What's New for 2006
The base LX sedan has been dropped, and the EX no longer features foglamps or rear disc brakes. On the plus side, all models now come with floor mats and a cabin air filter, while the SX and Spectra5 gain standard cruise control. The optional four-speed automatic transmission has been redesigned this year for greater durability and smoothness (although models with SULEV emissions still use last year's unit).
The Spectra's origins in the U.S. market date back to 1994 when the compact Sephia sedan was introduced. In 2000, Kia added a five-door hatchback companion called the Spectra in an effort to reach out to younger drivers. In 2002, the Sephia sedan took the name "Spectra" as well. Although decently equipped, neither the Spectra sedan nor the hatchback had the level of refinement or quality necessary to get the attention of Civic and Corolla buyers. However, a groundbreaking redesign came midway through 2004 and established the Kia Spectra as the value leader in the economy car segment. Roomy, well equipped and for the most part pleasant to drive, the Spectra is worth the attention of anyone shopping for an affordable compact car.
A 138-hp, 2.0-liter engine is standard, and it's tuned to deliver a healthy dose of torque right off the line, allowing the Kia car to get around town and merge into freeway traffic with ease. Unfortunately, the engine begins to run out of steam at midrange rpm and gets a bit noisy in the process -- this is one of the few areas in which the Kia Spectra doesn't match up to the Civic and Corolla. Ride quality is excellent for an economy car, though, as the suspension dutifully absorbs bumps and grooves. Handling is soft yet predictable with the standard suspension, but you can get a tauter setup by opting for the SX sedan or Spectra5 hatchback, which also provides extra body cladding and sportier interior trim.
Inside, the furnishings are nothing too exciting, but a simple control layout, above-average build and materials quality and standard side curtain airbags count for plenty in this segment. So do comfortable seats, and the Kia Spectra offers plenty of room for both front and rear occupants. A vast selection of trays, bins, pockets and containers provides a spot for anything you happen to be carrying, while six large cupholders make road-trip dehydration a thing of the past. Although class leaders like the Civic and Mazda3 are still a few steps ahead of the Spectra when it comes to performance and refinement, we think highly of this Kia car. If you're looking for a well-rounded economy sedan or hatchback, the 2006 Kia Spectra is definitely worth a test-drive.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The Kia Spectra sedan is available in EX and SX trims, while the five-door Spectra5 hatchback is available in one trim only. The EX features air conditioning, six-speaker CD stereo, height-adjustable driver seat, tilt steering wheel, a 60/40 rear seat, power windows and locks, heated power mirrors and keyless entry. The SX sedan and Spectra5 hatchback add front and rear spoilers, side sills, rear valance, black grille, black headlight bezels, upgraded tires and 16-inch alloys and a sport-tuned suspension (on manual transmission models, a front strut tower bar is also included). Inside, leather trim on the steering wheel, shift knob and parking brake handle add a sporty touch, as do sport cloth seats, metal-look trim and metal pedals.
Powertrains and Performance
The Kia Spectra features a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine with 138 hp and 135 lb-ft of torque (132 hp and 133 lb-ft with SULEV emissions equipment). Buyers can choose a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy is a respectable 25 mpg city/33 mpg highway.
Four-wheel disc brakes are standard on all models except the EX, which has rear drums. Antilock brakes are optional. All Spectras feature standard front-seat-mounted side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. In government crash tests, the 2006 Kia Spectra earned a rating of four stars (out of five) for front-impact protection. It also earned four stars for front-occupant protection in side impacts. Rear-seat side-impact protection rated a mediocre three stars. In IIHS testing, the Spectra rated "Acceptable" (second best) for frontal-offset safety and "Poor" for side-impact safety.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Kia Spectra offers a simple cabin layout with logically arranged controls and above-average build and materials quality. The front seats are downright comfortable with enough shoulder, hip- and legroom to accommodate large adults. There's plenty of legroom in back as well, and the rear bench is generously cushioned. A vast selection of trays, bins, pockets and containers provides a spot for anything you happen to be carrying, while six large cupholders make road-trip dehydration a thing of the past. The sedan's trunk capacity is bit small for this class at 12.2 cubic feet, but the Spectra5 boasts an accommodating 18.3-cubic-foot cargo area (52.8 cubic feet with the seats down).
The 2.0-liter inline four provides enough muscle around town for the small sedan and hatchback, but feels less spirited during high-speed maneuvers. Another downside is that engine noise can be obtrusive at speeds of 70 mph and above. The manual gearbox is easy to shift, but the automatic transmission can be a tad slow to come up with downshifts. The EX sedan offers a smooth ride, strong brakes and competent if not exactly sporty handling. The Spectra5 and SX sedan kick it up a notch with tighter handling while also retaining the supple ride quality of the less sporting EX sedan.