2004 Kia Magentis
Photo: Jil McIntosh. Click image to enlarge

By Jil McIntosh

Established in the United States in 1994, Kia “Korea’s oldest car manufacturer, founded in 1944” first opened its Canadian dealerships in 1999. Their low prices, long warranty and a successful if annoying ad campaign (anyone who yells “Ay-eeee!” to me gets run over) turned them into a small but viable competitor north of the border. They’d already been here, although few knew it; Ford had previously transformed two of their overseas models into the Festiva and Aspire for North American sales.

Of their four current car models, Magentis is the mid-size model in between the Spectra and Amanti. (The Magentis is dubbed Optima for the U.S. market.)

Kia hasn’t entirely won me over; its cars have a few rough edges that many other manufacturers have overcome even in their entry-level vehicles. But they’re inexpensive, and they are improving. Given a few years, I can see the company becoming major player in this category.

The driveline was the uneven part of my 2.4-litre, 4-cylinder tester, which was often at odds with the car’s elegant styling and more upscale interior. The engine is buzzy and noisy, with a rough idle. It’s no powerhouse, offering 138 horsepower at 5,500 rpm, and 147 ft-lb of torque at 3,000 rpm (the V-6 ups the horses to 170). But I will say that while I’m normally no fan of sport-shift automatic transmissions Kia calls theirs “Steptronic” I’ve finally found one in a car that can actually benefit from it, as opposed to it being an unnecessary novelty. Knock the handsome shifter sideways, and then bang it down a gear or two for extra revs when passing or merging.

The steering is speed-sensitive, but it’s still a bit vague, and the car is somewhat front-end light on the highway.

But then, maybe those are just quibbles, in relation to the price tag. After all, this is a roomy, mid-size sedan with dual front airbags, air, AM/FM/CD with six speakers, power windows, power locks with keyless entry and alarm, power trunk, power heated mirrors and variable intermittent wipers for $22,250 before freight. Add to that the 8.6L/100 km (33 mpg) the four-cylinder returned for me, and the 5-year/100,000 km full warranty.

2004 Kia Magentis

2004 Kia Magentis

2004 Kia Magentis
Photos: Kia. LX-V6 interior shown. Click image to enlarge

Move up to the LX-V6, with the addition of 4-wheel-discs with antilock, fog lamps, 16-inch wheels and sunroof for $25,750; or the EX-V6, which adds power heated leather seats, side impact air bags and chrome accents for $28,750.

The interior is spacious, although the seats are a bit hard. Controls are well-planned, but at my optimal driving position the tilt wheel covered the fuel and heat gauges, and speeds above 80 km/h — a common complaint for shorter drivers. I’m not keen on the vent controls, which are small and tougher to adjust than they need to be. There’s handy CD storage right below the player, and a 12-volt power outlet in the console bin.

Fit and finish are generally very good, with no rattles, although the exterior chrome window surround has a very oddly-placed and none-too-smooth joint over the rear windows. My tester’s remote gas door didn’t always want to lock, either.

There’s plenty of room for two rear seat passengers, or three in a pinch, with a folding armrest containing a storage cubby and two cupholders. The seats fold, lengthening the trunk’s already-decent 104 cm to a not-quite-flat 165 cm; a sliding lock keeps contents secure. I give Magentis top points for a trunk lid that swings all the way up, out of the way; combined with the low lift-over height, it’s almost a pleasure to load the groceries. (It’s “almost” because I still have to lift them out again, and put them away.)

Visibility is good, and it’s an easy car to park. Bigger than absolutely necessary for the inner city, it’s sized and priced nicely for suburban dwellers, especially those who want a larger second car to accompany the minivan. Buyers shouldn’t expect the type of resale value that more established marques command — but then, there are a lot of people like me out there, who buy a vehicle and hang on to it until the bitter end, and so resale is not a concern.

Other manufacturers put smoother, more powerful drivelines in inexpensive cars, and I’m waiting for Kia to do that. But most of those others put those engines into cars a lot smaller and a lot less luxurious than Magentis. If Kia can get it all together, they’ll be a force to behold.

Technical Data: 2004 Kia Magentis LX

Base price $22,250
Freight $930
A/C tax $100
Type 4-door, 5 passenger mid-size sedan
Layout transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive
Engine 2.4 litre 4 cylinder, DOHC, 16 valves
Horsepower 138 @ 5500 rpm
Torque 147 @ 3000 rpm
Transmission 4 speed automatic w/manual shift mode
Tires 205/60R-15
Curb weight 1430 kg (3153 lb.)
Wheelbase 2700 mm (106.3 in.)
Length 4745 mm (186.8 in.)
Width 1820 mm (71.7 in.)
Height 1420 mm (55.9 in.)
Cargo area 386 litres (13.6 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City: 10.9 l/100 km (26 mpg)
  Hwy: 7.2 l/100 km (39 mpg)
Warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km

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