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The Good

The gas-saving 2009 Kia Spectra delivers basic comfort, steady performance, sure handling, and one of the best warranties in the business.

The Bad

Iffy safety ratings, mediocre resale value and a noisy engine keep the ’09 Kia Spectra behind the competition.

The CarGurus View

The 2009 Kia Spectra offers few frills but decent performance and great fuel economy. An underachiever in safety ratings and no standard ABS, however, won’t make it popular as a first car for a teen driver.

At a Glance

On a tight budget? Need a miserly sedan or hatchback? The 2009 Kia Spectra fits nicely into both niches. Available as either a four-door family sedan or a five-door hatchback, the compact Kia Spectra doesn’t have the brand recognition of the Ford Focus, the MAZDA3, or the Toyota Corolla, but does its job with quiet (sort of) determination.

The front-wheel-drive 2009 Kia Spectra is delivered in four trim levels, the base LX, midlevel EX, sporty SX, and the Spectra5 SX wagon. All trims offer a 2.0-liter inline four (I4) with a five-speed manual transmission. A Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle (SULEV) package is offered with the Spectra, as is a four-speed automatic transmission.

First introduced in 2000, the Kia Spectra was extensively redesigned for the 2005 model year and, except for a few tweaks here and there, remains unchanged for 2009. The Spectra receives active front head restraints and a few minor cabin modifications, as well as standard cruise control and a sunroof option for the midlevel EX trim.

Most reviewers found the Kia Spectra to be comfortable, agile, sprightly, inexpensive to own and drive, but a bit short on standard safety features, ABS being an optional feature offered only with the EX, SX and Spectra5 SX trims. Without the panache common to the Elantras, Focuses, and Corollas of the world, Kia also lacks the resale value of its better-known competitors, though with Kia being a subsidiary of Hyundai, perhaps the Elantra is more a case of sibling rivalry.


All 2009 Kia Spectra trims are equipped with the dual-cam, 16-valve, Continuously-Variable-Valve-Timing (CVVT) 2.0-liter I4 that, in combination with its standard five-speed manual transmission, puts out 138 hp at 6,000 RPM and 136 lb-ft of torque at 4,500 RPM. A four-speed automatic transmission is also available with all Spectra trims. The EPA estimates 23/30 mpg with the manual transmission and 24/32 with the automatic.

The available SULEV package takes away 6 hp and 3 lb-ft of torque, but owners can derive some satisfaction knowing that, except for a hybrid, the Kia Spectra with the SULEV package is about as green as it gets.

Professional reviewers find the Spectra's I4 powerful enough around the city, but a bit strained when passing and merging. They note as well that the engine runs quietly enough at low revs, but is intrusively noisy on acceleration. Reviewers also mention that the five-speed stick shift is a bit more responsive than the automatic. A few reviewers, however, find that the manual transmission feels “rubbery,” and that it has a long throw that takes some getting used to. The four-speed automatic is found to respond well when you give Spectra the gas, but it devours a significant amount of hill-climbing power and isn’t the quickest shifting tranny on the market.

Ride & Handling

The ’09 Kia Spectra sports a front and rear independent suspension, with MacPherson rear struts, front and rear torsion bars, and a multi-link rear axle that altogether provide a comfortable and enjoyable ride. With a stiffer sport-tuned suspension, the Spectra SX and Spectra5 SX trims are described by one reviewer as a “hoot” to drive.

The Spectra LX and EX trims sport 15-inch steel wheels, and the SX and Spectra5 SX roll on 16-inch alloy wheels. Softer tires, solid construction, and power rack-and-pinion steering on all Spectra trims smooth out the ride and tighten the corners.

Front disc and rear drum brakes are standard on the LX trim, with all other trims featuring four-wheel disc brakes.

Professional reviewers are by and large impressed with the ride and handling characteristics of the ’09 Spectra, but some note an annoying sway in the LX and EX trims on bumpy surfaces. With their stiffer suspension packages, the SX and Spectra5 SX keep things a bit more together on uneven surfaces, showing a pleasantly surprising agility on windy roads even without any sort of performance steering package.

