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2007 Kia Spectra Expert Review:Autoblog


click above image for high-res gallery of the 2007 Kia Spectra EX

Time was, buying a small car from an entry-level brand meant you'd end up in the penalty box. Vinyl-swathed interiors, cheap and nasty plastics, medieval seats, etc. Those were the bad parts, but there were some aspects of basic cars that we miss. The widespread availability of manual transmissions, you-wind-em windows, money saving aircon and radio delete options are all things that we at least like to see on the order form.

Forgive us if it sounds like we're asking for a revival of the Escort Pony. Sometimes, though, it's refreshing to get into a car that is self-evident to operate and doesn't cost a fortune to run. After sampling the Kia Spectra EX, we're inclined to think that everything else might be overkill.



All photos ©2007 Dan Roth / Weblogs, Inc.



click on any image to enlarge


Perhaps calling my daily driver Volvo S60 overkill is premature. That car is a whole different thing than the Spectra. Mainly, it was a whole lot more expensive for the original buyer. That brings up a second point; with the Spectra, you get a new car for used-car money. Sure, you could dig up any manner of used-up used cars that would trade for less, but for what you'd spend on a 3-4 year old entry level European car with high miles, you can get a Spectra with zero miles. Not only that, the Spectra has nearly as much interior volume as a 5-series BMW, with many dimensions actually marginally superior to the far more expensive Euro sedan. Neat trick. Oh, and try finding a 5-series in U.S. trim that will return 33 combined miles per gallon without being babied one whit.



Check the Monroney. Ours was filled with things like power windows, 4-wheel disc brakes, air conditioning, tilt wheel, power locks, and a stereo with CD and aux input, all standard in the EX. The only item in the option column was cruise control. This level of equipment was luxury-grade twenty years ago. From the EX trim level, you can go up to the sportier SX, or down to the LX. Look! you can even get rid of the power windows and the AC in the LX, just like the old days.

A departure from the old days, however, is the fact that the Spectra is a quality piece. Outside, the body panels are assembled with Lexus-tight gaps, and the styling has a whiff of Passat with its gestural character line tracing an arc through the flanks. The looks are not groundbreaking, though they're neither weird or ugly. In fact, the Spectra's quite handsome, and the front has a flared-fender stance that gives the car a little visual muscle. Inside and out, the Spectra needs no excuses or shroud of overwrought styling to distract from inferior mechanicals.

The SX is the model we wish we'd tried, just to sample the sportier suspension. Not that the EX is a slouch, but nor is it a sports car. A non-sporting bent mustn't always equal mediocrity; while the Spectra EX won't keep up with a Mazdaspeed3, it doesn't mind if you try. In the end, we get the impression that the chassis is capable of more, but in this case, it's let down mostly by its tires. There could also be a scoshe more firmness in the suspenders, but the sometimes loose wheel control in other Kias does not make an appearance here. The ride is smooth, bumps are absorbed with aplomb, and handling is sharp, until it's not. When the steering goes all gooey in the middle of a corner, you know the Goodyear Eagle LS tires have given up. Kia has done a good job infusing the Spectra with a lively feel while also giving it a smooth ride that doesn't smash its bump stops over every irregularity.



So, perhaps there are better autocross cars, but the Spectra's just right for the daily grind. The interior is quiet and attractively styled and none of the materials have that specular sheen of nasty plastics from yesteryear. Some surfaces look better than they feel, but the overall effect of contrasting earth tones presents well. The seats and door panel inserts wear an attractive fabric, and we were impressed that the interior felt like it would be at home in a car costing $10,000 more. There is room for improvement; the seats could use more bolstering, and some lumbar support would be welcome, too.

While the seats could improve, the ergonomics are above complaint. Three big knobs control the HVAC system, and they operate smoothly. All of the switchgear inside the Spectra feels high-end, in fact. Ancillary controls are usually taken for granted, until they're so horrible that you notice how flimsy things like blinker stalks are. Not so, the Spectra. This hardware would be at home in Kia's flagship Amanti. It's another example that a cheap car doesn't have to be a cheap car.

