2009 Kia Magentis LX Premium
2009 Kia Magentis LX Premium. Click image to enlarge
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2009 Kia Magentis LX Premium, by James Bergeron
Manufacturer’s web site

Kia Canada
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2009 Kia Magentis

Ottawa, Ontario – When Kia announced it had gone bankrupt in 1997, well, most Canadians didn’t notice. It wasn’t until 2000 – a couple of years after Hyundai came to the rescue – that Kia began selling its cars here.

Being bought up by Hyundai was probably the best thing that ever happened to Kia. In 2001, its line-up swelled from two models to four. And while many people probably didn’t know the Kia name, one of its new models was the Magentis, a mid-sized sedan based on the Hyundai Sonata.

That basis made the Magentis a decent car, but there was still plenty of room for improvement. Things would get better in 2006: a total redesign of the Sonata gave Kia a new platform to play with, and a significantly upgraded, second-generation Magentis was the result.

2009 Kia Magentis LX Premium
2009 Kia Magentis LX Premium
2009 Kia Magentis LX Premium. Click image to enlarge

The 2009 Magentis, while it looks much different from last year’s car, is a cosmetics-only update, though the car’s two engines both benefit from a few extra horsepower.

The changes won’t make it any easier to find the Magentis in the mall parking lot. In fact, it’s possible the new look is even less distinctive than the old car’s. (The lack of defining visual cues is becoming a Kia trademark of late. What a shock it will be when the boxy-cool Soul arrives in Kia stores next year.)

My tester was an LX Premium model, one step up from the basic LX trim. To the base car (which is quite well-equipped as is), the Premium model adds alloy wheels, a tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel, power sunroof, fog lights, an eight-way power driver’s seat and electronic stability control. A 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine is standard, while a 2.7-litre V6 is available.

The 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine gets a healthy power boost of 13 horsepower and 5 lb-ft of torque for 2009, which increases total output to 175 hp and 169 lb-ft. That finally puts this car on par with its four-cylinder competitors, both on paper and in practice. There’s no face-distorting acceleration to be had here, but passing power is good, and the car steps smartly off the line.

2009 Kia Magentis LX Premium
2009 Kia Magentis LX Premium. Click image to enlarge

I haven’t driven a V6 version of this car, but on paper, it’s hard to say if its extra 19 horsepower and 15 lb-ft of torque would be worth the extra cost, not to mention the hit in fuel economy. For those looking for more power than that, the Sonata would be the better choice of these two, as it gets a 3.3-litre V6. Why isn’t the bigger six offered in the Kia? The easy answer is that doing so would go against Kia’s aim to be a high-value brand, compared to Hyundai, which is making moves upmarket. I’ve also heard that minor differences in the car’s structures mean that the 3.3-litre simply won’t fit in the Kia’s engine bay.

The Magentis LX is the only model that can be had with a manual transmission; all others, like my tester, get a five-speed automatic. Shifts are smooth to the point of being almost imperceptible; personally, I’d prefect crisper shifting, even if it meant sacrificing some of that smoothness. Another beef is the transmission’s eagerness to upshift (a fuel-saving measure, for sure) and its reluctance to downshift for acceleration.

A green “ECO” light in the instrument cluster indicates when you’re driving as efficiently as possible. The car’s trip computer calculated an average fuel consumption figure of 10.6 L/100 km, though my own calculation yielded an average of 11.4 L/100 km. The Magentis’ published fuel consumption figures are 9.4/6.2 L/100 km (city/highway).

2009 Kia Magentis LX Premium
2009 Kia Magentis LX Premium. Click image to enlarge

Initial throttle tip-in is very smooth, but there’s a surprising jump in pedal sensitivity about an inch into its travel. Moving away gently is easy, but accelerating smoothly isn’t. It’s a characteristic I noticed, too, in the Kia Borrego I tested a few weeks earlier.

Touchy throttle aside, the driving experience is pleasant, if unexciting. Brake pedal feel is nice and firm, while the steering is well-weighted: light at low speeds and a little heavier at cruising speeds, though never quite heavy enough for my liking, as very little road surface information makes it up to the driver’s hands.

The real surprise is the Magentis’ suspension, which is surprisingly firm for an entry-level mid-sizer. Certainly it’s comfortable, but there’s little of the wallow over larger pavement undulations that plagued the Sonata I drove in 2006. There’s also none of the suspension rattle and wheel hop that Jil McIntosh complained of in her recent 2009 Sonata test drive.

2009 Kia Magentis LX Premium
2009 Kia Magentis LX Premium
2009 Kia Magentis LX Premium
2009 Kia Magentis LX Premium
2009 Kia Magentis LX Premium. Click image to enlarge

Inside, the Magentis’ control layout is easy to use. The climate controls are big and chunky, and if there is a complaint, it’s one I have with many cars: the radio volume and tuning controls are too small to use while wearing winter gloves. There are secondary audio controls on the tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, but they too are small enough that they can be difficult to use with bare hands. The Magentis’ decent-sounding stereo has two auxiliary input jacks, one a USB connector, the other a standard headphone jack, so portable music player connectivity is a cinch.

Seat comfort garners mostly positive comments. The fronts are better than I’ve experienced in Korean cars of the past; my only wish was for more support behind the shoulder blades. Front seat space is good, too, and the Magentis gets extra marks for coming standard with heaters for the driver and front passenger, even with the car’s basic cloth upholstery.

Space is good in the coach compartment, but comfort suffers from a too-short, too-low bottom cushion, at least for those of average height. For those of shorter stature, for whom this rear bench seems to have been built for, the shape of the cushions will be very comfortable.

Those buyers cross-shopping this car with, say, the new Mazda6 or a Honda Accord will find the Kia to be a little tighter inside, at least for people. The Kia’s trunk, at 425 litres, is notably smaller than the Mazda’s 469-litre cargo area, but it bests the Honda’s 397-litre trunk.

For those looking for comfortable transportation on a budget, the Magentis is worth a look; drive one, and you’ll find that the car speaks well for itself. Kia’s problem will be getting people to notice a car that has neither the name recognition of a bigger brand, nor any defining visual cues to set it apart.

Pricing: 2009 Kia Magentis LX Premium

Base price: $25,295

Options: None

A/C tax: $100

Freight: $ 1,455

Price as tested: $26,850
Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives

  • Specifications: 2009 Kia Magentis

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