Spicy, Sporty, Midmarket Bargains

The 2005 Pontiac G6The 2005 Pontiac G6
This spicy midsize sedan made headline news last year when it made its media debut as the ?the car Oprah gave away.? While viewers marveled as the daytime diva gave away 276 brand-new Pontiac G6s, auto industry watchers wondered if this marketing coup could put the all-new Pontiac G6 over the top in sales.

Make no mistake, there is a lot to love about General Motors? replacement for the long-running Pontiac Grand Am. This new sedan offers some pretty impressive class-leading standard equipment, including a smooth and powerful 200-horsepower 3.5 liter V-6 engine and even some unique features, such as remote starting and an available four-section ?panorama sunroof? that extends almost the length of the car?s ceiling to give it the feel of a convertible. The panorama sunroof is a feature you tend to find on $60,000 luxury cars, not $20,000 bread-and-butter cars like the G6.

The G6 is an attractive vehicle cloaked in style. The interior is a vast improvement from the plastic, juvenile-looking interiors of the Grand Am and Grand Prix. There?s an attractive steering wheel, not just a huge blob of extruded plastic to cover up the airbag. Storage cubbies abound, and a good-sized center console map pocket provides a comfortable resting spot for your right forearm. GM needs some winners in the midpriced market, and the G6 could very well be among them.

The 2005 Kia Spectra5The 2005 Kia Spectra5
Kia certainly has another hit on its hands with the 2005 Spectra5 five-door hatchback. With a starting price of just a tick under $15,000, the Spectra5 is a bargain, especially with its standard side-curtain airbags. Couple this safety feature with standard side-impact airbags, a 138-horsepower engine and a 10-year/ 100,000-mile warranty, and it will be hard for cash-strapped car buyers to ignore the stylish Spectra5, especially given its handy cargo-swallowing hatchback configuration and sport-tuned suspension.

The all-new Spectra is available as a four-door sedan or five-door wagon, which is the Spectra5. Both are considerably more refined than the old model, with a more powerful 2.0-liter four-banger and spacious interior. While the 2005 Spectra5 may not match the Mazda3 in gutsy styling, it?s close enough in price and performance to become a serious alternative. The interior roominess is truly amazing, as much in the rear as up front, while the tall car stance is a boon to anyone for whom ducking and bending can be a serious challenge.

Even the base LX includes front side-impact airbags and full-coverage curtain airbags as standard, something you generally find only on luxury cars. The EX adds air-conditioning, power windows and mirrors, and central locking, with ABS as an option. The Spectra5 has a more sporty suspension and larger wheels. Be careful with the options, though, because if every box on the list gets checked, the 2005 Kia Spectra5 goes for about $18,000, negating to some degree the point of buying one in the first place.

Still, the new Spectra is a compelling alternative to more established competitors.