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The Kia Amanti is a big car. Buyers are often surprised by its roominess and level of comfort. Launched as an all-new nameplate for 2004, the Amanti is Kia's first big luxury car. It's about the size of the 2005 Toyota Avalon or Chrysler 300 and is considered a large car by the federal government.
The Amanti is roomy and comfortable. The front seats offer comparable roominess to the new Toyota and Chrysler models as well as the new Ford Five Hundred, and rear-seat roominess isn't far off the mark. In fit and finish, the Amanti is the best yet from South Korea. It's smooth and quiet out on the road and comes with a V6 engine that delivers adequate performance. The Amanti is priced below the Toyota and Chrysler, even when equipped with the optional electronic stability control, leather and other luxury features.
The Kia Amanti does everything we expect it to, and very well, indeed. As a commuter, it's sufficiently agile with good visibility to maneuver in congested traffic. As a long-distance traveler, it's a delight, quiet, smooth and tireless, both in willingness to make good time and in occupant comfort.
Where it doesn't excel is in sprightliness in acceleration and handling. Its 200 horsepower is low for the class, while its curb weight is high. It's heavy and under-powered, in other words. These factors, combined with the low-tech engine management system, may have played a role in the 20 miles per gallon fuel consumption we saw on a daylong, 500-mile drive at an average speed only slightly higher than California's posted maximum.
Similarly, the Sportmatic transmission promises more than it delivers, returning a smidgen of driveline lash on throttle lift-off and upshifting on its own in manual mode as the engine hits a pre-determined rpm.
Ride quality and cost governed choice of tire specifications. Steering response and cornering suffer through the Hankook tires. Also, the relatively high weight of the Amanti leads to noticeable suspension movement on rough roads.
The Amanti's anti-lock brakes delivered as promised, with controllable stops and light pedal pulses.
As a package, the Kia Amanti is a most remarkable car, its few shortcomings more than overshadowed by its surprising sophistication. The interior is the Amanti's top bragging point.
New Car Test Drive correspondent Tom Lankard is based in Northern California.