Originally created 04/23/04

Despite name, Spectra has changed

Kia's best-selling nameplate, the Spectra, is all new, almost.

The compact four-door arriving now in showrooms rides on a new platform and has improved engine power, new styling, a bigger trunk and an updated, quieter interior.

It's also the first compact sedan in the segment with standard head curtain air bags. Side-mounted air bags for front-seat riders also are standard, bringing to six the air bags in this low-priced car.

But the name isn't exactly new: 2004 Spectra. There already has been a 2004 Spectra, basically a carryover from the 2003 model, that had been sold starting last year early in the 2004 model year.

Thus, Kia officials call the new, improved Spectra arriving in mid-model year the 2004 "new Spectra." Kia officials explain the new Spectra carries the 2004 model year designation because Kia wants to gather fuel economy credits from the federal government for the 2004 model year.

Labeling the new Spectra a 2005 model, which also was an option, wouldn't have been as lucrative in government credits, which all automakers can collect and use to help them meet government fuel economy requirements for their fleets.

Rather than fret over the label game, Kia hopes consumers will be busy noticing the changes in the new Spectra.

The car is a tad taller and wider than its predecessor, and styling is upgraded and pleasing in a nonflashy, mainstream way.

The starting price, including destination charge, of $13,160 for a base Spectra with manual transmission is up from $12,360 for the previous base 2004 Spectra that did not have all the standard air bags found in the new model. The base price does not include air conditioning.

The new Spectra rides on a more modern platform, a modified version of the Hyundai Elantra's platform.

Consumers will see an upgraded interior with a clean, uncluttered appearance. Upholstery is soft to the touch and pieces of it are inserted on the inner door panels for an upscale look. The dashboard has a nice, two-tone appearance, and there's even a tachometer in all models. Also standard: a sunglasses holder on the ceiling, not far from the front map lights.

Cupholders that can accommodate large drinks also are standard, as is an AM/FM stereo with six speakers and a CD player.

It's easy to notice this car is quieter than its predecessor. There was little perceptible wind noise in the test vehicle, and road noise from the 15-inch tires was not obtrusive. But I did hear the buzz of the four-cylinder engine every time I accelerated, and the noise could get loud when the engine was really pressed.

The ride, itself, is improved from the previous Spectra. Many, but not all, harsh road bumps are kept from passengers.

And at just over 2,700 pounds in weight, the new Spectra could be buffeted by large trucks and high winds.

The Spectra remains front-drive, with an independent Mac-Pherson strut arrangement at the front and an independent multi-link configuration at the rear. Front and rear stabilizer bars are standard, as are four-wheel disc brakes.

The discs are considered an upgrade, but the test Spectra still exhibited a bit of a mushy feel at the brake pedal when I applied the brakes. Anti-lock brakes still are an option.

The new Spectra is powered by a 2-liter, double overhead cam, inline four cylinder that incorporates continuously variable valve timing, a first for a Kia.

Mated to a five-speed manual in the tester, it got the car moving in an efficient manner from startup. Both five-speed manual and four-speed automatic transmissions are available.

In the summer, the new Spectra line will expand with the addition of the Spectra5, a five-door hatchback.


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