By Jon Rosner, Wed, 19 Jan 2005 08:00:00 PDT
In the 1970s the American car makers started looking over their shoulders at the first real tide of Japanese cars. The Pinto and Vega were sent out to do battle and did little to stem the flow of first-new-car dollars. The 1980s brought us the eastern European Yugo, and the Hyundai and later, Kia from Korea. And while the $3,995 Yugos were cheap to buy, their lifespan proved to be short lived.. On the other hand, even though the Hyundais and Kias had flimsy interiors, uncomfortable seats, and styling that a high school student could improve on - they could be run to 130,000 plus miles with only modest attempts at proper servicing.
The Kia Spectra5 is the many generations evolutionary descendent of these utilitarian Korean transportation units. It's still basic transportation, but it has some very nice touches. The car is a sharp-dresser. The lines of the hood and nose are nicely chiseled, the blacked out center air intake and polished alloy wheels add to the appealing shape. And the general panel fit, and daring placement of the fuel flap where an important body crease would show even the slightest error in alignment, show quality assembly.
The seats offer solid fit and quite good support even if the choice of cover material was less appealing. The leather grip steering wheel looks good and feels right as does the fat shift knob. The gauges, stereo, air and heater controls are utterly simple, intuitive and continue the understated cleanness of line found throughout the car, (Hello BMW, take notes please !) The dash pad feels nice to the touch, but some of the hard plastics in the console are not up the same standard. The ashtray is flimsy, and the center cupholder look like a poor after-thought.
The Specta felt eager to run. The shifter felt good, but the light-touch clutch took a day to learn how to avoid being jerky and engage it properly. The ride was smooth but controlled over every road we took it on, somewhat like the recent Volkswagens, but lacking their at the limits grip. The Kia handled unexpectedly well, the chassis never showed any nasty weaknesses often found in softly sprung cars. In short, it performed well, but not like a sports car, a pretty good compromise.
The rear seats were not as comfortable as the fronts, but there was plenty of stretching room and the child safety seats went in and out with ease. Puttering around town and on the road trips to Albertsons, Costco and Trader Joes was done with aplomb. Parking was a breeze and the car sipped small amounts of fuel. Kia offers long stem-to-stern warranties that they don't seem to have many people using them. Like most Kia cars the Spectra5 is nice looking, zippy to drive, should prove cheap to own, easy to service, and perform its utilitarian duties quite well.