The Kia brand has a somewhat muddled marketing history here, and the Kia Spectra is no exception. Officially introduced to the marketplace in 2001, the Spectra has a very close relationship with the Kia Mentor released in 1998 and also the Kia Shuma, released in 2000 as well as the Cerato, released in 2004. So close is this relationship that it may be argued that these different models are in fact updated or pre-dated variants of a single model. To further add to this confusion, the Mentor and Shuma badges also referred to sedan variants at different times.
With this in mind, there is still some confusion on used car sites – for example, it is quite easy to find an advert on websites offering a 1998 Kia Spectra hatchback for sale all across the country, when officially this model did not exist in the Australian marketplace at that time. To avoid confusion and for the purposes of this article, we refer here to the five-door hatchbacks branded as the Kia Spectra between 2001 and 2004. The Spectra had only a single trim level during its 3-year existence.
When introduced, this car received great reviews for impressive affordability, as well as for solid handling, for its Lotus-tuned suspension, and for its array of standard features that were particularly impressive for a budget car of its class and price.
Under the bonnet, the Spectra was the subject of numerous improvements over its closely related Mentor and Shuma predecessors. Firstly, the engine capacity was increased from a standard 1.5L engine to a 1.8L engine which improved acceleration, delivering 94kW at 6000rpm and a torque of 146Nm in manual mode. Overall though, acceleration is not one of the Spectra’s strong points, reaching 0-100km/h in a leisurely 11.4 seconds. Indeed, the car can run out of steam at highway speeds and become a bit noisy in the process.
The Lotus-tuned suspension comes as standard on all models in the range, making for a pleasant, smooth ride. The Spectra is a more than competent handler with responsive steering, although the front disc and rear drum brakes require a lot of pressure to be applied on the pedal, resulting in a stopping performance that is perhaps not as sharp as other aspects of the car’s build.
The Spectra comes in a choice of a standard 4-speed automatic gearbox and a standard 5-speed manual gearbox. In terms of fuel economy, the manual gearbox is preferable to the automatic. The manual uses 7.3L/100km on the highway and 9.8L/100km in traffic to the automatic’s less impressive 7.8L/100km on the highway and 10.6L/100km in traffic.
Good suspension, coupled with impressive fuel economy, makes the Spectra an attractive purchase for anyone on a budget.
Standard kit on the Spectra throughout its 3-year existence included a 6-speaker stereo, adjustable steering column, air-conditioning, driver’s airbag, power wing mirrors, power steering, CD player, central-locking, remote boot release and fuel lid release, and engine immobiliser.
The Spectra came with a single option – metallic paint. Yet, the Spectra had such an impressive kit for a car of its price range that there was little need for a vast array of options.
The front seats are firm and pretty comfortable, providing a more than acceptable amount of lumbar and thigh support, and the dashboard has a simple layout with controls that are easy to manipulate. However, passengers in the rear seats are given minimal legroom, and the canted rear window impedes headroom for taller passengers.
The Kia Spectra had competition from the likes of the perennial favourite Honda Civic. With its sleek and wide range of body styles, greater number of standard features, and pleasant-looking interior, it was seen by some as a more attractive purchase. The Civic also keeps its resell value due to the relative prestige that comes with the Honda brand. However, this also means that it is more expensive than the Spectra brand new.
The Kia Spectra’s low price, great fuel economy, precise handling, and pleasant ride should make it preferable to the Civic for those on a budget who are in the market for a nice car.