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2008 Kia Spectra5 Review

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2008 Kia Spectra5


2008 Kia Spectra5

The current Kia Spectra hasn't changed much since its debut in 2004, and even in the highly-competitive compact class that is not a problem. Even now, it holds its own very well thank you - especially the premium Spectra5 variant, an unusual and very European concept in the American compact market. Is it a five-door sporty hatchback? Or is it a small sport wagon?

It doesn't matter what you call it, or how it's described. The Spectra5 combines a fun-to-drive character, entertaining power, reasonable fuel consumption, and a most useful design. It's small outside, for easy maneuverability in traffic and parking, but has plenty of space inside. There is extra rear cargo space, compared to the sedan, and access to it is easy thanks to the rear hatch. Rear doors mean easy access for passengers, too, no three-door hatchback or coupe gyrations necessary.

The Spectra did get a freshening for model year 2006, and interior trim upgrades last year. So 2008 changes are minor, limited to a new grille for the entry-level LX and mid-level EX sedans and a jack for an external audio player for the AM/FM/CD audio system standard in all models. The Spectra5 and similarly-outfitted SX sedan continue at the top of the line, with sporty exterior trim backed up by a firmer suspension tuning.

And yes, the Spectra5 is actually sporty. It's not high-budget, narrowly-focused "sports", but it is definitely more dialed-in than the other models - or any similarly-priced competitors - and quite enjoyable to drive. Power from the 138-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is delivered in a useful manner, with a meager appetite for fuel, and the standard five-speed manual gearbox shifts smoothly and quickly. But what makes the Spectra5 stand out is what differentiates all current Kias - attention to detail, especially in the ride and handling departments. The full complement of modern passive safety features are found in all Spectra models, with four-wheel disc brakes standard for the Spectra5 and SX.

I've just given up a Spectra5 after a week, and it merely reinforced my admiration for the car. With a sporty demeanor, useful space and easy access to that space, good fuel economy, and modern safety equipment, what's not to like? Especially since my test example as as fully-optioned as a Spectra5 can be - with antilock brakes, an in-dash CD changer, and a power glass sunroof - and was just over $18,000. Not much money these days, and a good amount of car.

APPEARANCE: Like its sedan sibling, the Spectra5 strikes a balance between youthfulness and conservatism in its styling. It won't be used as a prop in a bad sci-fi movie, and it looks more expensive than it is. It also is distinctive, with the gently-rounded Spectra lines enhanced by a flatter lower front fascia, smoked headlamp covers, small side sill extensions. And the sedan roofline is replaced by an extended, gently-curved "sedan with a backpack" hatchback roof with a rear visor spoiler. It works well, both visually and functionally.

COMFORT: Inside, the Spectra5 is styled and appointed in the accepted Asian sport-compact manner. Which is only appropriate, all things considered, and it's done tastefully. The color scheme is black and gray, with matte silver plastic trim on the center stack and metal-and-rubber pedals and a welcome left-foot footrest. The seats - manually-adjustable in front - are covered with a grippy synthetic fabric, with leather on the tilt-adjustable steering wheel and the gearshift knob. The pedals are correctly placed for easy heel-and-toe driving, unlike in most small, inexpensive cars. Gauges and controls are simple and self-explanatory, and storage areas including door pockets with bottle holders, open and covered storage in the center console, and a moderately-sized glovebox add convenience. The rear seat is spacious for the car's size, and folds 60/40 for cargo. The rear cargo area holds far more than the trunk of a similarly-sized sedan, and will easily swallow items too bulky to pass through a narrow trunk opening. The Spectra5 has all of the versatility of a small crossover and a better driving character.

SAFETY: The Kia Spectra 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 on EX, SX, and Spectra5 models, with a four-channel antilock system available in SX and Spectra5 models.

RIDE AND HANDLING: As in other Kias, the secret of success is in detail execution. Like most other cars in its class, it features unibody construction with a high degree of rigidity and fully-independent suspension with MacPherson struts in front and a multilink setup in the rear. Unlike many other cars, in its class or others costing even twice as much, careful attention is paid to suspension tuning. This is a characteristic of all Kias, even the lowly Rio. Befitting its sporty intent, the Spectra5, like the SX sedan, has a slightly firmer suspension tuning than other models in the line. Springs, shocks, and bushings are a little stiffer, and the stabilizer bars are a little larger. A front strut tower bar improves torsional rigidity. Every component is matched correctly, and the result is comfort and control noticeably above the class standard. And a very entertaining, smile-producing driving experience.

PERFORMANCE: With 138 horsepower (at 6000 rpm) and 136 lb-ft of torque (at 4500 rpm), the Spectra's 2.0-liter engine is one of the most powerful in its class. It's a dual overhead cam design with continuously variable cam phasing, and it drives the front wheels through a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. There is plenty of low-end torque to get moving, and once underway it's linear and only begins to fade as it approaches redline, not a bad characteristic at all for longevity. Linkage and ratio choice for the manual gearbox are both very good, and, with the fine suspension tuning, help determine the Spectra5's sporty, enjoyable character. The 130-pound penalty for the five-door hatchback body style has a negligible effect on real-world performance.

CONCLUSIONS:The Kia Spectra5 combines sport and utility in a unique and very entertaining way.

2008 Kia Spectra5


Base Price $ 15,995
Price As Tested $ 18,020
Engine Type dual overhead cam, 16-valve inline
4-cylinder with continuously-variable
cam phasing
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. / 171.3 in.
Curb Weight 2833 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower 20.5
Fuel Capacity 14 gal.
Fuel Requirement 87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires P205/50 HR16 Goodyear Eagle LS2
Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc,
antilock optional
Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut /
independent dual-link strut
Drivetrain transverse front engine,
front-wheel drive


EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
city / highway / observed
27 / 33 / 28
0 to 60 mph est. 9 sec


antilock brakes $400
6-disc, in-dash CD player $300
Power tilt sunroof $700
Destination charge $625