Reviews from around the Web, as well as TheCarConnection.com’s editors, feel the 2008 Kia Spectra delivers adequate, but not stunning performance.
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 is 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.
Car and Driver reports that "Kia screwed together a new 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with variable valve timing that serves up 138 horsepower and 136 pound-feet of torque," a significant improvement over previous models. The 2008 Kia Spectra's engine delivers "new levels of refinement for a Kia four-banger, never becoming too rough or raucous as did the old 1.8." Edmunds reports that the Kia Spectra's engine "provides spirited performance around town but feels a little winded during highway passing maneuvers," noting that testers' "criticisms included the engine's lack of pep at high speeds." Cars.com notes, "acceleration reaches past adequate with an automatic transmission, but passing yields a lot more blare than response."
On to the subject of transmissions, Car and Driver reports that the 2008 Kia Spectra's power "is delivered to the front wheels via a standard five-speed manual or an optional four-speed automatic," then adds that its "standard five-speed manual gets the job done, but it still brings that 'which gear am I in?' negotiation that's reminiscent of stirring a wooden spoon in a bowl of Jell-O." On the other hand, Cars.com opines that the Kia Spectra's "easy-shifting manual gearbox works with little effort and helps extract the most power from the engine." ConsumerGuide states "around-town response is fine with manual transmission, but Spectra lacks highway passing punch."
EPA mileage figures are given as 22-24 mpg in the city and 30 -32 mpg on the open road, depending on the transmission. ConsumerGuide test drivers report that "manual-transmission sedans average 28.1-28.5 mpg overall."
The standard Spectra sedan favors ride comfort over sportiness, and it doesn't handle especially well. There have been several improvements made to the Kia Spectra's handling, nonetheless: Car and Driver reports that "the loosey-goosey steering sense is gone, replaced with an effort and feel that, although perhaps too light, clearly relays the front tires' attitude," while "the brakes offer up a firm pedal feel and reassuring performance." Cars.com asserts that the 2008 Kia Optima is "a generally enjoyable car that exhibits no more body lean than other sedans in its league, but it lacks a feeling of tight control." ConsumerGuide says that "testers [were] divided on steering: responsive to some, slow to others," adding that the Kia Spectra "was prone to wander in highway crosswinds and exhibited unwanted nosedive in simulated panic stops."
Nonetheless, the Detroit News was sufficiently impressed to note that while "hitting the scales at 2,833 pounds, the [Kia] Spectra feels light on its feet and quite maneuverable in tight parking lots, thanks to an engine-speed-sensitive, power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering system." 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.