Kia has consistently delivered high value in the America market. From the surprisingly large Sephia to their newest offering, the Spectra, Kia has produced cars that look far more expensive than they are, and provide much more than their Japanese counterparts.
The Spectra is a good-looking car. People stopped us several times as we were driving our test car, and were surprised to find its low-tens price. It looks like it could easily be a Celica, right down to the perfect gaps between body panels. (The hood closes on a piece of rubber moulding to improve airflow). It looks better than the Civic, Corolla, Neon, or Cavalier, at least on the outside. This should not be too surprising, considering that the car the Spectra is based on - the Sephia - looks more like a Japanese near-luxury sedan than a cheap Korean import.
The Spectra, being Korean, comes with two odd features - bonehead window controls and a goofy window lockout switch.
Despite all this, the Kia is a good car and a good value, with a surprisingly low price tag.
The Spectra has almost exactly the same power as a Honda Civic EX, which costs about $5,000 more. Handling is competent, even sporty, despite tire squeal under high speed turns. Tires can be replaced, but the suspension seems very sound. It should be - Lotus provided technical assistance to Kia.
Acceleration is good in the higher rpms, even with the air conditioning on. There is little wind noise, and the is tuned to a sporty sound.
The instrument panel has a dignified, functional appearance, with beige backlighting for easy night viewing. The switches have a good firm feel and sound, and aside from the inconveniently placed cruise control, are in sensible places.
The Spectra's air conditioning is fairly effective, though no match for the Neon. The vent fan is quiet, but the vents themselves cannot be redirected from the driver. There are map pockets, a center console with an unusual rear storage bin, and a sunglass shelf.
Like the Neon, the Spectra shines in interior space. The trunk is roomy and easy to use, thanks to the hatchback design. Unfortunately, child seat tether anchors are in the back of the trunk (by the bumper), an awkward design. The back seat area provides room for three adults, or two children with kicking room.
The doors and trunk have a solid feel. The hatchback window has an optional but expensive windshield washer/wiper, which we found not really necessary.
We enjoyed the Kia Spectra, much more than most cars we drive. Don't be surprised if it's ranked above the base Civic or Sentra.
As good as the Kia Spectra is, it's no match for the Dodge Neon. Fortunately, it doesn't have to be. The price is about $3,000 below that of the Neon, and stays relatively low even when equipment is added on.
The Neon is a bit larger inside than the Spectra, has comparable handling, a somewhat nicer ride, and a quieter interior, except at highway speeds. The Neon's engine is also more capable, and, if you order the five-speed, it gets substantially better gas mileage.
On the other hand, the Spectra is substantially cheaper than the Neon, and there's something to be said for that. It's a good-looking, substantial car. If there aren't any good Dodge dealers nearby, or if the Neon would be a financial stretch, the Kia Spectra is sitting in the wings.
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