Cabin & Comfort

Don’t expect luxury in the 2009 Kia Spectra lineup, but roominess, storage space, and passenger comfort abound, while reviewers find the gauges well-positioned and easy to read. Controls are handy and well-marked. Storage cubbies are large and convenient, and seats are comfortable, if not exactly plush. In addition, the Spectra5 SX hatchback offers 53 cubic feet of cargo area with the rear seats folded down.

The ’09 Kia Spectra LX comes standard with body-color moldings, tinted glass, a 60/40 split-folding rear seat, single-disc CD player with six speakers, and tilt-wheel steering. Options include air-conditioning, floormats, and a rear spoiler. Standard features for the Spectra EX trim include air-conditioning, heated power outside mirrors, power windows and locks, remote keyless entry, dual rear cupholders, and four-wheel disc brakes. Options include alloy wheels, cruise control (with the alloys), and wheel locks.

For 2009, Kia Spectra SX and Spectra5 SX offer such standard features as foglights, unique front and rear styling, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift column, metallic finishing on trim and pedals, and cruise control. Options for the SX trims include four-wheel ABS, a sunroof, six-disc CD changer with MP3 capability, and remote start with the available four-speed automatic transmission.


If the 2009 Kia Spectra has one weakness that reviewers have pounced on, it’s a less-than-sterling list of standard safety features. Antilock braking is an option only for the EX, SX, and Spectra5 SX trims, leading one reviewer to question its choice as a teenager’s first auto.

Standard safety features that do come with the Kia Spectra include advanced front airbags, side impact air bags, supplemental side curtain airbags, side impact door beams, a tire pressure monitoring system, child-seat tethers, and child safety locks.

The NHTSA gives the ’09 Spectra five stars in front impact tests and four stars in side impact and rollover testing. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rates the Kia Spectra as “acceptable” in front impact testing, it’s second-best rating, and as “marginal” in side impact tests.

What Owners Think

Owners are pleased with the mileage that the 2009 Kia Spectra delivers with either the manual (23/30) or the automatic (24/32). Some, though, are not so pleased with the cable leading to the locking gas cap, fearing a freeze-up in wintry weather that would leave them unable to refuel.

Other concerns for owners include a soft clutch pedal and an annoying lack of legroom when riding in the Spectra's back seat. Some owners also felt that the tachometer was occasionally a bit difficult to read and that the Spectra ought to be equipped with wheels that take the more common five lug nuts, thereby allowing a bit wider choice of aftermarket rims.

Unexpected roominess, sure steering, a smooth, quiet ride, a spacious engine compartment, and a cleaner body design for the 2009 Kia Spectra have impressed nearly all owners, with one claiming eternal loyalty.


Have Laptop. Will Travel. I'm retired and travelling the country in a 34' motor home. I'm really digging meeting people . . and sometimes their cars . . . getting a sense of what makes this nation tick. The plan is to visit all the national parks in the continental US, then cruise to Alaska to visit Denali, and to Hawaii to check out Haleakala and the Hawaii Volcano's national parks. Anyhow, when I'm not horsing the motor home around the roadways, I'm tooting around in the 2012 Ford Focus that we tow behind, or making runs to Home Depot and various malls with the 2004 F-150 that just won't die.

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Kia Spectra Questions

Spectra Interchangeability

Will kia 2007 Spectra bumper and passenger side door be interchangeable with my 2009 Spectra EX

Cd Player Doesn't Work

My cd player doesn't work. I'll load a cd in the player act like it's working and then nothing happens accept the cd gets stuck. Please advise

Why Does My Car Have Zero Power After Battery And Alternator Change?

I changed my battery and alternator in my car after it drained battery. Now i have zero power to the car


Where Is The Fuel Filter Located And How Do I Replace It?

Would like to replace it myself rather than go into a mechanic. Thanks!


How To Fix The Air Not Blowing Out?

There is no air coming out when its on. The A/C unit kicks on but nothing blows out, even when switched to heat.