All-new and much-improved for 2005, the Kia Spectra sedan and the Spectra5 hatchback mark a turning point for Kia, as it gradually launches a series of all-new models that are desirable for more than just their dirt-cheap price tags.

The Spectra shares its platform with the upcoming, redesigned Elantra from sister company Hyundai, and its 2.0-litre engine, with continuously variable valve timing, from the current 2005 Elantra. The suspension is sport-tuned in the Spectra5. It’s a good match, producing a car that feels more expensive than it is. Knowing its audience, Kia uses a five-speed manual with long clutch and shifter throws that even moderately-skilled drivers can shift smoothly; a four-speed automatic can be added to any model for $1,100.

Handling is improved over the previous generation, but it’s still not as responsive as some Japanese competitors. Better tires would probably help with the car’s tendency to follow highway ruts.

The Spectra features four-wheel independent suspension, rack-and-pinion steering, and gas shock absorbers on all models, and four-wheel disc brakes on all but the base model. Six airbags are standard on all Spectras, a very rare feature in an economy car, although ABS is only available as a part of an extra-charge option package on the top-line model.

The sedan starts in LX form and includes a 5-speed manual that can be optioned to a 4-speed automatic, 15-inch wheels, tilt wheel, 60/40 folding rear seat, CD player with four speakers, driver’s seat height adjuster with lumbar support, cloth seats, floor mats, dual manual remote mirrors and variable intermittent wipers.

The LX Convenience adds air conditioning, two extra speakers, four-wheel disc brakes, power locks with keyless entry, power windows and power heated mirrors.

The EX is the top line on the sedan, and the sole trim line on the Spectra5. It adds cruise control and 15-inch wheels. An add-on “luxury package” of ABS, driver’s seat active head restraint, leather-wrapped steering wheel, body skirts and fog lamps can be added to both.

The Spectra is built in Hwasung, South Korea.

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