2002 Kia Spectra
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Words and photos by Greg Wilson

Based on the Kia Sephia platform, the new 2002 Kia Spectra is now available in a four-door hatchback bodystyle as well as a sedan. The Spectra GS-X is a well-equipped sporty hatchback in the same class as cars like the Mazda Protege5 and Hyundai Elantra GT. Starting at $17,595, the Spectra GS-X is the least expensive hatchback in its class.

The price is right, but performance lags behind rivals

In the crowded and competitive compact car segment, which includes such popular vehicles as the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Mazda Protégé, Chevrolet Cavalier, and Nissan Sentra, Kia’s Spectra is relatively new and unknown. Introduced a couple of years ago as the Sephia, it’s been renamed the Spectra for the 2002 model year and has new styling, a new interior, and is available in a new hatchback bodystyle as well as a four-door sedan bodystyle.

Originally based on a previous-generation Mazda Protégé platform with a Mazda four cylinder powertrain, this four-door, five passenger South Korean-built car is best known for its low asking price. The base 2002 Spectra sedan starts at $14,595 and the LS version comes fully loaded with automatic transmission and air conditioning for about $17,500. That’s a few hundred dollars cheaper than its closest South Korean rival, the Hyundai Elantra, and a few thousand dollars cheaper than some of its Japanese rivals.

The new hatchback model, the Spectra GS-X, comes in one, well-equipped trim level that’s equivalent to the LS sedan, but adds standard alloy wheels, ‘metal grain’ interior and leather-covered steering wheel for an asking price of $17,595 – that compares to other hatchbacks like the Hyundai Elantra GT at $17,995 and the Mazda Protégé5 for $19,895.

For consumers who may be uneasy about buying a relatively unknown vehicle, Kia has introduced a class-leading warranty for 2002. The whole car is covered for 5 years/100,000 kilometres (whichever comes first) and that includes five years of roadside assistance. That is the best standard warranty currently available in a compact car in Canada.

Spectra GS-X

2002 Kia Spectra
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For this week’s test-drive report, I drove the new GS-X hatchback, the well-equipped, sporty version of the Spectra that comes with standard five-spoke alloy wheels, front fog lamps, metallic-look interior dash trim, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and sporty seat fabric. Its main competitors are the Ford Focus ZX5, Hyundai Elantra GT, Mazda Protege5, VW Golf, and the upcoming Pontiac Vibe and Toyota Matrix.

Unlike the Spectra sedan, the GS-X is not available in a base trim level. If you’re looking for a cheap hatchback, this is not it. Features like air conditioning, CD player with six speakers, power windows and door locks, and cruise control are all standard. The only major option is a ($1,000) four-speed automatic transmission. Some important features are not available however, including side airbags, leather upholstery, and 15 or 16 inch tires, for example.

2002 Kia Spectra
Click image to enlarge

The Spectra GS-X’s styling is quite attractive, with some similarities to the Hyundai Elantra, including the V-shaped hood, large quad headlights with clear covers, and small grille. (Hm, since Hyundai now owns Kia, I wonder if they’re sharing stylists?) It’s hard to tell that the Spectra GS-X is a hatchback – it looks more like a cross between a sedan and a fastback – and quite unlike the ‘mini-wagon’ bodystyle of the Protege5 and Focus ZX5. I liked the Spectra’s big door openings for easier entry, and large hatch opening for storing cargo.

Compared to the Spectra sedan, the GS-X’s hatchback bodystyle adds a significant amount of cargo space. For example, the GS-X’s cargo area is about 11% larger than the sedan’s trunk with the folding rear seats in the ‘up’ position. Both the sedan and hatchback have standard split folding rear seatbacks, but the GS-X hatchback has a bigger cargo area because the cargo compartment extends from the floor to the roof, and the rear hatch door has a much larger opening. In the GS-X with the standard 60/40 split folding rear seats folded down, there is up to 528 litres (18.6 cu. ft.) of cargo space.

The rear hatch can be unlocked with an interior hatch release or with a key, but as there isn’t an exterior grab handle to lift it up, I found it awkward. Other quibbles: the liftover height is a bit higher than average, and the folding seatbacks don’t fold quite flat. A privacy cover for the cargo area is standard.

Interior is comfortable for four

Almost any size of driver can find a good seating position in the GS-X’s soft cloth driver’s seat because the seat cushion is manually height adjustable in the front and rear, and the steering wheel column tilts. The front bucket seats also have a manually-adjustable lumbar feature.

2002 Kia Spectra
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The Spectra GS-X’s dashboard features a trendy, metallic-look material surrounding the instruments and centre instrument panel, and matching trim on the door armrests. The gauges, though smaller than average, are easily visible, and include a central speedometer, tachometer on the left, and smaller fuel and coolant gauges on the right. A leather-covered steering wheel and a big leather-covered shift knob add a bit of class to the interior. It’s a personal preference, but I didn’t like the horn buttons on the steering wheel spokes — I instinctively go for the centre hub when I want to blow the horn.

On the centre console is a bright, digital clock, an AM/FM/CD stereo with an open storage bin for CD’s just below it, and a standard 3-dial heating and ventilation system. The heater works well, automatically activating air conditioning when in the defrost mode in order to clear the windshield faster, and the a/c can be turned off in the defrost mode if you choose.

The radio/CD player is easy to operate, but I found that the volume control for the radio is obscured by the steering wheel, requiring the driver to lean over to see where it is, or else grope around to find it.

The leather shift knob has a shift diagram integrated into the knob in case you forget where Reverse gear is (which I did quite often).

