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New Car/Review


KIA Spectra (2001)

By Matt/Bob Hagin


     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 12,995
     Price As Tested                                    $ 14,304
     Engine Type              DOHC 16-valve 1.8 Liter I4 w/SMFI*
     Engine Size                                 109 cid/1793 cc
     Horsepower                                   125 @ 6000 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               108 @ 4500 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                  100.8"/66.9"/176.2"
     Transmission                              Five-speed manual
     Curb Weight                                     2752 pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                  13.2 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                              185/65R14 H-rated
     Brakes (F/R)                                      Disc/drum
     Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
     Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/four-door
     Domestic Content                                  1 percent
     Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                               N/A


     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            23/29/26
     0-60 MPH                                       10.0 seconds
     1/4 (E.T.)                          18.5 seconds @ 82.0 mph
     Top-speed                                           100 mph
                 * Sequential multi-port fuel injection

(The Korean auto industry has gone from ground zero to being a world player in just a couple of decades, says Matt Hagin. Bob Hagin says if his son had seen the devastation there in '54 he'd be doubly amazed.)

BOB - Until now, we haven't been able to do road tests on Kias because they weren't adequately represented across the U.S. That's changed now and the company has over 500 dealerships in 49 states. Kia was very careful when it came here in '92 and had an administration, distribution and parts supply system in place before the first vehicle to carry its logo hit the streets. Those first Kias were sold in Portland, Oregon, in the beginning of '94 and the dealership network spread out around the coastal states from there. Now Kia apparently has all the bases covered.

MATT - The Spectra we tried is, in reality, a reskinned Sephia. It shares the main front-drive workings of that entry-level family car but it carries a different nose and a hatchback configuration in the rear. The story is that a year ago, Kia took its dealers to the auto show in Japan and showed them the for-Japan-only Kia Shuma. The dealers clamored for an American version to spice up the other cars on their showroom floors. The Spectra is not only visually very different from the Sephia, but the GSX model like the one we had has as standard equipment almost all the bells-and-whistles that are optional on its more plebeian stablemate. Its aluminum wheels and P185/R65 tires come with the package, as does air conditioning, an air dam up front, a spoiler on its tail, an AM/FM cassette, power doors and windows, and a half-dozen other minor goodies. If a buyer wants goodies like powered outside mirrors, cruise control and variable wipers, they have to up the ante a bit.

BOB - The interior is pretty upscale for an semi-entry-level machine and the dash is refreshingly simple. The rear seat has the now-usual split seatback to handle long items and there's enough leg room for a six-footer to sit behind a six-foot driver and not have to wear his or her kneecaps as earrings. Hatchbacks aren't usually hot sellers here but they have the loading convenience of a station wagon without the alleged onus of being a family grocery-hauler. It's aimed at younger buyers and for them, the sporty lines of the Spectra takes them out of the reliable-but-dull image that goes with cookie-cutter compacts.

MATT - Mechanically, the Spectra is pretty sophisticated. The four-cylinder 1.8-liter engine has a twin-cam head and four valves per cylinder. It puts out a creditable 125 horses and the torque rating is 108 pound/feet. But at 2600 pounds, it's no ball of fire from a stop signal. The car can be had with a four-speed automatic transmission, though ours had a five-speed manual that's more in keeping with its more sporting image. The suspension is very straight forward with MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link setup in back. It must have been very well thought out because it handles much better than you'd expect from a car that's supposedly built more for cost consciousness than for performance. Its anti-lock braking system is optional and it operates on disc brakes up front with drums in the rear. The fuel economy isn't great, however, at 23 mpg around town and 27 on the highway.

BOB - According to the Kia press information I picked up from its website, Kia has ongoing contacts with some heavy-hitters like Lotus Engineering, Rover and Bosch. These European inputs no doubt had a lot to do with the Spectra's strong points. The Korean manufacturing industry has been going through a lot of financial shakeups in recent years and Kia is now owned by Hyundai. That company has stated that it plans to keep Kia as a stand-alone American company here and not double-up its dealerships with Hyundai showrooms. Kia offers a lot for the consumer's buck in all of its five models that are offered here and it does very well in the 120 other countries where it has dealers.

MATT - The word 'Kia' is Chinese for Arise and it's appropriate. Now if it could only get its contact going with Lotus again and market their joint venture sports roadster here under the Kia name.

BOB - When that happens, Matt, I'll be the first in line to try it.