- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Kia has a simple way of doing business. It built a vehicle containing numerous desirable features other manufacturers offer, but sell its cars for a lot less money.

As a result, in 10 years, this Korean manufacturer has grown to more than 600 dealerships and is now offering a complete product line. What’s more, it backs up its products with a 100,000-mile, 10-year warranty.

The latest vehicle is the all-new 2004 Amanti, Kia’s flagship. This is a top-of-the-line full-size five-passenger sedan. However, Kia prefers to not label it “full-size” as the marketing people consider that tag line too stodgy for younger buyers. Kia suggested I just call it a “big” car.

The Amanti contains many features found on the upscale full-size luxury sedans, yet it is priced in the mid-$25,000s. Load it up with all the upscale options and it is still under $30,000.

My test-drive began with skepticism. Here’s a big car with a very bold appearance showing the fit and finish expected only in cars in the $50,000 range. For example, many luxury cars have passenger-assist handles that snap back into place when released. The Amanti’s assist handles close with cushioned silence.

The trunk, which holds four golf bags, can be secured with a button inside the glove compartment when valet parking, and the glove compartment locked with a separate key.

The seats of the Amanti are covered with top-of-the-line quality leather and can be programmed into set positions using eight-way power seat adjusters mounted on the door, similar to the type found on Mercedes-Benz.

This car has a three-dimensional instrument panel with an electronically controlled five-speed automatic transmission. Burl walnut trim complements the rich interior in which the use of high-grade materials is obvious.

“What’s the catch?” I wondered. “How can Kia offer so much for so little?” The Amanti even has an Infinity 225-watt audio sound system with a six-disc in-dash CD player that includes a sub-woofer. Additional sound-system controls are neatly embedded on one spoke on the steering wheel, with cruise controls on the opposite spoke.

Such features as power windows and door locks are standard and include a “fail-safe” system that prevents the doors from being locked if the keys are left in the ignition. As for one-touch down windows, this car has one-touch up-and-down on all four windows plus an anti-pinch system.

That’s a rarity.

I was sure to find some faults during my test-drive. Knowing it has only a 200-horsepower engine, I suspected it would be underpowered.

Wrong!

The 3.5-liter 24-valve V-6 engine has a broad 220 foot-pounds torque curve and responded reasonably well when I would find a place to pass another vehicle on two-lane roads. Nevertheless, a stronger engine is in the works.

What’s even more surprising is the overall interior noise level. This is a very quiet, smooth-riding sedan. On some rural roads, I had the opportunity to push this car hard through some turns and it held the road quite well. There is nothing lacking in its stability.

Amanti’s base price is $24,995, plus $540 for shipping and handling. There are three option packages: $1,805, $900 and $550. Traction control and brake assist plus the electronic stability control is in the $550 package. This car will stand up to all the requirements of the five-star safety ratings.

Add all the options and the Amanti is a genuine bargain. There’s nothing cheap about its workmanship or content. Only the price is cheap.

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