There's also plenty of power provided by the Beta II engine, part of the GEMA lash-up. The 2.0 liter unit in our car had California emissions, delivering 133 horsepower and 133 pound-feet of torque while earning an SULEV rating. Consider the 2,800-2,900 pound curb weight, and you'll see that the Spectra doesn't have a problem getting out of its own way. The iron-block DOHC four has a gravelly growl, but it's never thrashy or harsh. Idle is quiet and smooth, thanks to hydraulic engine mounts, and the torque delivery feels meaty, allowing the 4-speed automatic to jump for high gear as fast as possible. That propensity to get into 4th keeps the tachometer needle on the quiet side of the gauge, and we didn't catch the transmission hunting when climbing grades thanks to the torquey engine. When you do need to kick down, the transmission's a little reluctant, but the Spectra isn't a vehicle you need to cane incessantly to keep up with traffic.

The variable power steering can feel overly light at times, but the action is direct and you can tell what mood the tires are in at any time. On the highway, the Spectra has a good sense of straight ahead and doesn't require constant little corrections, which allows the driver to relax and enjoy the quiet demeanor. The simple, legible gauges keep you apprised of the vitals, and you go merrily on your way, possibly even singing along with the pretty good stereo.

Needless to say, this latest generation of the Spectra is leaps and bounds over the one it replaces. It's not just good among its own kind, the Spectra is generally a good car and a fantastic value. It used to be that Honda and Toyota were the small cars you recommended to people whom you wanted to retain as friends. Kia has earned itself a place on that list with the Spectra.



All photos ©2007 Dan Roth / Weblogs, Inc.

A nice little car with impressive value.

Introduction

The Kia Spectra is a small but compelling package. More important for everyday driving, the Spectra is a nice little car. It represents one of the best values among compacts, with an impressive list of safety equipment for its modest price. 

Kia Spectra has been on the market for four years. It comes in a four-door sedan or the Spectra5 five-door hatch. 

Styling is sharp and distinctive. Its cabin is roomy and pleasant with a modern design and nice-quality materials and good fit and finish. Everything is easy to operate. It gets an EPA-estimated 27/33 mpg City/Highway yet produces peppy performance. 

Safety features are plentiful: The Spectra comes with a full complement of airbag supplemental restraints. In addition to the mandatory dual frontal airbags, the Spectra's front-seat occupants are protected by seat-mounted side-impact airbags; while full-coverage side curtain airbags protect both front- and rear-seat occupants. 

Lineup

The 2007 Kia Spectra line features four models: LX, EX, and SX sedan, and Spectra5 SX hatch. All can seat up to five passengers. All are front-wheel-drive compacts powered by a 138-horsepower four-cylinder engine. All models are. The standard transmission is a five-speed manual; a four-speed automatic is optional ($1,000). 

LX ($13,495) comes with cloth upholstery, six-way adjustable driver's seat, tilt steering wheel, AM/FM/CD six-speaker stereo, auto-off headlights, tachometer, digital clock, dual 12-volt power outlets in the center console, height-adjustable front seat belt anchors, tinted glass, rear window defroster and dual map lights with sunglasses holder. Outside mirrors are manually adjustable and windows have hand cranks. Air conditioning is optional ($900). 

EX ($15,495) adds air conditioning, power windows, heated power mirrors, power central locking, remote keyless entry, and fog lights. Fifteen-inch aluminum wheels (replacing 15-inch steel wheels) are optional ($400). 

SX ($16,595) features a sport-tuned suspension with a strut-tower bar, 16-inch aluminum wheels, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and unique interior and exterior trim. 

Spectra5 ($16,595) is equipped identically to SX, but is a five-door hatchback instead of a four-door sedan. 

