With only about 5,000 miles under its belt, and on the way back from an otherwise great get-away, the car suddenly would not shift into Park. So there we were — 100 miles from home, the key stuck in the ignition, and a car that could not be turned off or locked. At least the brake kept the vehicle from rolling when parked and placed in Neutral. After that episode, I don’t care much for the Spectra.

That said, there are some upsides. For example, it’s kind of amazing a new car is even available for around $16,000. And gas mileage is good at 27/35 EPA.

Outside, the vehicle is nothing special. Out tester’s Radiant Red paint job helped spice things up a bit. The car has four doors and a serviceable interior with cloth-covered seats. These include a 60/40 split folding rear, along with a fully reclining passenger seat, handy for taking a nap. The steering column is clad in cheap-looking plastic, a bad choice. It was full of ugly scratches from drivers missing the slot when inserting the ignition key.

My front-seat passenger complained about the leg room. Another annoyance: poorly placed window controls. A natural motion to lower the driver window inevitably lowered the rear window instead. Nice interior touches came from coffee holders between the front seats that adjust for cup size and a retractable plastic hook on the right side of the dash handy for hanging a purse or a small trash bag.

The ride is a bit bumpy and harsh, but a 2.0 L four-cylinder 16 valve DOHC engine provided plenty of passing power even on hilly Pennsylvania roads. Power rack-and-pinion steering took the curves neatly and power, disc brakes on all four wheels stopped the car quickly. However, even before the four-speed transmission jammed, it was sometimes hard to shift into gear. Fortunately, a display near the speedometer shows what gear the car is in.

Where the Spectra probably passes muster is safety. Features include side-door impact beams, front and rear crumple zones, and dual front and full-length side airbags. There are also front height-adjustable seatbelt anchors, front seat-belt pretensioners with force limiters, and lower anchors and tethers for children (LATCH).

The manufacturer’s suggested retail on our tester was $15,895.00. Cruise control ($250.00) and freight and handling brought this to $16,745.00.

—Leslie Gordon.

Kia Spectra