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By Jim Flammang
May 7, 2003
Posted on 11/25/02 Vehicle Overview Kias sporty four-door hatchback offshoot of the front-wheel-drive subcompact Sephia sedan was introduced for 2001 and earned a face-lifted body and revised interior for the 2002 model year. These changes also carried over to the Sephia, which altered its name in 2002 and became known as the Spectra sedan. The Sephia had been Kias oldest model, which first trickled into the U.S. market in 1994.
Minor exterior and interior changes are evident on the 2003 models. A rear wiper and washer with a new intermittent feature becomes standard on the GS and GSX. Body-colored side moldings are now standard on the base four-door and GS five-door models. A CD radio replaces the former cassette unit, and all models have a new illuminated ignition. Four-door base and LS versions have color-keyed upper child-safety seat anchors. Both body styles use the same 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine.
Kia is based in South Korea and is now owned by Hyundai; however, Kia maintains its own dealer network. The automaker has been expanding its presence in the U.S. market with fresh products. Kia introduced the brand-new midsize Optima sedan for the 2001 model year, which followed the debut of its subcompact Rio sedan and the Sephia-derived Spectra hatchback. The company also released the Sedona minivan, and the newest model in Kias lineup is the 2003 Sorento sport utility vehicle.
Similar to Hyundais coverage, Kia offers a long-term warranty that covers the entire vehicle for five years/60,000 miles, major powertrain components for 10 years/100,000 miles and corrosion for five years/100,000 miles. Free roadside assistance is included for the first five years.
The Spectra sedan is conservatively styled and comes in base and LS trim levels. Compared to most of its competitors, the Spectra sedan is more reminiscent of import sedans of the past. The sedan stands 56.1 inches tall, stretches 67.9 inches wide, rides a 100.8-inch wheelbase and measures 177.6 inches long overall, which is a little longer than the Honda Civic.
In addition to having a lift-up hatch instead of a regular trunk, the Spectra hatchback displayed different front-end styling than the sedan, but the current models more closely resemble each other. Their wheelbases are identical, but the hatchback is a half-inch longer overall at 178.8 inches. Spectra hatchbacks come in GS and the more expensive GSX trim levels; the latter features alloy wheels and front and rear spoilers for a sportier look.
The hatchback and sedan both hold five passengers and are equipped with front bucket seats. The hatchback has a folding backseat that expands cargo volume beyond the basic 11.6 cubic feet. A larger rear opening on the Spectra hatchback makes it easier to load and unload cargo.
The LS sedan offers several features that are not available on the base model, such as all-cloth seats instead of the base models cloth and vinyl a tilt steering column, a 60/40-split rear seatback that folds for extra cargo room and a tilt feature for the drivers seat. An optional Power Package for the LS adds air conditioning, cruise control, a tachometer, and power windows, door locks and mirrors. Trunk space amounts to 10.4 cubic feet.
Under the Hood
A 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine develops 126 horsepower and teams with a standard five-speed manual or an optional four-speed-automatic transmission.
Antilock brakes are optional, and side-impact airbags are not available.
In performance, handling and ride comfort, the Spectra sedan ranks as adequate but not up to the level of its most likely competitors. In fact, its driving qualities hint of an earlier era. Value is what sells these sedans and hatchbacks, even though their reputation for durability cannot match that of comparable Honda or Toyota models.
Even with the manual gearbox, performance is not a strong suit for the Spectra. Considerable downshifting is necessary to keep the hatchback rolling along, and this is required even more if you happen to be headed uphill. The Getrag-designed gearshift is a bit vague and rubbery, but it functions with sufficient ease. Acceleration with the automatic transmission sets no records, and the unit sometimes downshifts with a jolt. On the whole, it responds as well as the automatics in most competitors. Engine noise is noticeable during acceleration, but it eases at highway speeds.
What places the Spectra ahead of some of the competition is its smooth ride. The Spectra stays acceptably on course on straight highways and through modest curves, but it sometimes threatens to become a little unhinged in quick maneuvers. Stabilizer bars at both ends help keep the hatchback stable.
The front seats are comfortable and well cushioned. Like most small cars, fitting three people especially adults in the backseat can get mighty snug. Headroom is adequate on both sides, and rear legroom is above average for the compact league. The Spectras radio controls are a lot better than in Kia models of the 1990s. The gauges are nicely laid out and easy to read. A larger-than-average glove box is a welcome surprise.