Kelley Blue Book ® - 2004 Kia Spectra Overview

Vehicle Overview from Kelley Blue Book

KBB.com 2004 Kia Spectra Overview

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A Better Spectra And Still A Great Deal

Kia has proven itself to be a worthy competitor in the U.S. market. The rate at which they update, improve and expand their product lines is practically unheard of in the automotive world. For 2004, Kia has worked its magic act on one of its most well-known nameplates: the Spectra. The compact sedan best known for its low price and high content level now adds two more laudable attributes: more interior room and standout styling.

Our first glance at the four-door Spectra had us doing a double take. For a moment, we thought we were looking at a redesign of the Optima sedan or possibly a new mid-size model. But as we got closer, the Spectra name could clearly be seen attached to the car. A quick walk around revealed a handsome design with modern, clean lines and tastefully executed front and rear styling. The Spectra is longer, wider and taller than the car it replaces, pushing the envelope on what we'd call "compact." The new design has greatly increased interior room as well, placing the Spectra near the top of its class with over 97 cubic-feet of interior passenger space.

The new Spectra fits in well with Kia's plan to attract more affluent buyers. It no longer looks like an entry-level bare bones sedan though you wouldn't know that to look at the price tag. With a base MSRP of just $12,620, the Spectra certainly appears to be a no-frills sedan—that is until you start to read the standard equipment list. A base model LX with no options added comes standard with six airbags (including front side and full-length side curtain airbags), a five-speed manual transmission, four-wheel disc brakes, AM/FM stereo with CD and six speakers, height-adjustable driver's seat, tachometer, power steering, tilt wheel, rear-defroster and auto-off headlights. The upscale EX adds air conditioning, power windows, power door locks, keyless entry, fog lights and color-keyed heated power side-view mirrors; the EX MSRP stands at just $13,750.

Having established that the Spectra looks good on paper, we were eager to see just how well the rest of the car would fare. We jumped behind the wheel of a loaded EX with the five-speed manual and prepared to take to the road. Upon entering, we were at once impressed by the high quality of the interior plastics and fabrics and by the comfortably firm front seats. The Spectra's two-tone black and gray dashboard is stylish yet functional, with large round gauges and big rotary knobs for the heating and A/C; we also liked the Spectra's audio unit for its clear easy-to-read buttons and rotary volume knob.

The Spectra's interior also surprised us with its roominess and comfort. Both front and rear passengers felt they had more than adequate head and leg room, though we think a fifth person stuffed in the center rear seat would definitely change our opinion. Our EX model featured a host of little creature comforts that made the long day's drive more pleasurable: they included front and rear-seat cup holders, mesh pockets on the back of the front seat for holding magazines or CDs and height-adjustable seatbelt anchors for the front seat passengers. The Spectra's large trunk is both deep and wide and can be expanded by folding down the 60/40 split-folding rear seats.

A turn of the key and the Spectra's 2.0-liter four cylinder jumps to life. This new engine produces 138 horsepower, up 14 from the 2003 model. The new engine is also cleaner burning and more fuel efficient, with an EPA estimated 25-mpg city and 34-mpg highway. The 2.0-liter is a peppy engine and had no problem getting our test car up to 65-mph. The five-speed manual is better than the old rubbery units found on early Kia models, but its long throws and somewhat notchy shift feel is still not up to par with Honda or Toyota.

On the road, we found the Spectra to feel light on its feet, with good steering response and minimal body roll. We did experience some vibration around 70-mph, but we suspect some overzealous test driver before us must have smacked the front wheel into a curb and thrown it out of balance. Other than the rowdy sound from the engine compartment once the tach passed 4000 rpm, interior sound levels were well within the acceptable range for this class and overall we found the driving experience to be a rather satisfying one.

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