Kia Spectra Research & Reviews

Overview & Reviews

Average Score

4.26/5 Average
722 Total Reviews
Model Overview:

People buy compact economy cars because they're affordable and fuel-efficient, but the secret to building a great econobox is to make it look, feel and drive like a more expensive car than it really is. Kia never quite managed to do that with its now-defunct Spectra, though its replacement, the Forte is considerably closer to this ideal.

The original Kia Spectra hatchback and sedan were unrefined, underpowered and cheaply constructed. They reinforced the cheap-car image Americans held at the time regarding Korean cars. But the second-generation Spectra sedan and Spectra5 four-door hatchback counterpart moved up the scale considerably in terms of style, substance and refinement. However, the Spectra was still at the bottom of the crowded economy sedan segment when it was put out to pasture after the 2009 model year. If you just need wheels on the cheap, a used Spectra could satisfy, but we'd recommend anteing up for a more sophisticated rival.

Most Recent Kia Spectra

The most recent (second-generation) Kia Spectra was sold from midway through the 2004 model year through 2009. It was a compact sedan or (as of 2005) a hatchback that could seat four comfortably and five in a pinch. Both body styles featured a 138-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that provided spirited performance around town but felt a little winded during highway passing maneuvers. A standard five-speed manual transmission routed power to the front wheels, and a four-speed automatic was optional.

The sedan was offered in three trim levels -- LX, EX and SX. The Spectra5 hatchback was available in a single SX trim. The LX was bare-bones, but the EX boasted air-conditioning, a CD stereo, full power accessories and keyless entry. The SX model added upgraded interior and exterior trim, along with firmer suspension tuning and bigger wheels and tires. The Spectra's safety features included standard front seat-mounted side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags and four-wheel disc brakes. Antilock brakes were optional.

In reviews, we generally praised the Kia Spectra for its lengthy list of standard equipment, user-friendly cabin design, decent build and materials quality, smooth ride and competent handling. Criticisms included the engine's lack of pep at high speeds, disappointing real-world fuel economy, and steering that was a tad sloppy. Those looking for a used second-generation Spectra should note that resale values are quite low, so good deals will likely be easy to find.

Past Kia Spectra Models

The first-generation Kia Spectra was launched in the 2000 model year as a four-door hatchback and was offered through the 2004 model year (with the changeover to the current model happening midyear). New to Kia's lineup, the four-door Spectra hatchback served as a more youthful and practical complement to the more pedestrian Sephia sedan, with which it shared its 124-hp, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and major mechanicals. In 2002, Kia dropped the Sephia name altogether and began calling the sedan "Spectra" as well.

The Spectra hatchback originally came in two trim levels: GS and GSX. The base GS offered the essentials, little more than a CD player and a height- and lumbar-adjustable driver seat as standard (although air-conditioning became standard in '04). The GSX added A/C, power windows and locks, a tilt steering wheel and some body modifications intended to make it look sporty, while offering ABS, cruise control and a CD changer as options.

Once launched, the Spectra sedan carried over the Sephia's base and LS trim levels, which basically mirrored the hatchback's GS and GSX trims, respectively, in terms of features, save for the GSX hatchback's body modifications.

Editors at the time appreciated the Spectra's Lotus-tuned suspension, as it delivered decent handling and a smooth, if floaty, ride. Weak links included the brakes, tires and engine. Acceleration was sluggish at highway speeds, with a raucous engine note and unimpressive fuel economy. Inside, the Kia Spectra offered decent room for passengers, but materials quality and fit and finish were well below average. Anyone shopping for a used compact sedan or hatchback is advised to look elsewhere.

User Reviews:

Showing 1 through 10 of 722.00
  • Well I bought one! - 2006 Kia Spectra
    By -

    Well I bought my car brand new. I even peeled the plastic off the seats, and body. I tested it for 6 miles and said yes. I traded in my 2003 Mitsubishi Eclipse GS, which yes I do miss. But I have to say that I had more problems with the eclipse than I ever did with my Spectra. It's not the sportiest or fastest car I've ever owned, but I added a set of Autolite platinum plugs and a APC intake. so instead of that measly 138 standard horses I got about 145. Every once in a while I can get that good grip to spin those tires from a dead stop. I have more plan in the performance center, like that stage 2 turbo kit that I found on the net. A 300HP+ Kia Spectra is what I want. Hello Kia?

