With today’s feverish demand for sport-utes and luxury cars, you might think the sales for affordable sedans would be a little soft. And you’d be wrong. It turns out that small car sales are holding up quite well. And, freshmen automakers like Kia are cooking up new choices. Their latest recipes are the hatchback Spectra and the sub-compact Rio, and they promise more of that same Kia karma as their more veteran offerings, the Sephia sedan and Sportage SUV. But as the saying goes, the proof is in the pudding. So we’ll do some mixing and stirring, and then let you in on the taste test. And the first course is the Kia Spectra, a spicier alternative to the more utilitarian subcompact Sephia. Though based on the Sephia, the Spectra has styling that is unique, sportier, and more upscale, especially with our test car’s top GSX trim. In addition to a more adventurous headlight and grill design, the GSX package adds new front and rear fascias, body side cladding, and 14-inch alloy wheels to the otherwise bland Kia lines. But where the Spectra really differs from the Sephia 4-door sedan is in the rear, where the cleverly disguised hatchback opens to reveal that this is actually a five-door sedan. And with 10.4 cubic feet of trunk space, a rather useful and versatile one, as well. You see, both GS and GSX Spectras come equipped with 60/40 split folding seatbacks in the rear. To that, GSX trim adds A/C, cruise, power windows and locks, tilt wheel, and leather on the steering wheel and shift knob. Spectra power comes from the same 1.8-liter dual-overhead-cam 4-cylinder that powers the Sephia. It churns out 125 horsepower, and 108 pound-feet of torque. And with the standard 5-speed front drive manual, reaches 60 in a rather brisk if buzzy 8.8 seconds, and ran the 1/4 mile in 17.2 seconds at 81 miles-per-hour. And came down from 60 in an average of 119 feet. With a solid pedal, and excellent feedback, we saw minimal need for the optional ABS. In corners, the Spectra felt reasonably responsive, but not as solid. Cornering is a long way from a Honda Civic or Nissan Sentra. Yet, comparably equipped it costs less than its Japanese-brand competitors. Base price for the Korean-made Spectra GS is $11,245. GSX trim adds an extra $2,200 for a base price of $13,445. Now, that’s about where a base Civic DX sedans starts, and that’s not a hatchback. But if your budget, or parking space, is even more limited, Kia has another stylish subcompact solution, the cute as a button Rio. Measuring just 165.9-inches long, with a 94.9-inch wheelbase, you could look upon the Rio as Kia’s city sedan. And with a base price of $9,045, the lowest of any new car, you might not mind parking the Rio on the street. And, since Kia is now a part of Hyundai, it includes the parent firm’s impressive warranty package with 10-year powertrain protection. So, it’s cheap and worry free. Styling is more European than Asian on the Rio, with smooth lines and upscale clear lens headlights. The interior is straightforward, and surprisingly roomy, but the dash reflects the Rio’s bargain price. And the feel of most controls could use refinement. But rear seat room is quite generous for the subcompact class, as is the 10.2 cubic-feet of trunk space. Front drive Rio power is a 1.5-liter twin-cam 4-cylinder. Ratings are 108 horsepower and 103 pound-feet of torque with a 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic. With the rather vague manual shifter in hand, our Rio pulled to 60 in 9.3 seconds. And through the 1/4 mile in 17 seconds at 83 miles-per-hour. We pushed it through the corners, or rather it pushed the front end very hard. Grip was reasonable, though the steering lacked feel. While braking produced average stops from 60 of a longish 138 feet, with noticeable fade as the front discs and rear drums heated up. Here ABS is recommended. On urban and suburban roads, however, the Rio proved to be more solid, with an acceptably refined ride. We felt EPA fuel economy ratings of 27 City/32 Highway looked low. So, it was no surprise when our test loop was higher at 34 miles per gallon. Which along with the low price, and an almost life-of-the-car powertrain warranty, makes the Rio a pretty tasty blue plate special. And along with the Spectra and Sephia, gives Kia the most extensive menu of low cost, high value small cars on the market today.


  • Engine: 1.8-Liter, Dohc 4-Cylinder
  • Horsepower: 125
  • Torque: 108 Lb Feet
  • 0-60 MPH: 8.8 Seconds
  • 1/4 Mile: 17.2 Seconds @ 81 MPH
  • 60-0 MPH MPH: 119 Feet
  • EPA Mileage: 22 MPG City 32 MPG Highway