trunk is large, with a low, wide opening, and rear seatbacks in the sedan flip forward and sit flat to enlarge the cargo area. The entire rear seat of the Spectra5 hatchback folds forward to increase cargo space.

Cost cutting can be seen here and there throughout the Spectra. For instance, the interior of the sedan's trunk lid has an unfinished look and has space-eating "gooseneck" hinges instead of hydraulic struts.

The heavy hood must be held open by a short prop rod, although the engine compartment looks surgically neat.

Spectra owners need not look or feel as if they're driving a car primarily designed for cheap, economical operation. Thank goodness the South Koreans hung in there.

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BB05 - 7/25/2014 8:40:24 PM