  • GREAT VALUE - 2005 Kia Spectra
    By -

    The cost $9450. almost $2700 below invoice. Took a test drive and immediately bought it. People are saying it gets bad gas mileage. I put mobil 1 oil in it after having driven 600 miles. I get 40 mpg on the road and 32 mpg overall town. I happy with it except the high speed of the engine during shift changes.

  • love my Spectra - 2006 Kia Spectra
    By -

    I LOVE MY SPECTRA! This is an excellent car. I looked at Honda, Toyota, Nissan, and Scion and they are all okay but don't compare to Kia. I chose the Polar Ice Blue and get stopped all the time and no one believes my car is a Kia. The gas mileage is excellent and it is so fun to drive. I leave my house earlier for work so that I can take the scenic route.

  • review - 2005 Kia Spectra
    By -

    All around good commuter; you're not going to win any car shows but you know you'll get to work on time and might even have some fun doing so.

  • harsh ride, otherwise ok - 2003 Kia Spectra
    By -

    Just purchased this car two weeks ago, mostly based on ratings at this site coupled with the cheap price and good gas mileage. I did not notice on the test drive how noisy the ride is. Every pebble feels like a pothole and need to have radio on to drown out the engine noise. Am told by mechanics that this is how they sound and you get what you pay for. Would rather have an older Corolla.

  • 2005 Kia Spectra - 2005 Kia Spectra
    By -

    I bought the car with 44,000 in 2007, and at 85,000 the engine became completely clogged with oil despite regular oil changes every 3,000-5,000 miles. The manual recommends changing the oil every 7,500. A Kia dealership just said to change the oil every 1,000 miles, to clear the clog but that didn't work, and I had to replace the engine. After the replacement, I've since learned this has been a problem with this particular engine, and Kia has stopped making it.

  • GSX rules - 2002 Kia Spectra
    By -

    I have had no problems with window seals or handling with my Kia GSX it took a while to get what I wanted and I still was not able to get the ABS that I wanted.My Kia looks sharp and gets good mileage. I also have lots of room in the trunk which is a major plus. I also like the warranty that comes with it! Thank you Kia!

  • Not a Bad Econobox - 2002 Kia Spectra
    By -

    not bad at all for the price. Haven't had any major problems or any mechanical problems with the car. I drive a lot, and i mean a lot. pushing 30000 in just 6 months of driving. However, i have had a lot of minor annoyances with the car. Such as the stereo didn't match the Sticker, the Back seat doesn't latch correctly, the Truck Release is flaky at best. Overall Though its a good deal for the money.

  • Nice lil car - 2005 Kia Spectra
    By -

    At 6'5'', 300 lbs I wondered at first if I could even fit in it, to my surprise I did. Now at about 45000 miles I can't complain much. It has good power and with the stick in it I really go if I need to, but I think it needs to have a sixth gear in it. I put an after market sound system in but left the factory deck in it and it sounds quite good. I had no problems other than the front spoiler is gone due to rubbing on parking ties and drive entries.

  • Great Car - 2002 Kia Spectra
    By -

    OK, So i bought this car used at about 25k and have had it for 22k. I probably can say that this car is a better performing car than my friend's Civic (in power that is). Great gas mileage, little trouble, except when I had to change my front wheel bearings [covered under warranty even @45K). I am little concerned with the brakes; they tend to be needing readjusting every so often to fix the weak braking power. As second owner I have the 5 year/60k warranty which I have used 3 time's when I locked myself out :-). Mine is a LS 5 speed with everything except the ABS. I LOOOOVE the car. I believe the KIA's need to be taken more seriously.

Kia Spectra Reviews By Year:
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