2002 Kia Spectra LS
2002 Kia Spectra LS. Photos: Kia. Click image to enlarge

By Grant Yoxon

This week, the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada announced the category winners for 2005 Car of the Year. The winner in the Best New Economy Car class was Kia’s redesigned 2005 Spectra. Class leading safety features like standard side curtain airbags and a low base price of just $15,995 were important factors in its win.

But what of the previous generation Spectra? How does it measure up as a used car buy?

Kia opened for business in Canada in August 1999 with 2000 model year vehicles. At first it sold just two vehicles in Canada – the compact Sportage sport utility vehicle and a compact, four-door sedan, known as the Sephia. The Sephia became the Spectra in 2002.

The 2000 Sephia had a passing resemblance to the Toyota Corolla – not a bad thing, considering the popularity of the Corolla. But the Sephia had a big advantage over the Corolla – price. A base Sephia could be purchased for $12,995, compared to $15,625 for the Corolla.

2000 Kia Sephia LS

2000 Kia Sephia LS
2000 Kia Sephia LS

The base model included such features as manual remote mirrors, rear-window defroster, tinted glass, 2-speed intermittent wipers and mud flaps, a five-speed manual transmission and manual rack and pinion steering. To get power steering, four-speed automatic transmission, air conditioning, 60/40 split-folding rear seat, rear-seat heater ducts, full wheel covers, tilt steering column, AM/FM cassette and a seat-cushion tilt mechanism on the driver’s seat, you would have had to move up to the $14,945 LS model, still a great deal compared to any of the competition from Japan. A comfort and convenience package, which added power windows, mirrors and door locks, cruise control, tachometer, variable intermittent windshield wipers and AM/FM/CD six-speaker audio system, could be had for an additional $800. Even fully loaded, the Kia Sephia was $880 less than the entry level Toyota Corolla VE and $1,355 less than Honda’s base level Civic sedan, the LX.

The Sephia was powered by a 1.8-litre, 125 horsepower (108 lb.-ft. of torque) inline four cylinder engine. Although noisy, power was good unless the vehicle was loaded down with passengers and cargo.

With a fully independent suspension and front and rear stabilizer bars (designed by Lotus), the Sephia handled well. The rack-and-pinion power steering on the LS was engine-speed sensitive. Power-assisted vented front disc brakes and rear drums provided adequate braking power. Unfortunately ABS was not available. Other safety features included driver and passenger front airbags, height adjustable shoulder belts and three car-seat tether tie-downs on the rear parcel shelf. Child seat anchors, front seatbelt pre-tensioners and an emergency internal trunk release were added for 2001.

The interior was roomy with plenty of room in the front for a six-foot, three-inch driver. The front seats were wide and supportive, but the back seat was a bit too firm. All controls were visible and accessible, with an easy to operate AM/FM/CD audio system mounted high in the dash, the heater controls directly below that.

2003 Kia Spectra
2003 Kia Spectra LS. Click image to enlarge

In 2002, the four door Sephia sedan and the five-door Spectra hatchback (previously available only in the US) were consolidated under the Spectra nameplate. Still powered by the 1.8-litre engine, the Spectra was available in base and LS trims as a sedan and GSX trim as a hatchback. In 2003 only, the base model was designated the RS.

By 2003, power steering, intermittent wipers, CD player, a 60/40 split folding rear seat, driver’s sear height adjuster and lumbar support and dual vanity mirrors were standard equipment on even the base RS model. LS models came equipped with air conditioning, cruise control power windows and mirrors, fog lamps, power heated mirrors, variable intermittent wipers and central door locks.

2003 Kia Spectra GSX
2003 Kia Spectra GSX. Click image to enlarge

The GSX hatch had alloy wheels, metal grain accents and leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter knob. The specifications for the continuing 1.8-litre engine were revised to 124 hp and 119 lb.-ft. of torque.

The recall record for this vehicle is excellent, with just two safety recalls issued for the 2000 Sephia and only one requiring mechanical repairs.

2003 Kia Spectra GSX
2003 Kia Spectra GSX. Click image to enlarge

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the 2001 Kia Sephia a four star rating for the driver and five star (best) rating for the passenger in frontal impact tests. In side impact, the Sephia received three stars for front seat passengers and four stars for rear seat passengers.

No reliability information is available from either Consumer Reports or the CAA’s annual Autopinion survey due to insufficient data. However Kia has one of the best warranties in Canada and many of these cars are still covered under a five year, 100,000 kilometre comprehensive and powertrain warranty as well as a five year road side assistance warranty.

As you might expect with a vehicle priced lower than its competitor’s – in fact, you could buy a new Sephia in 2000 for less than a two year old used Honda Civic – prices for the Sephia and Spectra on the used car market are quite good. Once a bargain, always a bargain.


2000: Transport Canada Recall Number 2004294. Units affected: 5578. On certain vehicles, the front seat belt buckles may not latch properly, even though they emit a clicking sound during latching. Dealers will replace the front seat belt buckles.

2000: Transport Canada Recall Number 2000095. Units affected: 5466. The outer circle of the National Safety Mark was omitted and the vehicle type was not stated in both official languages on the compliance label.

Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.

For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.thecomplaintstation.com or www.lemonaidcars.com.

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