Economy cars are the hot topic these days as gasoline prices ebb ever closer to the $4 mark. Most people think gas-savers are too confining for appointments. Nothing can be further from the truth with regard to the new Kia models.
Take the Spectra5 I just test-drove. It is small and economical yet offered up a great deal of amenities that make driving a pleasant experience. Granted, you may not get noticed driving through Beverly Hills or South Beach but you can smirk at all of those exotic car drivers as you zip around town on just pennies' worth of fuel. With an EPA rating of 27 mpg city and 33 highway, the car passed more gas stations than I could count, and I loved it.
The base Kia Spectra offers several features, but I definitely recommend the optional antilock brake system. I rant and rave about many things and ABS is one I think should be standard equipment on every car. Thankfully, the price for ABS has come down significantly, so everyone significantly, so everyone should check this box on the option list.
Kia has billed this small wagon as a sporty edition over the basic sedan brethren. The extra measure of attitude comes via a rear spoiler, 16-inch wheels, fog lights and an aggressive-looking black front grille.
Lest we forget, Kia made its mark as a provider of economy cars. The Spectra5 is equipped with a DOHC 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that sips fuel, yet is quite zippy around town. This engine produces 138 horsepower and 136 pounds-feet of torque and while not a powerhouse, it responds nicely to the driver's right foot.
Shifting is via a five-speed manual transmission. However, a 5-speed automatic is an option. My test car was equipped with the manual, which I find to be the choice for a sportier feel.
Slicing through turns on a backcountry road is even more fun knowing the car gets a sport-tuned suspension system. Coupled with the special 16-inch alloy wheels and more aggressive tires, you have a car that likes to have fun at sharp turns. A stiffened chassis with the installation of a strut tower brace also aids this across the front.
The interior is decked in a new black dressing, including rugged fabric upholstered sport seats and interior panels along with a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a finishing accent of bright trim and the obligatory metal pedals.
Safety is a No. 1 priority at Kia and following through on that platform the Spectra5 puts disc brakes at all four wheels. However, just in case the unexpected happens, the Spectra5 is equipped with dual advanced front airbags, front seat-mounted side airbags and full-length side-curtain airbags.
Kia has come a long way from its tepid move into North America in the '90s. However, in the last five years or so, the carmaker has become a force to be reckoned with, particularly in the economy car segment. Once again, it has been able to engineer and build a capable and fun vehicle. The Spectra5 is certainly proof of that.