A respectable automotive appliance
Kia Spectra is solid, quiet, inexpensive, but AC is optional.

When it comes to nameplates that elicit burning passion and desire, Kia is certainly not among them. Burning passion? Maybe at Kia's corporate offices.

Of course, Kia knows where it stands in the automotive food chain and, in a bid for some credibility, sponsored the music group, Sugar Ray, on their spring tour. That would make you want to buy a Kia?

Okay, maybe not.

Well, how about this? Thanks to parent company Hyundai, the new Kia Spectra is a respectable automotive appliance.

Feeling the passion? Only if you really go for narrow panel gaps or the sound a car door makes when it shuts. It's akin to getting passionate about a dryer that doesn't leave lint on your clothes.

But the new Spectra is really quite respectable, in a ''buy it cheap and use it 'til the doors fall off'' kind of way.

The Spectra uses the Elantra platform as a starting point. It has a surprisingly solid feel compared to Kias of old. Its plastic parts feel pretty darn nice, considering the car's $13,160 starting price. There are two body styles, a sedan available in LX and EX trim levels, and a five-door hatchback called the Spectra5. Kia provided a base LX sedan for testing.

As nice as those plastics might be, there are still some flimsy pieces, such as the window cranks. And let's not even talk about the seats, which are just plain awful. Flat, hard, pain-inducing and lacking in any support, they proved to be the worst part of the car.

The best part of the car? The incredibly quiet cabin, which approaches Lexus levels for tomb-like silence. This is very surprising in such an inexpensive car.

Power is courtesy of a 2-liter DOHC four-cylinder engine that produces 138 horsepower mated to your choice of a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic. You might want to consider the manual, as it would be best to extract the engine's power. The automatic seemed to have rubbery shifts, holding each gear too long. The motor makes a ruckus when revved.

The ride is small-car firm, assisted by lots of body lean, although it's better than previous Kias. The car also tracks down the highway straight, without the need for a lot of minor corrections, a problem on previous Kia small cars. There's even road feel -- despite the fact that the car uses a fully independent suspension and four-wheel disc brakes. Anti-lock brakes are optional on all models except the base LX. You'll never mistake this for a Ford Focus or VW Jetta, but it is miles beyond what this nameplate produced previously.

Feeling the passion yet? Maybe you are. After all, the Koreans are known for producing a decent car on the cheap.

Guess again. This car's air-conditioning was an option, even though the AM/FM/CD player was not. Cruise control, power windows, power locks, power mirrors and floor mats are all options. A tilt steering wheel, cupholders, and side air-bags are not.

Lacking power windows, locks, mirrors, moonroof and a CD changer, this car still had a sticker price of just over $15,000.

That's not a lot compared to some cars, but it's not a whole lot less than a lot of other cars, making this car's ''made in Korea'' badge seem less a help than a hindrance.

And I'm sure the guys in Sugar Ray don't drive Kias.

Still, the new Spectra is a decent appliance, and it won't leave lint on your clothes.