Kia Spectra5 takes the brand a quantum leap forward

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

It seemed like airbag overload.

We were passing the time checking out the interior of the just-arrived Kia Spectra5 waiting for a friend to return from a convenience store errand.

We sat and marveled at the profusion of airbags in the hatchback. It took more than one hand to count the little Supplemental Restraint System (SRS) buttons situated front and back in the Kia.

Very impressive! Safety, especially for an economy car and a car that might be in the driveway of a young family is certainly an important factor in making a buying decision.

But it made us keenly interested in checking out the options list on the Spectra’s window sticker. Side airbags, no matter where they are positioned, are options on many cars including some at twice the base price of the Spectra5.

We would have bet the airbags in this car amounted to hundreds of dollars in optional equipment. We would have lost that bet.

We discovered while scanning the window sticker that the Spectra5 hatchback comes at a bargain basement price of $15,535 with front airbags, dual front and rear side-curtain airbags and front-seat mounted side airbags, all standard equipment.

In our safety-conscious world when industry watchdogs such as Consumer Reports magazine are screaming for side airbags in every car, Kia seems to be running ahead of the pack. If you want no-extra-cost peace of mind for you and your family, the Spectra5 offers a desirable low-cost alternative.

Disc brakes on all four wheels are also included for 15 grand, but paradoxically, an antilock braking system is not part of the standard package. With all the passive safety, we figured ABS would be included, too. But in defense of Kia, it has made ABS a relatively inexpensive $400 stand-alone option.

The Spectra5 has more going for it than just safety. Among other things, it has an incredibly low price and an outstanding 5-year, 60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty and a 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty.

And that’s saying something in this price range.

This five-door is well positioned to tackle such stalwarts as Honda and Toyota.
South Korean-built cars from Hyundai and Kia — now a jointly owned company — have made giant strides in quality, which was confirmed last year by J.D. Power and Associates consumer satisfaction ratings and in Power’s recently released IQS (Initial Quality Survey) that looks at the first 90-days of ownership.

This car is well built, tight and rattle-free, with a stylish and high-quality looking interior.

The Spectra5 is the latest addition to the new Spectra lineup, which was introduced in 2004. The Spectra also comes in sedan format in LX, EX and SX trim levels. The SX and the Spectra5 have been given a sportier demeanor than the other trim levels with front and rear spoilers, side sills, rear valance and black grille.

All Spectras come with a peppy 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine generating 138 horsepower. It has dual overhead cams and gains a variable valve timing system, Kia’s first use of the technology, for decent performance. It has been measured in 8.2 seconds from 0 to 60 with the 5-speed manual transmission. A 4-speed automatic can also be ordered as an option.

Our test car was outfitted with the manual, and although shifts are not exactly like a hot knife through butter, engaging the gears was easy once underway. Finding the right clutch point was a problem at times off the line, however. Giving the Kia slightly more gas than necessary to prevent stalling the engine was the rule rather than the exception.
Performance was reliable at all speeds with plenty of passing power simply by dropping down a gear or two.

The Spectra5 is endowed with a sports-tuned suspension giving the car a sporting like quality on the twists and turns of back-road America.

We found it intriguing to have the space of a hatchback and the sporting nature of a two-door coupe. It gives those on a budget the opportunity to get at least a measure of weekend fun in the family styled contrivance.

The driving position is good. The seat is comfortable. The wheel falls nicely to hand.
And all the touches are there to make the every day commute a livable experience. Two nice-sized drink holders between the seats will house the morning coffee cup and a bottle of water for those two-fisted drinkers (or if you car pool). Two slender bins in the center stack will accommodate a couple of CD boxes, spare change or other odds and ends.
A big bin in front of the shifter is a good resting place for a cell phone. A power point is located just above the bin.

The center bin/arm rest is two-tiered with a slender shelf and a deeper bin underneath. There’s a coin holder to the left of the driver. And the door bins also are carved out at the front to hold a drink can.

The three rotary climate control knobs are large and have a nice feel.
Although the stereo face is small, the controls are clearly marked and intuitive.
A sunglass holder is positioned overhead and a button to pop open the trunk is in clear view on the dashboard.

A clock sits up high in the center stack and can be read by anyone in the cabin. It doesn’t share duties with the stereo readout as in so many cars that cost thousands more.
The gauges are well marked and easy to read.

Perhaps too many times overlooked or glossed over in compact cars is rear-seat legroom. Many compacts are comfortable for adults in the backseat only when those in the front seat adjust their chairs forward on the tracks; however, there is no need for compromise in the Kia. Legroom abounds in back for a compact that measures only 176 inches long and contains a class-leading 97 cubic feet of passenger room. This means that Spectra owners can volunteer to drive to dinner or the theater without having to make excuses about rear tight-quarters to their friends.

And their friends will surely be impressed as well with the fit and finish and the high-quality plastics and cloth fabric used in the interior of the Spectra.

While the sedan has a relatively spacious trunk with 12.2 cubic feet of space, the hatchback yields 18 cubic feet with the rear seats up and 53 cubic feet with the seatbacks folded forward. Hatchbacks do make a difference.

With the stylish exterior and the roominess of the inside, it makes you wonder why anyone would pick the sedan over the hatch.

Our test car came with no options, but standard equipment for 15 grand was very generous. In addition to the aforementioned safety features, the Spectra5 comes with 16-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning, power windows and locks, keyless entry, leather-wrapped steering wheel, six-speaker stereo with CD player and intermittent wipers.

If the hatchback is too expensive, the LX sedan can be purchased for a starting price at just over 13 grand. But to get a fair measure of standard equipment, the EX sedan is the ticket starting at just over $14,000.

The Spectra is indeed a legitimate rival to the compact champs at Honda and Toyota with a price that will undercut those guys by a couple of grand and with a warranty and standard safety features unmatched by the best-selling Japanese products.