2005 Kia Spectra
Click image to enlarge

Story and photos by Paul Williams

Santa Monica, California – The advertising campaign will exhort you to “love your Kia Spectra.” Judging from a brief road test here, the all-new 2005 Spectra, starting at $15,895, could well entice buyers into a long-term automotive relationship, of the Korean kind.

The compact car segment is a continuing challenge for manufacturers. How do you offer a car with lots of features for not a lot of money? It’s a contradiction, when you think about it — wanting more for less — but that’s people for you.

Enter Kia, sharpening its pencil and taking on industry leaders like Honda and Toyota. Since its first full year of sales in 2000, Kia Canada has staked a claim in the budget segment of the market. With 100,000 vehicles sold to date, including cars, SUV’s and vans, the Korean maker (owned by Hyundai) appears to have resolved the contradiction

“And that’s with no repeat business,” points out Bill Porter, newly-appointed president of Kia Canada. “We haven’t been in Canada long enough to have repeat customers, so all our sales are what we call “conquest” sales. By 2007, we’re aiming for sales of 50,000 vehicles per year.”

The new Spectra should help. Developed at a cost of US$250 million, built in Korea and sold in Canada as the Spectra sedan and Spectra5 wagon (they’re called the Cerato in overseas markets), the car features unique styling, and a longer wheelbase and is wider and taller than the model it replaces.

Built on a new platform that will be used on future Elantras, the 2005 Spectra is powered by a 2.0-litre, DOHC 4 cylinder motor making 138 horsepower and 136 pound-feet of torque. The previous Spectra had a 1.8-litre engine rated at 124 horsepower and 119 lb.-ft. of torque.

And in addition to the comprehensive five-year/100,000 km warranty currently offered, the Spectra will bundle a lifetime oil and filter change for the original owner, with no limits on duration or mileage.

2005 Kia Spectra

2005 Kia Spectra

2005 Kia Spectra

2005 Kia Spectra

2005 Kia Spectra
Click image to enlarge

Like other Kias, the Spectra copies good ideas from several cars and integrates them into a conservative but distinctive package. The excellent instrument cluster, for instance, reminds me of the current Honda Accord’s. It’s not electroluminescent like that car’s, but its appearance is quite similar. In the doors, supplementary cup or bottle holders are built into the map pockets, another Accord feature.

Overhead is the drop-down container for your sunglasses, a device found in products from several Japanese competitors. At the rear, the trunk design is inspired by the previous generation Audi A4. Huge rear lights will keep you visible.

It all works very well. The spacious interior is bright, comfortable and nicely upholstered. The seats offer good support and there’s even some welcome side-bolstering. The cabin is smartly designed, with light and dark tones of the same colour (grey or beige) contrasting between the dashboard, door panels and carpets to give an expensive-looking effect. Rear seating is comfortable, with generous legroom. The trunk is large and useful.

Spectra’s arrive in four levels of trim, from the base $15,895 LX to the $21,095 EX-Luxury with automatic transmission. Standard equipment includes a CD/audio system (with four speakers in the base version, six in others), vehicle immobilizer, tilt steering, tinted windows, centre console armrest and height-adjustable driver’s seat.

The base model has manual remote mirrors, however, and it’s odd how a small feature like that stays in mind. Perhaps if the controls for the mirrors were precise, rather than vague, they wouldn’t have left such a negative impression. An $1,800 convenience package adds most of the expected amenities, including power, heated mirrors plus air conditioning, power windows, and locks and four-wheel disc brakes.

On the road the Spectra’s power, ride and handling is very impressive for a small, economy car. The first thing the driver notes is the peppy engine that brings the car up to highway speeds quickly and smoothly.

The second thing noticed is the quietness in the cabin at 100-120 km/h. Kia has been working to reduce cabin noise by filling hollow body components like the sills, for instance, and making effective use of insulating technology. This pays off, with little cabin noise inside and barely audible wind noise from outside.

The wide track and independent suspension ((MacPherson struts in front and multi-link at the rear) contribute to excellent handling. Anti-roll bars are standard front and rear, as are gas charged shock absorbers. The speed-sensitive rack and pinion steering is sharp and has good feel when turning. There’s little body roll in corners, and while this isn’t a sports car by any means, the Spectra’s precise handling is surprising for a vehicle in this class.

Both four-speed automatic and five-speed manual do a good job in normal conditions, although the automatic can make somewhat choppy shifts when surprised (when accelerating hard and suddenly taking your foot off the gas, for instance). The manual is nice, but the clutch take-up point is too high, in my opinion. Of course, if Canadian buying habits are followed, the manual shifter will not be the most popular option, but this engine and transmission combination is very effective, with a light clutch (not as light as a Civic’s, but close), and direct shifts.

Safety features include “intelligent” airbags (now mandated for new models), and on the EX-Luxury model, active headrests that move forward in a collision to reduce head movement. Anti-lock brakes and electronic brake distribution are standard on top models and optional on all others except base.

Look also for the Spectra5 five-door hatch version, which recently debuted at the Vancouver Auto Show. Targeted at a younger market and meant to compete with other hatches like the Mazda3 and Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback, the Spectra5 has 16″ wheels and sportier packaging compared with the sedan. Metal-look trim panels inside and side-sill mouldings outside contribute to the sporty image. Pricing details for this model have not yet been released.

Kia added a supercharger, 17″ wheels and tinted windows to the special bright yellow Spectra5 it brought to show writers at the Spectra sedan press launch. Unfortunately, we were unable to drive this particular vehicle, but it gave an indication of what the company has in mind for future products.

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