2004 Kia Amanti
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Story and photos by Greg Wilson

A Kia luxury car? It may surprise many people, but here it is – the Kia Amanti. It’s a mid-size front-wheel-drive luxury sedan in the same “upper intermediate” class as the Toyota Avalon, Buick LeSabre, Nissan Maxima, Chrysler 300M, and possibly the Mercury Grand Marquis.

Priced at $34,995 fully equipped, the Amanti is a lot of car for the money – and follows Kia’s strategy of pricing their models below its competitors. That strategy, along with Kia’s exceptional five year/100,000 kilometre full warranty, has helped make Kia the second fastest growing car company in Canada, behind that other Korean import Hyundai – Kia’s owner since 1998.

The Amanti is not Kia’s version of the Hyundai XG350 luxury car. The Amanti is considerably bigger than the XG350 and is built on a different platform based on the Korean-market Hyundai Equis luxury sedan. In terms of size, the Amanti is bigger than a Toyota Avalon but smaller than a Buick LeSabre.

Lots of standard features

The Amanti is a very well-equipped automobile and there are no options. It comes standard with a 200 horsepower 3.5 litre DOHC V6 engine – the same engine offered in the Kia Sedona minivan and Sorento SUV – and a 5-speed automatic transmission with “Steptronic” manual mode.

2004 Kia Amanti
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The Amanti rides on standard 225/60R-16 inch tires on alloy wheels, and comes standard with four wheel disc brakes with ABS and braking assist, traction control and stability control, a fully independent suspension (double wishbone in front and multi-link at the rear), and rack and pinion steering with speed-sensitive variable-assist.

Inside, the Amanti has most of the luxury and safety features buyers are looking for: leather seats with variable seat heaters and a multitude of power adjustments including lumbar adjustment, artificial wood trim and chrome accents, driver/passenger automatic climate control, 9 speaker Infinity AM/FM/CD sound system with subwoofer and 270 watt amplifier, power windows with express up/down on all four windows, power sunroof with one-touch opening, electroluminescent gauge cluster and driver information display, keyless remote, power heated mirrors, rain-sensing wipers and wiper de-icer, and rear ski pass-through.

2004 Kia Amanti
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A few features the Amanti doesn’t have are a 6-disc CD changer, telescopic steering wheel, rear seat heaters, folding rear seatbacks, and navigation system. Oh, and the Amanti is available only in black, silver, grey or white exterior colours and grey or black interior colours – a rather conservative colour palette.

In terms of safety features, the Amanti is very well-equipped, with one exception. Standard safety features include dual threshold front airbags, front and rear side airbags, head curtain airbags for front and rear passengers, five three-point seatbelts, four height and tilt-adjustable head restraints with “active” front head restraints to reduce whiplash, load limiters and pretensioners on the front seats, rear child locks, and child restraint tethers and anchors. The only thing missing is a third rear head restraint for the middle rear passenger.

Styling

Certain elements of the Amanti’s styling look rather familiar, don’t they? The front of the car is a tasteful blend of Mercedes-Benz headlights, a Chrysler grille, and Jaguar hood bulges while the roofline looks Town Car-ish and the tail is kind of Mazda-ish. Still, I found the overall appearance quite pleasing, particularly from the rear. Borrowing successful design elements from other models is nothing new – it’s just how you put it together.

The Amanti’s paint finish is rich and deep, the body panel gaps are even and not too wide, and the tasteful use of chrome exterior trim on the bumpers, grille, window perimeter, and trunklid adds to its classy appearance. I found the large egg-crate grille somewhat imposing, and the 16 inch tires look a bit small to my eyes. The lack of a Kia badge on the grille is surprising too.

Impressions of the interior

2004 Kia Amanti

2004 Kia Amanti

2004 Kia Amanti
Click image to enlarge

I spent about six hours driving and riding in the Amanti on picturesque Vancouver Island on a day that was intermittently sunny and rainy. The Amanti’s interior is roomy, comfortable, bright, ergonomically correct, and generally well-finished. The doors are big, allowing easy access to its roomy cabin. With its 110 inch wheelbase and tall roof, the Amanti offers generous legroom and headroom for both front and rear passengers, and three adults in the rear seat won’t find it too confining. Note how the shape of the limousine-type roofline provides plentiful rear headroom.

The large front seats are comfy – the driver’s seat has eight power adjustments including a power lumbar feature while the passenger seat is adjustable four ways. Both front seats have temperature-adjustable heaters for the cushions and backrests. I sat in the back seat for a while, while my co-driver took the helm, and I found the legroom to be extremely spacious and the ride very comfortable – it’s almost like being in a limousine.

I liked the bright, easy-to-read backlit gauges and the centre console screen with large white lettering on a blue background. The centre information display includes a day/date display, clock, outside temperature gauge, radio stations, and heater ventilation functions.

Humid, rainy West Coast weather during my test-drive provided a real challenge for the Amanti’s automatic climate control system. Set in Automatic mode, the climate control system failed to clear the fog from the inside of the windscreen while I was driving, and I had to operate it manually in order to see where I was going.

The Amanti’s 270 watt stereo with nine speakers and a subwoofer sounds great, but I thought it should have sounded better given its credentials.

The Amanti’s trunk is huge (440 litres/15 cu. ft.) and will take four sets of golf clubs. There is a rear pass-through for skis, but no folding rear seatbacks.

2004 Kia Amanti

2004 Kia Amanti

2004 Kia Amanti
Click image to enlarge

Driving impressions

With 200 horsepower at 5500 rpm and 220 lb-ft of torque at 3500 rpm the Amanti’s acceleration is lively, but not outstanding. The reason? The Amanti is heavy. It weighs 1855 kg (4090 lbs). Compare that to the Toyota Avalon which weighs 1570 kg (3461 lbs), or even the larger Buick LeSabre which weighs 1630 kilograms (3590 lbs). The Amanti is significantly and surprisingly heavier than its rivals.

Even so, the Amanti has generous low-end torque, and off-the-line throttle response is good, as is highway passing response. The 5 speed automatic transmission is smooth for the most part, with an occasional hesitation when downshifting into second or third gear. The manual shifting function is easy to use, but I suspect few buyers in this class will ever use it.

The ride is very comfortable, but a bit on the soft side. The car “floats” over gentle road dips and leans fairly heavily when turning into a sharp bend. Like the Avalon and LeSabre, the Amanti is not a sports sedan. It’s a luxury sedan.

One of the Amanti’s strong points is its quiet interior. Kia claims lower interior decibel levels at idle and at highway speeds than the Toyota Avalon, which itself is a very quiet car. However, the engine sends some noise and vibration into the cabin on acceleration.

The Amanti’s variable-assist power steering is very light at slow speeds and the turning circle is (37.4 ft.) is quite tight. At higher speeds, the steering is firm but uncommunicative. It’s easy to drive at high speeds, and tracks well.

It rained heavily during my test-drive, and the Amanti’s rain-sensitive wipers (which automatically increase in speed the more it rains) served their purpose quite well in the appalling conditions that greeted me that day.

Conclusion

The Amanti is a good value. Comparatively equipped, the Amanti is thousands of dollars cheaper than its competitors – in fact, it’s $10,000 cheaper than a Toyota Avalon. Interior roominess, trunk space, cabin quietness, ride comfort, level of standard features, warranty, and overall quality are all exceptional. The Amanti’s heavy curb weight, unimpressive automatic climate control system, and lack of a 6-disc CD changer and folding rear seatbacks were my major gripes. Still, this is a lot of car for $35,000..

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