2008 Kia Spectra Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection

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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2008 Kia Spectra

Styling

The 2008 Kia Spectra puts less emphasis on sharp styling than even other basic economy cars.

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

According to Cars.com, the company promotes the Kia Spectra's "sculpted appearance and the more aggressive look it has over many of its rivals" with "large, angular headlights [that] flank the grille" and "full-length body creases [that] are meant to impart a sense of motion." This, according to Edmunds, is an improvement over previous models: "The current [Kia] Spectra sedan and Spectra5 four-door hatchback counterpart have moved up the scale considerably in terms of style." Kelley Blue Book notes that the 2008 Kia Spectra has "large, jewel-like headlamps that highlight sharply styled sheet metal in a vehicle that in no way resembles Kia's first entry in this country [the Sephia]." The Detroit News sums it up succinctly: "It's a nice looking compact hatchback." The SX models are further distinguished visually by their black mesh grille, fog lights, rear spoiler, and larger 16-inch wheels.

The 2008 Kia Spectra interior sports a very basic design lacking the lustrous materials and cohesive styling that's now par for the course, even among bargain-priced rides. The only Kia Spectra interior decor worth noting, according to Cars.com, is the SX’s "perforated leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshift knob, aluminum pedals and metal-finish trim"--all of which is optional. The Detroit News says the 2008 Kia Optima's interior is "fairly Spartan...interior decor includes metal-finish trim and sport-cloth seats with matching door panel inserts." Kelley Blue Book's main complaint concerns a design flaw: "Aesthetically, the only blemish is an AM/FM/CD player that isn't physically or stylistically well-integrated into the otherwise cohesive interior."

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2008 Kia Spectra

Performance

Most drivers won't be disappointed with the 2008 Kia Spectra's handling and performance, but they’re unlikely to be impressed.

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.

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2008 Kia Spectra

Comfort & Quality

The 2008 Kia Spectra has abundant space for the class, but the seats and interior trim may not suit you.

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 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.

Edmunds reports, "Like most compact cars, the [Kia] Spectra seats four comfortably, five in a pinch," adding "the seats are comfortable." However, Car and Driver notes "the front seats lack lumbar support." Cars.com qualifies this, reporting that "seat bottoms are short, and cushioning feels adequate but not abundant." Consumer Guide observes, "despite a tilt steering wheel and lever-action seat-height adjuster, few testers were able to find an ideal driving position." This source also notes that the 2008 Kia Spectra's seats are "subpar for contour and comfort...long-legged drivers will likely want more rearward seat travel...headroom is just OK for six-footers."

There aren't too many complaints about storage, however. ConsumerGuide reports that the 2008 Kia Spectra models have "usefully shaped trunks with adequate volume that's expandable via the standard 60/40 folding rear seat." The Detroit News declares that the Kia Spectra5 "offers 18.3 cubic feet of storage space, about 6 cubic feet more than the sedan. When the 60/40-split rear seats are folded flat, storage capacity in the hatchback expands to 52.8 cubic feet." Edmunds adds "storage cubbies and cupholders are generous in size."

On to the topic of materials, ConsumerGuide contends that the 2008 Kia Spectra's "cabin materials and finish exceed most in this price range," but notes that a "poorly sealed right-rear window in one test sedan rattled and generated a highway-speed wind whistle." Nonetheless, Edmunds asserts that the Kia Spectra offers a "comfortable and functional cabin...simple...with easy-to-use (and reach) controls and good build and materials quality."

Car and Driver waxes that "on the highway, the [Kia Spectra's] cabin is a place of Lexus-like serenity." ConsumerGuide, on the other hand, says that while "Wind and road ruckus are nicely subdued," the "engine is coarse sounding, growing additionally hoarse around 4000 rpm."

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2008 Kia Spectra

Safety

The 2008 Kia Spectra has good federal crash-test scores, but insurance-industry scores are lower, and anti-lock brakes are an option on base cars.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) 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 Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has rated the sedan "acceptable" in frontal protection and "marginal" in side protection.

Edmunds reports "the Kia Spectra sports an impressive list of standard safety equipment that includes front seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags." Cars.com notes that "antilock brakes are optional," however.

The only comment on visibility came from ConsumerGuide, which states that with the Kia Spectra5 model, "roof styling impedes aft visibility."

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2008 Kia Spectra

Features

The 2008 Kia Spectra has the usual features and options, but cell phone talkers are left without a signal—as are satellite-radio fans.

The 2008 Kia Spectra’s features list omits some newer features found on other compact cars, but the basics are available in its three trim levels.

According to Cars.com, "trim levels include the base LX, uplevel EX and sport-tuned SX." Standard equipment on all versions include an AM/FM/CD stereo with an auxiliary audio input jack.

Car and Driver says "rounding out the long list of standard features" on the Kia Spectra "are an adjustable steering wheel, a CD stereo with six speakers, a 60/40 split-folding rear seat, and variable intermittent wipers." Audiophiles will be happy with the Cars.com report that the Kia Spectra's "audio system has an auxiliary jack for iPods or other MP3 players, and a six-CD changer is optional on the Spectra SX."

According to Cars.com, "extra features in the SX sedan include a perforated leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshift knob, aluminum pedals and metal-finish trim." ConsumerGuide reports that the 2008 Kia Spectra "EX adds air conditioning; fog lights; and power windows, door locks, and mirrors, the latter heated."

Remote start is also offered on the 2008 Kia Spectra, but neither a Bluetooth hands-free system nor satellite radio are available.

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6.4
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Expert Rating
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Styling 6
Performance 7
Comfort & Quality 6
Safety 7
Features 6
Fuel Economy N/A
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