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Kia moves upscale with the Amanti

March 19, 2004|by JASON STEIN/Wheelbase Communications

Just when you thought Kia had run the course on the simplest of equations - lots of vehicle for a little price tag - along comes the new Amanti.

What is it? Perhaps one of the best large-sedan buys on the market for value-minded shoppers. Yes, Kia, the little Korean automaker that could, has done it again.

Don't even say you're surprised.

Kia has had amazing success over the last few years churning out vehicles that sit well with your family . . . and the family accountant. And that has been welcome news for many buyers.

For the company, craftsmanship has come a long way since the first models became available in the mid 1990s. Parent company Hyundai, which once suffered through its own growing pains to become a solid contender with vehicles such as the Tiburon sports car and Santa Fe sport-utility vehicle, had a lot to do with the rise of Kia.

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For proof, look no further than the midsize Optima sedan, Sedona minivan or the handsome Sorento sport-utility vehicle as rolling examples. Look no further than the industry's bedrock warranty: five-year/60,000 mile bumper-to-bumper coverage and a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain plan. Why should you worry about reliability with Kia stepping up to offer that kind of support?

In the case of the new Amanti, the same high-value-content principle is brought to new dimensions.

As Kia's first foray into the large sedan segment, the Amanti makes no bones about where it wants to head. Looking for a less expensive alternative to the Toyota Avalon, Buick LeSabre, Ford Crown Victoria or even the Hyundai XG350? Test drive the Amanti, a vehicle that is very much its own vehicle.

Contrary to what some people might tell you, this is no rebadged XG350 (the connection is incorrectly formed because of the relationship between the companies). The Amanti sits on its own platform and is actually larger than the XG in all dimensions.

But, like Hyundai's value-packed XG350, the Amanti offers loads of luxury, plenty of amenities, a spacious interior, unique exterior styling . . . and solid value.

How does a sticker price of less than $25,000 sound?

If anything, it at least looks familiar, a mix of Jaguar, Mercedes or Lincoln styling. Separate, round headlights that frame a waterfall grille flow back to meet a most unusual tail.

From the driver's or passenger's seat, the view only improves. Inside, there are features you probably wouldn't expect in a Kia such as a 270-watt Infinity sound system, one-touch up-and-down windows and a trip computer. But, that's not all.

Arriving with four doors and in just one trim level, the equipment list includes 67 standard items, some of which are: 16-inch alloy wheels; a full-size spare; dual-zone climate control; a CD player; eight-way power driver's seat and four-way power passenger's seat; wood grain; and steering-wheel mounted controls for the audio and cruise system.

Kia's one-stop shopping experience continues with a 200-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 and a five-speed automatic transmission that includes a manual-shift mode.

It's not the biggest, most powerful engine in the segment, but Kia says the value equation can be found in many other areas. For example, the front seats offer more headroom and legroom than any other full-size sedan.

As well, the Amanti rolls in with eight standard air bags, including full-length side-curtain air bags to protect all occupants.

It even has active front headrests that move up and forward in the event of a rear collision.

Standard four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes can be augmented with optional traction- and stability-control systems.

As a first-time foray into an undiscovered segment, the Amanti might not be the most sophisticated car in its class or the car with the most cachet. But it's funny what a long list of standard equipment, good build quality and a low price will do to change a few opinions and open some new doors.

Something says Kia is well on its way.

© 2004, Wheelbase Communications

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