What's New for 2009
The 2009 Kia Spectra gets just a few equipment changes. Active front headrests are now standard on all models, and EX models get cruise control as standard. Additionally, a sunroof can now be ordered for EX models.
Blame an almost stalled economy or fluctuating fuel prices, but no matter where you point the finger, the result is the same -- small cars have made a comeback. Suddenly, cars like the 2009 Kia Spectra aren't so easy to dismiss. As Kia's compact-car offering, the Spectra boasts a low base price, a comfortable interior and a highly impressive 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty.
Don't look for the Kia Spectra to outclass or outperform favorites in the compact-car segment such as the Honda Civic, the Mazda 3 or even the Toyota Corolla. All of the previously mentioned competitors are more refined. They also offer a wider range of optional equipment; for example, the Spectra's lack of optional antilock brakes on low-priced models should be of great concern to parents who want to buy their college students their first new car. In its favor, however, the Spectra has plenty of standard features, and the Spectra5 version has a little dash of sport-wagon attitude to go along with its added cargo space. Value is another plus, since the Spectra is a couple grand cheaper than segment leaders. Spunky performance is also part of the deal if you opt for the manual transmission.
The bottom line is that there are better compact fuel sippers, and the Kia Spectra shakes out about midpack if you line them all up -- it's better than some but not as good as many. However, those on strict budgets will find much to like about the 2009 Kia Spectra.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Kia Spectra is available as a sedan or hatchback. The sedan may be had in a choice of three trim levels: LX, EX and SX. The hatchback Spectra5 is only available in the top-of-the-line SX trim. The base LX is bare bones -- most folks will likely go with the EX, which has air-conditioning, cruise control, full power accessories, keyless entry and a CD/MP3 player with an auxiliary audio jack. The sporty SX adds a sport-tuned suspension, 16-inch alloy wheels, bigger tires, foglights, a rear spoiler, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, metal-finish interior accents and cloth sport seats. Major options include a six-CD changer and a sunroof.
Powertrains and Performance
Every Spectra comes with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 138 horsepower and 136 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard, with a four-speed automatic transmission available on all models except the LX sedan. Fuel mileage ratings are 24 mpg city/32 mpg highway and 27 mpg combined for Spectras with the automatic transmission; manual models have ratings that are just a tick lower.
The Spectra comes standard with front-seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags and active front head restraints. Antilock brakes are optional for the EX and SX trims only. In government crash tests, the Spectra earned a perfect five out of five stars for front-impact protection and four stars for side-impact protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rated the Spectra "Acceptable" (second best) for frontal-offset safety and one ranking lower -- "Marginal" -- for side-impact safety.
Interior Design and Special Features
The 2009 Kia Spectra offers a simple cabin layout with easy-to-use (and reach) controls and good build and materials quality. The seats are comfortable, and the storage cubbies and cupholders are generous in size. The overall look and feel of the interior is a few cuts above cars like the Ford Focus and Suzuki SX4. Kia didn't resort to any garish gimmicks to hide cheap materials, and the result is almost classy for a car in this price range.
If you need extra space, look at the Spectra5. It boasts an 18.3-cubic-foot cargo area and considerably more room if you lower the 60/40-split rear seats -- maximum cargo capacity is 53 cubic feet.
The Spectra is pleasant to drive overall, and its four-cylinder engine is peppy enough for getting around town. It remains fairly quiet at lower revs, but linger in any one gear for too long, and engine noise becomes intrusive. The manual gearbox is adequate and perhaps preferable to the four-speed automatic, which does not provide the quickest of gearchanges. The SX versions offer tighter handling and stiffer suspensions, but even on these models, overall ride quality is quite comfortable.