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New Car Review: 2004 Kia Amanti

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MODEL: Kia Amanti
ENGINE: 3.5-liter DOHC V6
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 200 hp @ 5,500 rpm/220 lb-ft @ 3,500 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 5-speed automatic
WHEELBASE: 110.2 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 196.0 x 72.8 x 58.5 in.
TIRES: P225/60R16
FUEL ECONOMY: 17 mpg city/25 mpg highway/18.7 mpg test

In the 1950s, when I was growing up (well, actually, I was already grown), Mercury had a model they called the Turnpike Cruiser. This was a large car, in the manner of the times, and had a lot of doodads attached to make it look high tech (such as extra antennas). The car was also designed for luxurious turnpike cruising, and made any such excursion a pleasure. Sure, the ride was sometimes so soft that you could get seasick, but in general the Turnpike Cruiser reflected the times, and they weren't all that bad.

I was reminded of the Turnpike Cruiser when I was driving the Kia Amanti. Here is a car classified as "large" in today's times that offers the same sort of ride as the old Mercury, but updated to a more modern idiom.

For example, the ride is plush, but not as wishy-washy as in the old Merc. The Amanti still prefers turnpike cruising to winding roads, but it doesn't shy away from the twisty-turnys either. But it's perfect for the Interstates, which didn't exist in the Fifties.

The whole Amanti experience is very Fifties American car -oriented. Despite the fact that the Amanti's exterior styling is a cross between a Chrysler 300 and a Mercedes-Benz E-Class, the interior is All American. There's leather seating and a tasteful amount of woodlike plastic trim. The rear seats are ultra-comfortable with tons of legroom for even the tallest passengers. Three can sit back there in ease. And the trunk, again 1950s American. It's large, with enough room for four golf bags. Volume is listed at 15.5 cubic feet, but it seems larger.

The Amanti is based on the Hyundai XG350, but is four inches longer on a two-inch longer wheelbase. It's also about 350 pounds heavier, which gives it that better ride. The engine is the same 3.5-liter DOHC V6, producing 200 horsepower. This is low for a 3.5-liter, since 3.0-liter engines are above 200 horses now. But the Amanti engine, combined with the shared 5-speed automatic gearbox with a manual mode, offers excellent acceleration. The engine is also capable of keeping up with winding roads on hills, a tough test for a "luxury" car.

I was pleased that Kia has developed (even with Hyundai's assistance) such a quality car. The designers did their homework in putting the package together. For example, the power seat controls are door-mounted, a la Mercedes-Benz. The audio and cruise control switches are located on the steering wheel, but they don't get in the way when you're using the wheel for turning the car. There's a "dead pedal" for the driver to place his or her left foot, a feature many luxury cars seem to feel isn't necessary. Al the windows are power up and down and are automatic one-touch affairs.

Under the hood, the engine bay seems crowded with a huge engine cover. However, the oil dip stick and filler are right in front where you can both find them and use them. The coolant filler, washer fluid filler, brake fluid filler are also in front. And while the battery is covered, there are clearly labeled hatches to expose the terminals.

There's a lot to like about the Kia Amanti. I think it's attractive from the side and rear, but I don't like the Chrysler-inspired grille. I don't like it on Chryslers either. When everything about the car is so tasteful, it's a shame to mess it up with a clunky grille.

The Amanti carried a base price of $24,995. Our tester had a convenience package ($900, includes sunroof, heated front seats, auto-dimming inside mirror with Homelink), Leather Package ($1,805, includes leather seat trim, 2-position memory for driver's seat and outside mirrors, Infinity AM/FM/Cassette/6-disc audio system and a 4-inch monitor with trip computer), and a $20 first aid kit. Add $540 for inland freight and handling and you come up with the bottom line of $28,260.

If I remember correctly, the Turnpike Cruiser had a factory price of $3,849 for a four-door hardtop sedan. Factoring in the costs of inflation, plus sensible things like seat belts and air bags, the Kia Amanti is an excellent bargain.

2004 The Auto Page Syndicate