Vehicle Overview
Introduced for 2001, Kia’s sporty four-door hatchback offshoot of the front-drive subcompact Sephia sedan earns a restyled body and interior for 2002. These changes also pertain to the Sephia, which alters its name for the 2002 model year to the Spectra sedan. The Sephia is Kia’s oldest model, which first began to trickle into the U.S. market in 1994.

Automatic on/off headlights are new, and the driver’s seat gains lumbar support. Aluminum engine mounts and other engineering changes aim toward decreasing noise, vibration and harshness. Folding rear seatbacks help give the Spectra hatchback more cargo-carrying versatility than the sedan, which has a conventional trunk. Both body styles use the same 125-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine.

Based in South Korea, Kia is now owned by Hyundai but maintains its own dealer network. Kia has been expanding its presence in the U.S. market with fresh products. The automaker introduced a brand-new midsize Optima sedan for the 2001 model year, following the debut of its mini-sized Rio sedan and the Sephia-derived Spectra hatchback. The newest vehicle in its lineup is the 2002 Sedona minivan, which was launched in summer 2001. Kia sold 98,256 vehicles in the United States during 2000, up from 82,211 units in the previous year, according to Automotive News.

Similar to Hyundai’s 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 trims. Compared to most of its competitors, the Spectra sedan is more reminiscent of import sedans of the past. The four-door sedan rides a 100.8-inch wheelbase and measures 174.4 inches long overall — about the same as the Honda Civic. It stretches 66.9 inches wide and stands 55.5 inches tall.

In addition to having a lift-up hatch instead of a regular trunk, the Spectra hatchback has displayed different front-end styling than the sedan; but the 2002 models more closely resemble each other. Wheelbases are identical, but the hatchback is 2 inches longer overall at 176.2 inches, which is slightly longer than the Ford Focus sedan. Spectra hatchbacks come in GS and the more expensive GSX trim levels; the latter features alloy wheels and front/rear spoilers, for a sportier look.

Both the hatchback and sedan hold five passengers and are equipped with front bucket seats. The hatchback has a folding backseat that expands cargo volume beyond the minimum 11.6 cubic feet. A larger rear opening on the Spectra hatchback makes it easier to load and unload cargo.

As for the sedan, the LS offers several features that are not available on the base model, including all-cloth seats (instead of the base model’s 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 driver’s seat. An optional Power Package for the LS adds air conditioning, cruise control, a tachometer, and power windows, locks and mirrors. Trunk space amounts to 10.4 cubic feet.

Under the Hood
A 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine develops 125 hp 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.

Driving Impressions
The Spectra sedan ranks as adequate but not up to the level of its most likely competitors in performance, handling and ride comfort. Driving qualities, in fact, are almost reminiscent of an earlier era. Value is what sells these sedans, even though their reputation for durability cannot match that of comparable Honda or Toyota models.

Even with the manual shift, 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 for a time. Although the Getrag-designed gearshift is a bit vague and rubbery, 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. Although the Spectra stays acceptably on course on straight highways and through modest curves, it sometimes threatens to become a little unhinged in quick maneuvers. Stabilizer bars at both ends help to keep the hatchback stable.

The front seats are comfortable and well-cushioned. As in 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. Radio controls are a lot better than in past Kias, and gauges are nicely laid-out and easy to read. A glove box that’s bigger than most comes as a surprise.

Reported by Jim Flammang  for
From the 2002 Buying Guide