If Santa didnít bring everything you were hoping for, let me make an extremely affordable suggestion that will jump start the New Year.

During the week of Christmas, my media fleet driver happened to deliver one very cool sled for me to test drive during the holidays.

I have to say, the 2008 Kia Spectra5 has absolutely blown me away. While I have to give it back at the end of my review period, I am passing along the holiday cheer by recommending this compact hatchback to as many people as I can.

With a base price starting below $16,000, the five-door Spectra5 is an absolute blast to drive. And for a compact, it also provides spacious accommodations for five passengers while providing the flexibility to carry nearly 53 cubic feet of cargo with the rear seat folded flat (18.3 cubic feet of cargo room behind the rear seat).

Best of all, it also has a 2008 EPA fuel economy rating of 24 mpg city, 32 mpg highway. Equipped with a 14 gallon fuel tank, it can stretch those limited fuel dollars a long, long way ó which is also another reason to do something nice for yourself. Itís also rated as a Low Emissions Vehicle.

Based on the Spectra sedan platform (the next model above the entry-level Rio in Kiaís lineup), the front-wheel drive Spectra5 is powered by a 2.0-liter I-4 engine cranking out an extremely peppy 138 horsepower and 136 lbs.-ft. torque.

Itís not a racecar, however, during my test drive in city and highway driving conditions, I never once felt the need for more power.

Available with either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission, the Spectra5 provided acceleration on demand and was very responsive.

While my test vehicle was equipped with the manual transmission, I also had a blast shifting through the gears in what I would consider a sporty car in an economy package.

The Spectra5ís performance characteristics are deceptive. Riding on a unibody frame and equipped with an independent four-wheel suspension system, it delivers a very performance-oriented ride for a compact sedan.

Standard features include a six-way adjustable driverís seat, tilt steering column, 60/40 split-fold rear seat, rear window defroster, dual 12-volt power outlets in the center console, AM/FM/CD six-speaker audio system with auxiliary audio input jack for MP3 players, power windows and door locks, remote keyless entry, air conditioning, cruise control and dual front and rear cup holders.

Optional upgrades include anti-lock brakes, automatic transmission and a sunroof.

When it comes to safety, the Spectra has earned a five-star frontal crash safety rating by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and includes dual front advanced airbags, dual front seat-mounted side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, front seatbelt pretensioners and force limiters, LATCH child safety seat system and a tire pressure monitoring system.

The Spectra5 is also backed by Kiaís 5-year/60,000-mile basic warranty with 24-hour roadside assistance and 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty. †

The 2008 Kia Spectra5 is one cool sled thatís not only affordable; itís an absolute blast to drive. For those looking for a transportation solution thatís both fun and practical, this is an absolute must to add to the test drive list.

Neal White has been covering the automotive industry for more than 15 years and is affiliated with the Texas Auto Writers Association and the Midwest Automotive Media Association. Comments may be sent to Neal at neal.white@waxahachiedailylight.com.