Downside: Adult passengers complained that the Spectra SX's seats were too hard. Children noted that the Spectra SX came without DVD, MP3 or iPod entertainment devices, all of which seem to have emerged as mandatory vehicle equipment in the minds of many young people. Adults pointed out that "economy" generally means "doing without."

Ride, acceleration and handling: Good in all three categories. The Spectra SX was impressive as a city car -- very nimble and maneuverable in brake-and-screech urban traffic; and it was easily parked in tight spaces.

Head-turning quotient: Appealing, pleasant exterior -- conservative without flirting with bland. Alas, the interior -- pleasing in its simple presentation and positioning of instrument panel dials and gauges -- is a work of overall boredom.

Body style/layout: The Spectra is a front-engine, front-wheel-drive, four-door compact family car with a traditional notchback trunk. There are three versions of the sedan -- LX, EX and SX. There also is a hatchback called the Spectra5.

Engine/transmissions: The Spectra SX comes with a standard two-liter, 16-valve, in-line four-cylinder engine that develops 138 horsepower at 6,000 revolutions per minute and 136 foot-pounds of torque at 4,500 rpm. The engine is mated to a standard five-speed manual transmission. A slightly more costly and somewhat less fuel-efficient four-speed automatic transmission is available.

Cargo and fuel capacities: The Spectra SX has seating for five people. Luggage capacity is 12.2 cubic feet. Fuel capacity is 14.5 gallons of recommended regular unleaded gasoline.

Mileage: We averaged 33 miles per gallon in urban-suburban commuting.

Safety: Six standard air bags, including front and rear head air bags; four-wheel disc brakes (vented front/solid rear); optional antilock brakes.

Price: Base price on the 2005 Kia Spectra SX with standard five-speed manual transmission is $15,250. Dealer's invoice price on base model is $14,285. Price as tested is $17,220, including $1,430 in options (sunroof, antilock brakes, cruise control and carpeted floor mats) and a $540 destination charge. Dealer's invoice price with options is $16,095. Current sales incentives total $1,750 on this car. Take them. Prices sourced from Kia, www.edmunds.com, and www.cars.com., a Washington Post affiliate.

Purse-strings note: Compare with any compact economy car from any manufacturer. The Spectra SX is a solid buy.