Optional on the EX, SX, and Spectra5 are anti-lock brakes ($400), in-dash six-CD player with MP3 ($300) and a power tilt moonroof ($700). 

Walkaround

The Kia Spectra makes a styling statement, not a busy, fussy one, but one that's clean, with sculpted character lines and interesting surface planes that set the car apart from the look-alike, safely conservative econo-box class. 

The EX model's fog lights are round, adding perceived height to the front end. Headlight housings taper upward at the outer edges, drawing the eye more naturally into the hood's increased slope. The sporty EX and Spectra5 are distinguished by a more assertive front end highlighted by a black mesh grille, blacked-out headlight surrounds and a deeper front spoiler. 

A sharp groove etched into the side accentuates Spectra's wedge shape. Embedding the door handles in the groove reduces clutter. Clearly defined fender blisters add sportiness to the wheel openings. One stylistic hiccup is the rear fender blister, which isn't as well proportioned to the surrounding body panel as is the front blister and leaves the rear wheel looking undersized. Badging is minimal, confined to a Kia logo centered in the grille and above the rear license plate. 

On the sedan, the arched roof flows gently into the deck via a soft, flowing sail panel. Then the back end draws all the various geometrics into a pleasing departure. The backlight (rear windscreen) is more steeply sloped, flowing more smoothly into a shorter deck. The deck lid ends in a sharp crease filling the arc between the large, angular taillights, from which it drops almost vertically from a slight indentation to the fully integrated rear bumper fascia. A large depression scooped out of the vertical trunk panel houses the rear license plate. 

The Spectra5 makes a bolder statement. It's nearly six inches shorter than the sedan, and exactly the same height, but its roof extends almost to its rear bumper, falling gently in height as it does, and visually separating from the more rapidly declining tops of the windows. The roof terminates in a bulky spoiler that looks as if it could actually enhance fuel economy while keeping the rear window clean. There are no quarter windows behind the rear door glass, although on the Spectra5 a black plastic panel visually extends the door windows into the sail panel. The result, in our eyes, is less than aesthetically pleasing, with neither the distinctive identity of the Golf, the breezy style of the Mazda3, nor the sexy sass of the Elantra hatchback offered by Hyundai a few years ago. But Kia says the shape maximizes interior volume. 

Interior

The Kia Spectra proves that interiors can be stylish and user friendly without being expensive. Its cabin features an organic design that's pleasant to look at. It feels like a compact, but doesn't feel cheap. Everything is easy to operate with no awkward or annoying traits. 

Large expanses of textured materials give the Spectra's dash a quality look. The same large expanses make for fewer seams and joints that inevitably will come to squeak as they work against each other, and this, plus good sound deadening, promises quiet times for people riding in the Spectra. Even over rough pavement, only the sounds of tires against road penetrate the cabin. The look is quality, too, with a dark color over a lighter shade, giving the cabin an open feeling while minimizing reflected dash-top glare in the windshield. Door panels are finished with textured plastic panels and soft fabric insets that add to the openness. Splashes of metal-finish trim, including aluminum-trimmed pedals, brighten the interiors of the SX sedan and Spectra5. 

The instruments, large, round speedometer and tachometer and smaller fuel and water temperature gauges, fill a deep-set pod easily viewed through the four-spoke steering wheel. The rim of the steering wheel is thick and easy to grip. 

The radio sits high in the center stack, below two large adjustable vents separated by an intuitively positioned hazard warning button, above which are positioned two smallish screens with digital clock and seatbelt warning displays. Stereo controls are easy to read and use, save for the tuning function, a large rocker switch that scrolls at a fixed, agonizingly slow rate up or down through the frequencies. 

In the LX, two storage bins sit beneath the stereo; in the EX, SX, and Spectra5, the smaller of the two bins is replaced by a row of sizable buttons, only one of which does anything, namely, turning the rear window defogger on or off. Across the lower area of the center stack are the climate control knobs: large, round and basic, with tactile feel surprisingly consistent for an economy car. At the left end of the lower dash panel are readily accessible switches for opening the trunk and adjusting the dash lights above yet another storage bin. 

