2008 Kia Spectra Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
July 6, 2008

The 2008 Kia Spectra is still a lot of car for the money, but with it’s a bit outclassed by a host of more refined and updated small-car models.

In compiling this extensive review on the 2008 Kia Spectra, the experts at TheCarConnection.com used information from a range of differing viewpoints. Then TheCarConnection.com's editors also brought their own experiences driving several different Spectra models--including the Spectra5--to this review.

The 2008 Kia Spectra is a compact sedan--or hatchback, the Spectra5--that has a roomy interior and solid performance at a bargain price.

All versions soldier on for 2008 with Kia's 2.0-liter four-cylinder, which uses variable valve timing to generate 138 horsepower. The 2008 Kia Spectra feels peppy with the standard five-speed manual, but it's also one of the more responsive engines in its class with the relatively smooth-shifting four-speed automatic. However, the engine can be somewhat loud and thrashy when pushed hard. Fuel economy is unimpressive for a small car, with ratings of 24/32 mpg with the automatic and 23/30 mpg for the manual.

The 2008 Kia Spectra5 gets a completely different body style from the front doors back, with hatchback convenience and a tall roofline that continues almost all the way to the back of the vehicle, yielding impressive cargo space--especially when taking advantage of the fold-flat backseats.

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The 2008 Kia Spectra comes well equipped, but actual interior appointments are a weakness; it's very basic in design, which is fine, but it lacks the lustrous materials and cohesive styling that's now par for the course, even among bargain-priced rides. There's quite a bit of seating space, though, with a nicely proportioned height-adjustable driver's seat.

The standard Spectra sedan favors ride comfort over sportiness and doesn't handle especially well. But the 2008 Kia Spectra5 and the SX sedan have sportier suspension tuning--including wider tires--that makes these versions much more enjoyable to drive if you routinely navigate curvy roads, with only a slight change in ride quality. Note that these models have increased road noise, however. The SX models are further distinguished visually by their black mesh grille, fog lights, rear spoiler, and larger 16-inch wheels.

The Spectra comes in three trim levels: LX, EX, and sporty SX. Standard equipment includes a tilt steering column, a 60/40 split-folding rear seat, a rear defroster, and dual 12-volt power outlets in the center console. An AM/FM/CD stereo with an auxiliary audio input jack is also standard. The EX and SX models get standard power windows and door locks, keyless entry, air conditioning, and floor mats. A leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshift knob, metal sport pedals, and cruise control are also included with the SX, while an AM/FM/MP3 stereo with a six-disc in-dash CD changer and a power sunroof are SX-only options. Remote start is offered on the 2008 Kia Spectra, but neither a Bluetooth hands-free system nor satellite radio are available.

The federal government has crash-tested the 2008 Kia Spectra, and it earned five stars for frontal protection and four stars for side-impact protection. The insurance-affiliated IIHS has rated the sedan with an Acceptable score in frontal protection and Marginal score in side protection. Front side airbags, as well as side curtain airbags for all outboard passengers, are standard on all Spectras. Anti-lock brakes remain optional on the Spectra.

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