Used 2002 Kia Spectra Review

Edmunds expert review

The Spectra will never be called a great car, but for some, it might prove to be a good bargain.

What's new for 2002

The Kia Sephia has officially been renamed the Spectra sedan. Got that? So now, there's the Spectra hatchback and the sedan; they've always shared mechanicals, so no big change there. The sedan will now sport some exterior styling cues borrowed from the five-door version.

Vehicle overview

If you're gung-ho about three-box sedans, the Sephia sedan switches to the Spectra nameplate for this year. But our favorite is the utilitarian hatchback model. Why? Five-door hatchbacks have always been hot sellers in Asian and European markets, but American buyers have shunned the concept -- so much so that Ford initially left the five-door hatchback out of the U.S. Focus lineup. The Spectra hatchback's duplicitous design does a good job of hiding the fact that it is indeed a five-door and not a sedan, and therein lies its appeal. Two trim levels are available for the hatchback: GS and GSX. The sparsely equipped GS includes fabric upholstery, split-folding rear seat, cassette player, rear defroster and two-speed wipers. Optional equipment includes A/C, body-color side moldings, rear wiper/washer, floor mats and an automatic transmission. GSX adds alloy wheels, a rear spoiler, tape stripes and special fabric for a sporty look. It also provides power windows and locks, air conditioning and a tilt steering wheel. ABS, a CD player, cruise control and power windows are available only on the GSX.

Sedans come in Base or LS trim. Base equipment on the sedan includes power steering, four-wheel independent suspension with front and rear stabilizer bars, wheel covers, dual exterior mirrors, theft-deterrent system, rear defogger, cassette stereo, 60/40 split-folding rear seat and fabric upholstery. The upgraded LS adds air conditioning, power windows and door locks, bodyside moldings, tilt steering wheel and a driver seat cushion tilt feature. Buyers can add woodgrain dash appliques, a rear spoiler and floor mats, but goodies like cruise control, alloy wheels, power mirrors and ABS are limited to the more expensive LS.

Powered by a 125-horsepower 1.8-liter DOHC four-cylinder engine and mated to a standard five-speed manual gearbox (a four-speed automatic is optional), the Spectra provides decent fuel economy (23 city and 29 highway) but lacks capable acceleration off idle and during passing maneuvers. Additionally, the raucous motor makes an incessant whine at higher revs, which can grate on the driver's nerves.

The Spectra proves to be a competent handler, exhibiting limited body roll and responsive steering. Too bad cheap tires ruin the fun in the twisties. On the highway, the Spectra smoothes out bumps, but floats like a boat over highway expansion joints despite the Lotus-tuned suspension. Front disc/rear drum brakes are barely adequate, requiring lots of pedal pressure that results in mediocre stopping performance.

Firm front seats are reasonably comfortable, with a decent amount of lumbar and thigh support, and the simple layout of the dashboard and controls makes the Spectra easy to manipulate. Rear-seat riders get minimal legroom, and the canted rear glass impedes valuable headroom. Things are improved in the sedan, however, with a more useable rear seat in which four adults can fit with a minimum of contortion. Interior materials are not the Spectra's strong suit with headliner, dash panel and seat-fabric quality well below that of slightly more expensive competitors.

Higher-grade interior materials, along with a more powerful engine and improved brakes, would do wonders for this Kia's overall desirability. Still, you can't deny its substantial price and utility advantages over the competition.

Another incentive to consider the Spectra is Kia's Long-Haul Warranty Program, which consists of a 10-year/100,000-mile limited powertrain warranty, a 5-year/60,000-mile limited basic warranty, a 5-year/100,000-mile anti-perforation warranty (which protects against holes in the body caused by rust) and a 5-year/unlimited mileage roadside assistance plan. This impressive package should add some peace of mind to Spectra ownership.

For first-time buyers and college students trying to survive on Top Ramen, as well as those who desire the utility that only a five-door hatchback can provide, the Spectra is worth a look. Others might want to consider shopping around, especially with Hyundai's well-equipped and more powerful Elantra as competition.

Edmunds expert review process

This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.

We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.