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2007 Kia Spectra EX Review

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2007 Kia Spectra Review

A Korean Corolla?
By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau

The compact sedan segment of the automobile market has not been where the action is since the 60s when the new little cars were all the rage. Until then the compacts were few - very few – with the best and the coolest, not necessarily the most appreciated, being the Nash Metropolitan. In the 60s American manufacturers attempted to cash in on the Volkswagen-inspired trend of small, efficient cars, often with some quirky personalities like the Corvair, Falcon and Valient.

Here we are 40 years later with dozens more segments in the market looking again at a plethora of great small cars. The Toyota Corolla leads the pack in conventional little sedans and not far behind is our test car this week, the Kia Spectra EX. The Spectra, particularly in this Radiant Red (maroon), looks at first glance to be conventional and uninspired. But let’s look a little closer.

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Styling, while subtle and conservative, is really quite charming. Recently updated, the Spectra projects sort of a European look, with a gently arched belt-line and soft down slopes at either end. Two extra inches of wheel base, over the preceding model, allow for a bigger rear door. A distinctive grille and thoroughly modern headlight clusters make the front end look as good as any in its class. The tail end’s vertical line slants slightly forward with exaggeratedly large taillights, just like the trendiest cars today.

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A pleasant and efficient environment awaits us inside as well. The beige fabric seats are shaped well and comfortable with a nice quality feel and look. The inadvertent ink mark I put on the passenger seat came right off with just a little scrubbing. Ingress and egress are easy. Two tones of plastic on the dash and door panels integrate well and were obviously designed by folks that know their business. A grab handle is situated above each door. Controls are as simple and intuitive as any I’ve seen. Everything fits well and feels like a good deal of thought went into all the tactile issues. Other than a tinny-sounding door we find nothing to complain about in there.

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We stopped by our favorite nursery, VanAtta’s, to check out some late season annuals and gave the cargo competence a good test by fitting 8 big double-potted geraniums in the 12.2-cubic feet of the nice deep truck. Later in the week I loaded it with 340 pounds of bird seed and water softener salt. Once back on the road I couldn’t even tell it was back there.

This Spectra is powered by a smooth 2.0-liter four-banger with dual overhead cams and variable valve timing. With 138 horsepower and 136 lb.-ft. of torque it pumps out a bit more grunt than most of its competitors. As a result is fuel mileage is just a bit less as well. The EPA rates this car at 27-mpg in the city and 35 on the highway with the four-speed automatic transmission. Don’t let the fuel gauge fool you though. I thought we were getting about 50-mpg early in the week when we drove 150 miles before the gauge moved off full. Then we hit the half-tank mark on our way into the city mid-week with 300 miles on the trip odo. “Wow,” I thought. “This is great.” Then we managed just 150 miles on the bottom half of the 14-gallon tank before the “low-fuel” light came on. In any case, a cruising range of 450 miles makes me giddy. Pushing only 2,800 pounds is easy, I guess.

The standard P195/60-15-inch Goodyear Eagles look plenty big on this little thing and are quite grippy. I pushed it hard through some turns this week and couldn’t even get a squeak or a chirp. Of course the Spectra’s considerable body lean makes me reluctant to push too hard. Overall handling is fine though. With fully independent suspension and gas-filled shocks all around, it’s certainly no sport sedan but for its genre is keeps to the road well. If you like ‘sporty’ you might want to take a look at the new Spectra5 Hatchback. It has firmer springs and dampers, sportier chassis tuning, larger wheels and lower profile tires. It’s also cooler looking.

Safety features are state-of-the-art for small cars with air bags all around, including front seat-mounted side impact air bags as well as the smart front bags and side curtain bags protecting front and rear passengers. NHTSA has given Spectra its top 5-Star Frontal Crash Safety Rating.

This little Korean-built, four-door, transverse-front-engine, front-wheel-drive sedan lists for a base price of $14,290 according to the Kia Website. The lesser LX model starts at $13,160. The sticker on our test car shows a base price of $15,895 – perhaps it’s our automatic transmission that makes the difference. The only option on our tester is cruise control at $250. With a $600 destination fee the bottom line is $16,745 – not really cheap as little sedans go but pretty reasonable considering its content. Standard are: power windows, power mirrors, AC, AM/FM/CD audio with 6 speakers and auxiliary audio input, 60/40 split rear seats, tire pressure monitor, four-wheel disc brakes, the full compliment of airbags, 6-way adjustable driver’s seat, power door locks, tilt steering column – just about everything anyone really needs.

Kia still offers the 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty that gave it and sister company Hyundai legitimacy in the US market.

As you’re looking at Corolla, Civic, Elantra, Lancer, Mazda3 and other little cars you probably ought to add Spectra to your list. Three hundred miles on a half a tank of fuel ain’t bad - even if it is the bigger half of the tank.

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved.