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How different are these cars from Spectras?
The last generation of Elantra (through 2006) is very similar to the Spectra. The new Elantras share a lot of powertrain components, but the suspension is different.
IIRC, the current Spectra is riding on the platform from the last-gen (XD) Elantra. Maybe they've freshened it up some. Well, the XD Elantra is a pretty nice car, so there's nothing to worry about.
Before I bought my Spectra in March 2008, I had a shoot-out driving Spectra SX and EX, Elantra SE and GLS, and Suzuki SX4 sedan.

The Spectra SX has a bit firmer suspension with more roll resistance, vs. the Elantra. The SX4 is firmest of all.

For MY 2009, the uplevel Elantra (SE) has a firmer suspension system (sport tuned suspension) than the GLS. Similar to the progression in the Spectra, with LX and EX having more compliant suspension and the SX having the sport tuned suspension.
Both lines have 15" wheels on the cheaper models, and move to 16" alloys at the top, i.e. SX and SE.

Roll and wallowing are not a problem even with base suspension. These are not Buicks, after all. My Spectra is stable and sound at 80+ even in heavy crosswinds.

With the same drivetrains, the Spectra and Elantra are similarly motivated. With CVVT there's more low and mid range torque than you'd expect of a 2 liter motor.

The Elantra has a more visible instrument panel, with better contrasts. It's lit in blue vs. the Spectra's greenish. Spectra has grey-on-grey contrast which can be a pain.
Elantra has a trap door catch-all on top of the dash, Spectra doesn't.
Layout is about the same, the HVAC controls are moved around but basically the same.

Elantra has a 14 cu. ft. trunk vs. 12 for Spectra. Both have folding rear seats. Elantra has a rear center armrest, Spectra doesn't.
Elantra is rated as a mid-size car due to interior space, but I drove one a few days ago and it's not something that jumps out at you.

Elantra line has ABS standard throughout. ABS is still somewhat rare in Spectras.

Given that, and my own strong personal bias FOR ABS, I bought a Spectra w/o ABS because the four-wheel discs are an excellent set up with great feel and control.
I did have to make some adjustments for winter driving, as I'd gotten a little lazy and was in the habit of letting the ABS do my thinking on slick surfaces.
Hey, just cram the brakes on, and the system will do its thing!
I now don't have that luxury, and hopefully it's made me a somewhat more aware driver.

If you want a stick, head for the KIA lot. When I was shopping, and later in the summer, about 70% of the Spectras on the lot were sticks. Pretty unusual in this day and age.

You can still get a bare-bones Spectra. It's the LX model with hand-crank windows, no AC, no PDL, hand-toggle sorta-remote control outside mirror controls, rear drums.
The only real difference is their appearance. The Elantra tends to be more expensive though.

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