PAHRUMP, Nev. — While Kia Motors has been getting a lot of mileage out of their Sportage SUV in the U.S. and has increased their sales by about 30 percent from last year, they’re still what you’d call product-poor. It’s a three-car lineup, with the Sportage, the new Rio, and the Sephia sedan.
Make that four, adding the new Spectra. With few products on the showroom floor, the Spectra adds some variety to the mix. Maybe variety is the wrong word. How about variant? The Spectra shares all its critical dimensions with the Sephia, and truth be known, the Spectra is — ta da! — a hatchback version of the Sephia.
Hatchback you say? Didn’t they die an ugly death in the U.S. during the 1980s? You remember all those nasty rattling hatches. The Europeans have known and loved hatchbacks forever and if truth be told, a hatchback adds a lot of utility to a sedan. It’s no wonder that someone is betting that people will discover the hatchback’s utility again.
The Spectra offers the versatility and convenience of a hatchback configuration while retaining the look of a sedan. With its standard split-folding rear seat and wide, easy-opening rear hatch, the Spectra can accommodate a variety of passenger and cargo combinations, especially handy for those who like to take their gear with them.
There were opportunities to drive the cars from Las Vegas to Pahrump through some scenic areas and on some fairly straight highways. Only Spectra GSX models were available for sampling, almost all very well equipped, some with automatic transmissions, not strictly what you’d find in the real world of Kia drivers and buyers.
We headed off in a GSX automatic. We must not have done a good job paying attention because we were doing our level best to get lost in the suburbs of Las Vegas. The Spectra has a fairly tight turning radius and the 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, while not being blessed with abundant torque, helped keep us one step ahead of oncoming traffic after pulling a couple of U-turns.
2001 Kia Spectra
Once out on the highway it became apparent that the Spectra is one tight, quiet car. The interior has nice appointments, good ergonomic design, and nice tactile sensations from switchgear and trim. It has a comfortable ride, stable and predictable handling, good steering feel and adequate power.
The 1.8-liter DOHC engine is a Kia design, and produces 125 hp at 6000 rpm and 108 ft-lb of torque at 4500 rpm, which creates a decent power curve for the car. It felt good and sounded decent through the entire rev range, certainly within class limits.
The automatic transmission would not be the preferred choice with this car. The manual is much better at extracting the available power, thanks to gear ratio differences between it and the automatic. The clutch in the manual transmission cars has hydraulic actuation, which provides a light clutch pedal feel. The five-speed shifter was quite easy to use, too.
The Spectra comes in two trim levels, GS and GSX. The GS offers a fabric interior, split folding rear seat, center console/armrest, AM/FM cassette sound system, tinted glass, remote control sideview mirrors, and a tachometer. The exterior offers features that stand out in the entry-level class, such as body-color bumpers, full wheel covers and a bright (not chrome, of course — what are you thinking?) exhaust tip.
The GSX adds alloy wheels, front and rear air dams, body skirts, rear spoiler and pinstripes to the base GX exterior. Inside the GSX gets standard air conditioning, sport fabric seats, leather-wrapped tilt steering wheel, leather-wrapped gearshift knob, power windows and power door locks.
The exterior styling is a bit conservative, and some might say derivative, but it is pleasant. The hatchback is very well integrated into the sedan body and some will not believe it’s a hatch until they're shown. The GSX’s body add-ons help impart a bit more aggressiveness to the design.
2001 Kia Spectra
Optional on both trim levels are automatic transmission, body-color side moldings, rear window wiper, and carpeted floor mats. Available options on the GSX, in addition to those available for the GS, are anti-lock brakes, AM/FM/CD stereo, CD changer, cruise control, and a “cruise” package which includes cruise control, tweeters, variable intermittent windshield wipers, and power mirrors.
Base Price: $10,795
Major standard equipment:
The Spectra GS starts at $10,795 and the Spectra GS (with its higher level of standard features) starts at $12,995. A $450 destination charge is added to either trim level. A fully equipped Spectra GSX will be priced around $16,000. Alternatives to the Spectra would include the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Dodge Neon and Ford Focus.
In what might be the punctuation mark to a fairly interesting value proposition, the Spectra is covered by Kia’s very impressive Long Haul Warranty Program. The program consists of various warranty components including a 10-year or 100,000-mile limited powertrain warranty, a five-year or 60,000 mile limited basic warranty, and a five-year or 100,000 mile limited anti-perforation warranty. If you experience a warranty-related breakdown more than 150 miles from home, and the repairs take more than 24 hours, Kia will reimburse you for pre-authorized food, lodging and transportation expense.