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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 front of the Kia Amanti is dominated by its prominent grille. And the conflict between the grille's trapezoidal shape and the headlights' elliptical outlines only seems to emphasize the grille's dominance of the car's fascia. Viewed apart from the awkward grille, the elliptical headlight contours project luxury, borrowing as they do from many a luxury car from Europe or Japan. At night, their appearance is clean and sharp, and the crisp, precise blinking of the LED turn indicators readily catches the eye of drivers and pedestrians.
The side view is more of a piece, more classic and more attractive. An understated wedge-look begins at the top of the laid-back headlights then rises gently from the front fenders through the rear quarter, trailing off slightly before draping over rounded taillights. The rear doors are integrated nicely into the car's overall proportions. The back doors open several inches longer than normal in sedan this size, which makes getting in and out easier. It also gives the Amanti a look of richness, of stretch intended to benefit rear-seat users.
As it accelerates away, the Amanti leaves a memorable image in its wake. A slight hump in the middle of the trunk lid's trailing edge functions as a mini-spoiler, breaking up the air flow over and behind the car, reducing lift at highway speeds. Eye-like taillights wrap around the rear fenders to each side and bracket a chrome-framed license plate recess in the vertical face of the trunk lid. At night, the juxtaposition of the red taillights and back-lighted license plate paints an especially striking picture.
Luxury cues abound inside the Kia Amanti, especially with the leather option. The standard cloth upholstery looks sturdy. The instrument panel and dashboard could have come from a number of more costly cars. There is a hint of a Buick look to the interior design, with a heavy, eyelid-like hood running the width of the car. This may be intentional, however, as Kia lists the LeSabre as one of the Amanti's targets. The wood grain trim on the dash and center console looks good and it's not overdone, but applied sparingly where it adds elegance, not just any and every place good glue can hold it in place.
Seats are supportive, comfortable without being soft. A long day's drive doesn't leave one's bum numb or even demanding a good stretch. Glass area is more than adequate, especially the side windows. The steep rake of the windshield, however, brings the inside rearview mirror quite close to the driver's face, requiring a conscious turn of the head to scan. Power controls for the front seats mimic the metaphoric controls popularized by Mercedes-Benz and are as readily understood. Mounted as they are on the doors (like Mercedes does), however, makes manipulating them somewhat awkward.
Interior room is comparable with that of full-size and midsize cars. The front seats offer excellent head room and leg room. Rear-seat passengers enjoy good head room but leg room and hip room are a little lacking, though the limo-like openings of the rear doors is some compensation.
The Amanti doesn't offer the cargo space of some of the full-size cars, the trunk is fully finished and the inside pull-down spares fingers from the dirt and muck that road trips routinely leave on a car's trunk lid.
The glove box is unusual, with the top third fitted with two cubbies to keep small items from rattling around. Otherwise, interior storage includes the usual door-mounted map pockets, seatback-mounted magazine racks, and cup holders. Three accessory power points are provided, one at the base of the center stack, another in the center console and the other on the back end of the center console for rear seat use. Missing, though, is a detent in the center console rim to allow a cellular telephone cord to fit beneath the closed console cover.
All controls, save for the front-seat power buttons, are conveniently placed and return good tactile feel. Climate controls and stereo functions and settings are managed by familiar and user-friendly knobs, buttons and roller switches. The sound system lives up to promise, with good radio reception and quality sound. Headliner-mounted assist grips are nicely damped front and rear, the latter fitted with garment hooks. All four windows have one-touch up/down.
The dash-mounted monitor that comes with the Leather Package is under-utilized, a four-inch display surely can handle more than the usual trip computer info, time, date and audio selection, and it's redundant, as the same data can be called up in the instrument cluster.
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.
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