Perhaps there's something gratifying about finding a diamond in the rough, or a little uncharted territory when everyone seems to be walking in the same direction.

Case in point: The 2005 Kia Spectra.

Kia? Am I kidding ya?

Not at all. No apologies here, but Kia is really something to consider.

Priced at less than $14,000 in base versions, and available with a slew of standard features and interesting options, Kia is a good value and a good car. Those two statements have not always been synonymous.

Kia has been the punch line of several new car jokes over the years, mostly because it was value-priced without the value.

No more.

With the involvement of parent company Hyundai (and Hyundai's subsequent rise up the quality charts), the Koreans are onto something good here. Many think the Koreans will be a player to watch in the future. Hyundai-Kia have even targeted the end of the decade to be the world's fifth-largest car company.

Not flashy, not rakish, but definitely drivable, the Spectra is a very viable option for anyone who has never considered this car company before. The Spectra, a four-door sedan that is also available as a hatchback, is an understated vehicle that can be dressed up with a spoiler, metal pedals and fog lights.

It is not large, but it's sporty. It is not luxurious, but it is reliable. And, mostly, it will leave money in your wallet.

Powered by a 2-liter DOHC four-cylinder engine, it produces a sprightly 138 horsepower and plenty of torque for this class of vehicle. It accelerates cleanly at low and high speeds and seems to find its best range in city driving when you can zip in and out of a lane change or merge onto a highway.

At 24 miles per gallon in the city, or 32 on the highway, can you really complain?

Underneath the Spectra, Kia has installed a suspension to match the power. Kia spent a lot of time tightening things up and buttoning things down on the Spectra. Larger stabilizer bars and 16-inch wheels help structural rigidity and better performance in the turns. The turning radius is very tight, and its compact size makes it a delight to drive in mall traffic.

Inside was the biggest difference. Criticized in the past for using cheap, plastic materials, Kia has swapped out the old style for nice textures on the instrument panel and throughout the cabin.

An added bonus is that Kia did not skimp on standard equipment. You get more standard stuff on the Spectra than virtually any car on the market for its price.

The Spectra comes with air conditioning, AM/FM/CD audio system with six speakers, power windows, power door locks with remote keyless entry, power heated outside mirrors and a height-adjustable steering column. Four-wheel anti-lock brakes are $400 and an option I would suggest you add.

But tilt steering and heated mirrors? This isn't the bare bones vehicle I remember. On safety, the Kia soars. As a first for Kia, there are six standard air bags, including a full-length side-curtain air bag. In other words, world-class safety without the price.

And, with a 10-year/100,000-mile warranty (done to encourage new Kia shoppers to consider one), where can you go wrong?

Consider it.

Even if your neighbors never would.

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2005 Kia Spectra

Vehicle type: Front-wheel-drive, front-engine, four-door, five-passenger compact sedan

Key competition: Chevrolet Cobalt, Ford Focus, Honda Civic

Base engine: 138 horsepower, 2-liter DOHC, 16-valve four-cylinder engine

Transmission: Five-speed manual or four-speed automatic (optional)

Standard safety equipment: Dual front, side and inflatable curtain air bags

MPG rating: 24 city/32 highway

Manufactured: Korea

Warranty: Basic warranty is 10 years/100,000 miles.

Base price: $13,390

Price as tested (including destination and delivery): $17,140

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Jason Stein's column appears Sundays in Business. Each review is based on a test of a vehicle supplied directly by the manufacturer. He can be reached by e-mail at