2005 Kia Spectra
Click image to enlarge

By Jil McIntosh
Photos by Laurance Yap

Call it an improvement of epic proportions.

Although it’s Korea’s oldest carmaker, Kia didn’t arrive in Canada under its own name until 1999. (The short-lived Ford Festiva and subsequent Aspire subcompacts, first introduced in 1989, were really rebadged Kias.) Kia gained ground in a remarkably short period, but I couldn’t get too enthusiastic about the cars. Their styling and interiors were fine for the price tag, but their rough, unrefined drivelines left me shaken instead of stirred.

That changes with the 2005 Spectra. Completely redesigned, and available in 4-door sedan or upcoming 5-door hatchback, it now carries a 2.0-litre, DOHC 4-cylinder borrowed from parent company Hyundai that’s smooth, powerful and quiet. Kia now has a lower-priced car that genuinely feels more expensive than its MSRP. Several people pegged my LX with convenience package around $22,000, but the reality was a bottom line of only $17,995.

There are two trim levels, LX and EX; the base Spectra LX with manual transmission is $15,995. My tester’s convenience package added air and 4-wheel discs, and put power to the windows, locks and heated mirrors. The EX starts at $19,995 and adds cruise control and alloy wheels; an available “luxury package” includes anti-lock brakes and fog lamps. An automatic transmission bumps each model by $1,100. Load the Spectra up with all available packages, and it tops out at $21,095.

In July, Kia Canada announced that all 2005 Spectras would include dual front airbags, side airbags and curtain airbags as standard equipment. The Spectra is the only car in its class to offer this.

Putting out 138 horsepower and 136 ft-lbs of torque, the Spectra’s engine with a manual 5-speed returned 9.0 litres/100 km for me. Kia knows its audience, too; the long clutch and shifter throws mean that even moderately skilled drivers can shift smoothly.

2005 Kia Spectra

2005 Kia Spectra
Click image to enlarge

The seats are surprisingly comfortable for the price, and the interior is well-planned – although the light beige carpet mated to the red or beige exterior colours is way too tender a shade for a slushy Canadian winter. Controls are big and simple, and there’s backlighting on every button. I’ve driven cars twice the price that left lock and window switches invisible at night.

Handling is improved over the previous generation, but it’s still not as responsive as its Japanese competitors: road ruts lead it astray on the highway. Better tires might make a world of difference here; I’d definitely be changing to real winter rubber for the snowy months.

Kia’s marketing always trumpeted its best-in-the-business warranty – 5 year/100,000 km on almost everything – but last April Hyundai announced a better one. So Kia now claims “Canada’s best ownership coverage”, which means three free oil and filter changes each year, for as long as the original owner keeps the car.

This is a crowded market, and one really needs to be a contender to make headway in it. Kia’s been relegated to the bottom of the pack for a while; for 2005, I’m predicting the underdog has finally hit the mark.

Technical Data:

Base price (LX) $15,995
Options Convenience Group, $2000 (air conditioning, power door locks and windows, 4-wheel disc brakes, heated mirrors)
A/C tax $100
Price as tested $18,095 plus freight
Type 4-door, 5-passenger compact sedan
Layout front transverse engine, front wheel drive
Engine In-line 4-cylinder
Horsepower 138 @ 6000 rpm
Torque 136 lb-ft. @ 4,500 rpm
Transmission Five-speed manual
Tires P195/65R15
Curb weight 1,225 kg (2,701 lbs)
Wheelbase 2610 mm (102.8 in.)
Length 4480 mm (176.4 in.)
Width 1735 mm (68.3 in.)
Height 1470 mm (57.9 in.)
Trunk capacity 345 liters (12.2 cubic feet)
Fuel type regular unleaded
Fuel consumption City: 9.3 L/100 km (30.4 mpg)
  Highway: 6.8 L/100 km (41.5 mpg)
Warranty 5 years/100,000 km
Powertrain Warranty 5 years/100,000 km

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