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

By Chris Chase

In 2000, Korean automaker Kia made its debut in Canada with two models, the compact Sephia sedan and Sportage sport utility vehicle (SUV). Drivers looking for basic transportation at a low price were thrilled to have another option to choose from; not surprisingly, enthusiasts were underwhelmed by the Sephia’s and Sportage’s underachieving performance.

These early Kias suffered from worse-than-average reliability too, and anyone who bought one new and became dissatisfied soon found themselves with a car they didn’t like that was worth a fraction of the low price they paid for it.

Soon after Kia’s arrival here, the company was bought by Korean rival Hyundai as part of that company’s aspirations to expand its market share in North America. This was largely regarded as good for Kia, as Hyundai’s quest for improved quality in its own lineup was well underway by that time.

One of Kia’s first moves after being taken over by Hyundai was to expand its model lineup into the mid-size sedan segment with the Sonata-based Magentis. As such, the Magentis (sold in the U.S. as the Optima) differed from the Sonata only in looks, both inside and out; otherwise, the Magentis was identical to the Sonata. Engine choices were a 2.4-litre four-cylinder (149 horsepower) and a 2.5-litre V6 (170 hp). A four-speed automatic transmission was the only gearbox choice, though V6 models got a manual-shift feature. In 2002, the Magentis’ V6 grew to 2.7 litres. The bigger engine initially was rated at 181 horsepower, but that was downgraded the following year to 170, amidst a flurry of negative media attention. Depending on the engine in question, the Magentis’ Natural Resources Canada fuel consumption ratings range from about 11 to 12 L/100 km in the city and between 7 and 8.5 L/100 km on the highway.

Kia Magentis 2005

Kia Magentis 2005

Kia Magentis 2005
2005 Kia Magentis. Click images to enlarge
Images courtesy: Kia

According to posts at www.kia-forums.com, the most common problems Magentis owners report are rough-shifting automatic transmissions (often blamed on bad speed sensors) and headlights that burn out frequently. Also, faulty crankshaft position sensors are linked to engine stalling problems. More scientific data, like that offered by Consumer Reports, give the Magentis (and its Sonata cousin) decent overall ratings, and later versions of the 1999-2005 Sonata earned kudos from J.D. Power for its dependability.

In terms of crash safety, test results vary depending on who you ask. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gave the Magentis four stars in every test for its performance in protecting occupants in front and side impacts; conversely, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Magentis an “acceptable” rating in its frontal offset test, and only a marginal rating in side impacts, citing a high likelihood of torso and pelvis injury to front-seat occupants. Both organizations tested cars equipped with side airbags, which were optional on basic V6-powered Magentises, and standard on the top-of-the-line SE-V6 (early models) and EX-V6 (later models) versions.

If a cheap used sedan is what you’re after, you’ve come to the right place. Canadian Red Book values for used Magentises range from $7,675 for a 2001 LX four-cylinder version to a high of $20,225 for a 2005 EX-V6 model. Most in the market seem to be priced close to book value; watch for sellers asking unreasonably high prices to try to recoup the money they’ve lost to the Magentis’ high rate of depreciation. A 2003 or 2004 model should come in at a good price point: $12,000 – $14,000 for the ’03 and $14,000 – $17,500 for the ’04.

With used prices that tend to be even lower than the Sonata’s already-low resale values, the Magentis presents itself as an attractive option for the budget-minded used-car shopper. While it’s not a car to necessarily be avoided altogether, bear in mind the possibility of niggling little problems cropping up down the road. The key here is to weigh the advantages of the Magentis’ low price against the better reliability offered by some of its more expensive Japanese competitors.

Online resources

www.kia-forums.com – There are almost 12,000 members here, which is not bad considering that Kia has only recently begun to gain serious credibility as an automaker. This site caters to owners around the world, so you’ll see lots of references to model names you’ve never heard of before, but the Magentis is known by a different name only in the U.S., where it’s called the Optima; these two nameplates share a forum section, which isn’t the busiest here, but contains a decent amount of useful information.

www.streetkiaz.com – There’s not a whole lot of action in the Magentis/Optima forums here, and membership isn’t as strong as it is at Kia-Forums, which gets the nod for being the more useful resource. Nonetheless, check out StreetKiaz and decide for yourself.

Related stories on Autos

Manufacturer’s Website


Transport Canada Recall Number: 2004182; Units affected: 2,058

2002-2003: On certain vehicles, the fuel cut valve at the fuel tank may not close properly. If a vehicle with a defective fuel tank assembly cut valve were to roll over, fuel spillage could occur. Fuel spillage in the presence of an ignition source may result in a fire. Correction: Dealers will install an additional fuel cut valve.

Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.

For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.

Connect with Autos.ca