2002 Kia Spectra
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Other standard interior features on the GS-X include variable intermittent wipers, power windows with a retained power feature that allows them to operate up to 30 seconds after the ignition has been turned off, power door locks but no remote keyless entry, power mirrors, two open cupholders with a ratchet grip, two coinholders, front door map pockets with built-in bottleholders, overhead sunglasses holder, folding centre armrest with a small storage bin, and another small open bin underneath it. There’s also an unusual mesh pocket on the left side of the front passenger seat for maps or phones.

The back seat is better suited to two passengers than three even though there are three seatbelts, two outboard three-point belts and one centre lap belt. I found that there was enough rear legroom and headroom for two average-sized adults. Rear passengers have a handy storage pocket on the back of the driver’s seatback, but there are no rear cupholders or folding centre armrest. The power-operated rear windows go down about 80% of the way.

Adequate but not outstanding performance

2002 Kia Spectra
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According to independent acceleration tests conducted by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada at this year’s Car of the Year Test-Fest in October, the Spectra GS-X with an automatic transmission accelerated from 0 to 100 km/h in 11.6 seconds, over two seconds slower than a Mazda Protege5 with a manual transmission, and just under two seconds slower than a Ford Focus ZX5 with a manual transmission. Equipped with a manual transmission, the Spectra would have been a bit faster, but not likely as fast as it competitors since it has fifteen less horsepower than the Protege5 and five less horsepower than the ZX5.

Under the Spectra’s hood is a 1.8 litre dual overhead cam 16 valve four cylinder engine that develops 125 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 108 lb-ft of torque at 4500 rpm. Though not as quick as its competitors in a drag race, I found that the Spectra had sufficient power for everyday driving needs. I didn’t get the impression that the Spectra GS-X was slow or sluggish, and I didn’t feel at risk when accelerating onto the freeway or moving away from a stoplight. However, it would be hard to describe the Spectra GS-X’s performance as ‘sporty’.

A bigger concern for me was the amount of noise and vibration coming from the engine compartment in its upper rev ranges. Above 5000 rpm, there is a considerable amount of ‘booming’ and engine noise. Still, unless you’re in a real hurry, it’s not necessary to rev the engine that high, and you can easily shift at 4000 rpm. At normal city and highway speeds, the engine is relatively quiet – for example, cruising on the freeway at 100 km/h, the engine does 2,700 rpm, and at 120 km/h, it does 3,300 rpm.

The Spectra’s fuel consumption is comparable with its competitors. In the city, the Spectra with a manual transmission uses 10.0 l/100 km (28 mpg), and on the highway it uses 6.8 l/100 km (41 mpg). A Mazda Protégé5, which has a bigger engine and 15 more horsepower, offers about the same fuel consumption: 9.9 l/100km (28 mpg) in the city, and 7.4 l/100km (38 mpg) on the highway.

The standard five-speed manual transmission has a rubbery feel with comparatively easy but long throws – for example, shifting into fifth gear required me to extend my right arm straight out as far as it would go (and I’ve been told I have long arms). I found clutch pedal effort to be relatively light.

2002 Kia Spectra
Click image to enlarge

In braking tests from 100 km/h to 0 km/h, the Spectra stopped in 47 metres (154 feet), considerably longer than the 42 metres (139 feet) for the Mazda Protege5 and 41 metres (136 feet) for the Ford Focus ZX5. The difference can be attributed to the fact that the Spectra GS-X has standard front disc/rear drum brakes without anti-lock brakes and smaller 14 inch tires while its competitors offer four-wheel-disc brakes with ABS (optional on ZX5) and larger standard tires.

The Spectra’s ride is surprisingly good for a compact car and handling is competent though a little soft in the corners – the Spectra has a fully independent suspension: front MacPherson struts and rear multi-links. Handling could be improved with larger 15 or 16 inch tires instead of the standard 185/65R-14 inch all-season radials.

Outward visibility to the front and sides is good, but the thick frame of the rear hatch door obscures rear visibility somewhat — and the third brake light housing also gets in the way of rear visibility.

One unusual quibble: when you turn the ignition key, the sound of the starter motor is unusually high-pitched which I found rather irritating.

Competitive overview

The Spectra GS-X is not quite as sporty or as well-finished as many of its competitors. It’s smaller inside than the Elantra GT, and not nearly as much fun to drive as a Mazda Protege5, Ford Focus ZX5 or VW Golf. On the other hand, it’s the least expensive of the bunch and offers the best warranty.

The base price is $17,595 — add $450 for freight, approximately $150 for Pre Dealer Inspection, and the total comes to $18,195. An automatic transmission is an extra $1,000.

Personally, I’d like to see a base Spectra hatchback model without power windows, leather-covered steering wheel, metallic trim or alloy wheels starting under $15,000, just like the base Spectra sedan. An inexpensive hatchback is much more practical than an inexpensive sedan.

Technical Data:

2002 Kia Spectra GS-X
Base price $17,595
Freight $450
PDI $150
Price as tested $18,195
Type 4-door, 5 passenger compact hatchback
Layout transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive
Engine 1.8 litre 4 cylinder, DOHC, 16 valves
Horsepower 125 @ 6000 rpm
Torque 108 @ 4500 rpm
Transmission 5 speed manual (opt. 4 speed automatic)
Curb weight 1123 kg (2476 lb.)
Wheelbase 2560 mm (100.8 in.)
Length 4525 mm (178.1 in.)
Width 1725 mm (67.9 in.)
Height 1425 mm (56.1 in.)
Trunk capacity 328 litres (11.6 cu. ft) seat up
  528 litres (18.6 cu. ft) seat down
Fuel consumption City: 10.0 l/100 km (28 mpg)
  Hwy: 6.8 l/100 km (41 mpg)
Warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km
Powertrain warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km

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