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Avg. Price Paid:$4,978 - $6,501
Original MSRP: $12,895 - $16,995
MPG: 23 City / 30 Hwy
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2008 Kia Spectra Performance

This performance review was written when the 2008 Kia Spectra was new.

The 2008 Kia Spectra provides good but not great performance for its class. New Car Test Drive says, "The Kia Spectra is not a hot rod, but its performance is respectable."

This respectable performance is a product of a 2.0-liter, inline four-cylinder engine, with no other engine available. Reviewers point out that the Spectra, like all small cars, has its benefits and drawbacks. Kelley Blue Book, for instance, finds, "The Spectra’s 2.0-liter engine doesn’t exactly inspire spirited driving, but it is a miserly consumer of fossil fuels." Common criticisms of the Spectra’s performance involve engine noise and soft handling, both of which become more noticeable at high speeds.

Acceleration and Power

The 2008 Kia Spectra offers a 2.0-liter, inline four that creates 138 horsepower and 136 pound-feet of torque. Reviewers, keeping in mind the performance expectations of affordable small cars, almost universally find the Spectra’s power sufficient. The Washington Post writes, "Even with five occupants, the car’s 138-horsepower, in-line four-cylinder engine had more than ample chutzpah to keep us competitive in high-speed highway traffic." MSN points out the engine "must be revved high for the best acceleration because it’s small." But while Edmunds finds that the Spectra's engine has enough muscle "for getting around town," it reminds buyers of a common complaint: "Unfortunately, engine noise is a bit intrusive at higher revs."

The Spectra is available with a five-speed manual transmission with overdrive or an optional electronically controlled four-speed automatic with overdrive. On balance both transmissions are seen as competent, but with slight annoyances not found in some of the better competition in the class. In evaluating the manual transmission, MSN observes that the "shifter works smoothly, but the clutch has a long throw."

Despite this small issue, most reviewers still prefer the manual five-speed transmission to the automatic four-speed. In making such a comparison between the available transmissions Carz Unlimited notes, "The manual gearbox is easy to shift, but the automatic transmission can be a tad slow to come up with downshifts", while Automobile Magazine complains that the "four-speed automatic suffers sky-high gearing," explaining, "first is taller than the manual’s second; fourth is taller than the manual’s fifth (and that’s before the higher final-drive ratio is factored in)." Providing a balanced observation, Consumer Guide notes that the "automatic saps enough energy to slow progress up steep hills," but finds that it is "generally smooth." According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the 2008 Spectra rates at 24 miles per gallon in the city and 32 mpg on highways when using an automatic. With the manual transmission, the Spectra rates at 23/30 mpg city/highway.

Handling and Braking

Reviewers generally agree that the Spectra has a soft ride but disagree as to whether this is good, bad, or simply a matter of preference. Motor Trend believes the Spectra’s ride has "a composed, balanced feel," and Carz Unlimited adds in agreement, "Ride quality is excellent for an economy car … as the suspension dutifully absorbs bumps and grooves." Consumer Guide observes that the "sedans emphasize comfort with one of the more absorbent rides in the class," and Carz Unlimited points out, "Handling is soft yet predictable with the standard suspension, but you can get a tauter setup by opting for the SX sedan."

The more sporty nature of the SX version was noted by many test drivers, perhaps best explained by Edmunds, which finds that the SX distinguishes itself "with tighter handling and stiffer suspension while also retaining an overall soft ride quality." As if of one mind, Cars.com asserts "The SX sedan is tauter, with no penalty in ride comfort."

However, the tradeoff between comfort and responsiveness in this Kia does not please all writers. "The Spectra steers with a pleasantly light touch and maneuvers smartly," writes Cars.com, adding, "This is a generally enjoyable car that exhibits no more body lean than other sedans in its league". However, the reviewer then immediately adds, "but it lacks a feeling of tight control." Automobile Magazine is perhaps more critical, noting, "In terms of dynamics, Kia clings to the notion that softness is next to godliness."

In all models, front suspension consists of McPherson struts, while the rear suspension consists of a dual-link configuration. Steering is power-assisted rack-and-pinion. Several reviewers note that steering response suffers at higher speeds. MSN, for instance, finds, "Low-speed maneuverability is good, with quick steering, but the Spectra doesn’t like to be driven more than moderately hard", and New Car Test Drive adds "When pushed, the car eases into understeer (plowing)," noting that the problem "is common for front-wheel-drive economy cars."

The Spectra has 10.8-inch vented disc brakes in the front and 10.2-inch solid discs in the back -- except for the LX, which has 10.1-inch drums in the rear. MSN claims, "The brake pedal helps allow easy stops with its progressive action." New Car Test Drive, however, reports, "The brake pedal in the test car was a bit mushy, but not enough to cause concern." Four-channel anti-lock brakes are optional for the SX.

Review Last Updated: 2/17/09

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