The center console houses two cupholders and a bin forward of the shift lever fitted with a grippy pad. Two more cupholders fold out of the rear of the center console for use by rear-seat occupants. Molded map pockets run the length of the front door bottoms; in all but the LX, these have cup-sized rounds molded into the front portion. The EX, SX, and Spectra5 also get magazine nets on the back of the front seats. 

Seats are generally comfortable and covered in a quality fabric; they have adjustable head restraints, save for the rear center position. Front seat bottoms could be deeper, however, with more thigh support. The center console armrest is high enough for elbows but too far rearward. The Spectra is roomier than most cars in the class. Headroom and hip room are better than the primary competition: the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Ford Focus. Other than in rear-seat headroom, passenger dimensions in the Spectra sedan and Spectra5 are the same. 

Visibility out front is good, thanks in part to the height-adjustable driver's seat; from the front passenger seat, the hood slopes down steeply enough to disappear from sight. To the sides and rear, the sedan's tall glass house and slim sails ease parking and quick maneuvers in traffic. We haven't tried the Spectra5, but we have to suspect that it has a blind spot in its rear quarters. 

Rear seats aren't as contoured as the front, but occupants enjoy good legroom and headroom. Rear headroom is above most of the class, there's a lot more hip room, and legroom is on par, though a couple of inches short of the roomy Focus. One problem with the Spectra's rear seat is the proximity of the rear wheel well to the door opening; inattention. 

Driving Impression

The Kia Spectra is not a hot hatch, but its performance is respectable. Power output is generally well above the competition's. Acceleration is good, better with the manual than with the automatic, of course, but the automatic offers more than adequate power even for high-speed, long-distance cruising. 

Downshifts with the automatic transmission could be smoother. Also, we found it too easy to select third gear instead of Drive when shifting out of Park or Reverse, not that unusual but something to watch. 

The Spectra is an economy car with a four-cylinder engine, so occupants are going to hear engine buzz under hard acceleration in the lower gears (with both the manual and automatic transmissions). Only while cruising in the top gears do things truly quiet down. For the most part, wind noise is minimal except for an occasional low moan from the front passenger's side window in strong, left-to-right crosswinds. 

Ride quality is solid, not too firm. We found a daylong 400-mile drive wasn't unusually tiring. 

Handling and steering are good in the LX and EX, considering the car's height and its tallish tires. Put another way, the alloy wheels deliver more in looks than performance. When pushed, the car eases into understeer (plowing), which is common for front-wheel-drive economy cars. 

We haven't tried the Spectra5 or the sporty SX sedan. Both come with a strut-tower brace to stiffen the unit-body, and heavier-duty springs and shocks biased more for handling and less for ride comfort. If nothing else, their P205/50R16 tires (compared with P195/60R15 tires for the LX and EX) should sharpen steering response and pump up cornering power. 

We found the brake pedal a bit mushy, but not enough to cause concern. 

Summary

The 2007 Kia Spectra is a good quality compact with very good fit and finish. Styling is sharp and distinctive. Power and economy mesh well. Comfort and convenience are fully featured. We could drive one of these every day and be happy. The Spectra SX promises a sportier driving experience, while the Spectra5 delivers the added utility of a hatchback. 

NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Tom Lankard reported from Northern California, with Mitch McCullough reporting from Southern California. 

Model Lineup

Kia Spectra LX ($13,495); EX ($15,495); SX ($16,595); Spectra5 ($16,595). 

Assembled In

Hwasung, South Korea. 

Options As Tested

automatic transmission ($1,000); alloy wheels ($360); cruise control ($250); carpeted floor mats ($80). 

Model Tested

Kia Spectra EX ($15,495). 

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