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2005 Kia Spectra SX Review

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2005 Kia Spectra SX

It's not unusual for an automaker to build a sports model of a popular sedan. And the sports model is often the premium-priced offering in the lineup. And so Kia has a sports model of its compact Spectra sedan, called the Spectra SX. It's premium-priced, too, with a base MSRP of $15,250.

Ok, make that ``premium-priced for a Kia Spectra.'' Because it's a small price for a car that I found to be a large amount of fun. The standard Spectra starts with features unusual for the budget compact class, including a well-tuned fully-independent suspension and four-wheel disc brakes. Kia has followed the standard sports sedan formula to make the Spectra SX: improve handling by retuning the suspension, including adding a front strut tower brace, and adding sporty looks with bodywork enhancements. The engine, with 138 horsepower already very competitive in its class, has been left alone.

The Spectra SX's suspension and most of its bodywork changes have already been available in the Spectra5 five-door hatchback, which continues to provide economical entertainment with the versatility of that body style. The SX allows people who prefer a sedan to experience the same nimble handling and sporty character as offered by the Spectra5.

I've just finished an very enjoyable week with a Spectra SX. It has a unique character in the sporty compact class, a combination of practical comfort and space with willing handling and power. The suspension tuning is one of the best I've ever experienced for the type of driving I do - everyday errands and traffic and an escape to play on the backroads whenever possible. It's not a stiff, track-ready tuner car but a good daily driver that can turn the day's chores into entertainment.

APPEARANCE: The Spectra is a handsome if conservatively-styled small, gently-rounded three-box sedan, fitting its mass-market mission. Its most distinctive features are on each side, a shoulder line that starts with the front wheel arch. Instead of merely outlining the front wheel, it continues to the base of the windshield and adds substance to the entire side of the body. A sharp, straight cutline defines the beltline. Add in the chrome bars at the top of the grille and above the license plate, and the result is a look more like a small luxury car than a budget compact. The SX, like the Spectra5 hatchback, adds 16-inch alloy wheels and a subdued aero kit consisting of a restyled, flatter front bumper fascia incorporating foglamps, side sill extensions, a matching lower extension to the rear bumper, and, for the sedan, a small spoiler at the rear of the trunk.

COMFORT: As in other Spectras, the SX's interior design seems to compete with cars a class above its station with a contemporary two-tone dark-over-light motif, high-quality synthetic materials, and very good fit and finish. Comfort and room in the manually-adjustable front buckets and rear bench is above the class average, and the trunk is usefully large. Appointment level in the SX is equivalent to the EX, with power windows and mirrors and standard remote entry in addition to the comprehensive instrumentation, air conditioning, AM/FM/CD audio, split-folding rear seat, and rear window defroster found in all Spectra models. The SX gets its own interior cloth, metal-look trim around the center console, leather trim on the steering wheel and shift knob, and metal-and-rubber pedals with a matching left foot rest. Very unusually for the compact sedan class, the pedals in my manual-shift car were positioned for easy heel-and-toe driving, adding significantly to its sporty character.

SAFETY: The Kia Spectra SX keeps its occupants safe with a chassis designed with front and rear crumple zones and side-impact protection beams. Advanced-design front airbags are joined by standard front-seat side and front and rear side-curtain airbags. Four-wheel disc brakes are standard, with a four-channel antilock system available.

RIDE AND HANDLING: In making the Spectra SX, Kia started with an advantage. The standard Spectra's solid unibody chassis provides a rigid mounting for its fully-independent MacPherson strut front, multilink rear suspension. If the suspension design is not unusual for the compact class, the care taken in development and tuning is, with well-matched spring and shock rates that result in a ride expected more from a European-inspired near-luxury car twice its price. The only drawback to the standard Spectra, from a sports driving standpoint, is its relatively soft suspension tuning. It's pleasing for everyday driving but allows too much body motion for sporty endeavors. That has been taken care of very well by the SX. Firmer, but still well-matched, spring and shock rates, stiffer bushings, larger anti-roll bars, and larger wheels with low-profile tires give the Spectra SX a wonderful combination of supple ride comfort and entertaining handling. The manual transmission model gets a front strut tower brace for a little extra chassis stiffness. The handling produces grins without the pain of excess stiffness, and is the heart of the Spectra SX's enthusiastic attitude.

PERFORMANCE: The SX has the standard Spectra engine, and, with 138 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 136 lb-ft of torque at 4500 rpm driving the front wheels through a choice of five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmissions, it's up to the task of low-cost fun. Continuously-variable valve timing helps it make strong torque from just off idle, so it feels stronger than its numbers indicate. That low-end torque surge, aided by the smooth-shifting manual gearbox, means that power for acceleration is available immediately, with no need to run the engine to redline. Result, especially with the supple but good-handling suspension: great driving characteristics and the ability to make everyday chores entertaining.

CONCLUSIONS: The 2005 Kia Spectra SX is one of those cars that brings out my inner just wants to play. With its torquey engine and excellent suspension, SX can turn everyday chores into entertainment. It may not be the fastest thing in the class, but it sure is fun.


Base Price $ 15,250 Price As Tested $ 15,870 Engine Type dual overhead cam 16-valve inline 4-cylinder with continuously-variable valve timing Engine Size 2.0 liters / 121 cu. in. Horsepower 138 @ 6000 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 136 @ 4500 rpm Transmission 5-speed manual Wheelbase / Length 102.8 in. / 176.4 in. Curb Weight 2,750 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 20 Fuel Capacity 14.5 gal. Fuel Requirement 87-octane regular unleaded gasoline Tires P205/50 HR16 Goodyear Eagle RS-A Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, antilock optional Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent multilink Drivetrain front engine, front-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 25 / 33 / 27 0 to 60 mph est 9 sec OPTIONS AND CHARGES Carpeted floor mats $ 80 Destination charge $ 540