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New Car Review: 2004 Kia Amanti

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Kia goes upscale with the 2004 Amanti

By: Walter Hager

February 3, 1994 may or may not have significant meaning to you, but it does hold a place in automotive history. That was the day that Kia Motors officially entered the U.S. market with the compact Sephia sedan, which came with a base sticker price of just $8,495. New car companies aren’t created as often as they used to be, so for Kia this was a big deal. It was a chance for this Korean automaker to show us that they can compete in the tough U.S. automotive market.

Ten years later, they have become a major player. Kia has expanded their lineup to include mid-size cars, a hatchback, a minivan and a sport-utility vehicle. There is also talk of a possible full-size truck in the next few years. The one thing that may have been missing from Kia’s lineup was a true full-size car, and the new 2004 Amanti is ready to fill that void.

In the styling arena, the Amanti will certainly be an attention-grabbing car for Kia. At first glance, you might think you’ve seen this car before, even though it was just introduced in the market. That’s because there are hints of Mercedes and Jaguar in the front-end styling, and in some ways it could even be compared to the front of the new Chrysler 300C. Nevertheless, Kia has done a good job of blending those elements together to make the Amanti look luxurious, and perhaps look more than its under-$30,000 price tag.

The Amanti is powered by Kia’s familiar 3.5-liter DOHC V-6, making 200-hp and 220-lb-ft of torque. It offers plenty of low-end power to move around town, but according to Kia’s numbers, the engine’s peak torque really kicks in around 3,500rpm. I found this to be true on the highway, as the V-6 really comes alive around 2,500-3,000 rpm. That should make for good passing power on the highway when you need to pass that slow driver in front of you. But if you drive like that all the time, leadfoot, you won’t reach Kia’s expected fuel mileage of 17/city and 25/highway. Under the hood, you’ll find that the service points are up near the front of the engine and easy to access. Kia also equipped the Amanti with a special first-in-class 5-speed automatic transmission, the Sportmatic, which allows drivers the choice to shift it like a manual transmission.

Inside, the Amanti looks as luxurious as it does on the outside. The two-tone dashboard is lined with wood accents and the gauges are trimmed in chrome. In the center of the dash, Kia offers a standard analog clock or an optional 4” display screen that shows time, radio/cd functions, trip meter, and even the month and day of the year. You will have to order the optional leather package to get the display screen, but with that package you’ll also get a 2-position seat memory, 9-speaker 225-watt Infinity sound system, and power heated mirrors with automatic tilt down. Behind the wheel, you’ll find a modern layout of all controls and switches, and the wheel itself has buttons for the radio and cruise control. The Amanti also has the most headroom of any car in its class, and legroom is ample as well, front and rear. All seats are designed with a heightened hip-point ground clearance, which makes it easier for people to get in and out of the car. Kia also offers a standard 8-way power driver’s seat and a 4-way power passenger seat.

On the road, looking out over the long hood makes it feel like you’re driving a big car, but the Amanti’s speed-sensing power steering system makes it easy to maneuver. This system makes low-speed situations, like parking lots, easy to handle and does not require much effort. One of the things that Kia wanted to tackle was noise, and they did that by adding insulation and anti-vibration pads in the roof, floor, pillars, doors and dash. Extensive sound-deadening materials and a full engine cover help to make the car quiet as well. Some luxury cars tend to excel more in providing a soft ride rather than provide good handling, but Kia did a good job in compromising between the two. Thanks to the double-wishbone suspension, the Amanti glides over bumps and does a good job of keeping the vibration out of the cabin.

Many standard features are packed into the Amanti, including dual-zone climate control, power heated mirrors, and a class-leading 8 airbags. The airbag system contains front and rear seat-mounted side airbags, driver/passenger front airbags, and full-length side curtain airbags. Options include electronic stability and traction control, sunroof, heated front leather seats, and HomeLink garage door opener.

The Amanti will start around $25,000 and still comes in under $30,000 fully optioned – a bargain compared to its competition. A standard 10-year/100,000 mile limited powertrain warranty is offered, along with a 5-year/60,000 mile basic warranty and a 5-year 24-hour roadside assistance program.

Kia’s advertising campaign is “Make every mile count,” and it is certainly trying to do that. In the Amanti’s case, it could even be “Make every dollar count,” because you’re getting a lot for the money. Time will tell if Kia is successful in winning over buyers from Toyota, Buick, and other luxury car makers. One thing is for sure - the Amanti proves that Kia has come a long way in ten years, and they’re not looking back.