Would you pay $30,000 for a Kia? That's the question written all over the Amanti, the Korean automaker's largest sedan. The Amanti starts under $26,000, but add a few crowd-pleasing options, and the bottom line quickly turns top-shelf. Considering it competes against established nameplates like the Toyota Avalon and Chrysler 300, on the surface Kia's flagship is something of a dubious sell.
It shouldn't be. With updated styling and more power for 2007, the retooled Amanti is appreciably better than before. Some missing features and a lazy transmission will bar it from leading the segment, but it's competitive in the most important areas: a quiet ride, precise controls, buttery-soft seats and legroom to spare. The Amanti is worth a look — and considering that a loaded Avalon or 300 can easily approach $40,000, its price may still be Kia territory after all.
The front-wheel-drive Amanti comes in one trim level, with various option packages adding more luxury and safety. I drove a relatively loaded version that weighed in at $29,745.
Sharing a platform with Hyundai's now-defunct XG350, the original Amanti failed to spark much interest in its three years on the market. At least partly to blame was the amorphous styling, which bore more resemblance to a Jaguar S-Type than it did to other Kias.
The 2007 version wears a slightly wider grille and revised headlights, but it's still a ringer for an S-Type or Mercedes-Benz E-Class, especially because Kia's oblong logo remains conspicuously absent.
In back, changes are easier to notice. Vertical taillights and a taller profile give the rear a much fuller figure — so much fuller, in fact, that if you wedge the Amanti headfirst into a tight parking spot, the trunk looks a bit like that of any six-figure ultraluxury car. (There's a Kia emblem top and center, though, so any such fantasies will be short-lived.) In any case, the Amanti looks much statelier than before, and by week's end its lines had grown on me.
Sixteen-inch wheels are standard; 17-inch wheels are optional.
Going & Stopping
A 3.8-liter V-6 replaces last year's 3.5-liter V-6, and horsepower jumps from 200 to 264. The larger engine is shared across a number of Hyundai and Kia cars. In the Amanti, it works with a standard five-speed automatic.
The drivetrain looks good on paper, but in practice it's stymied by a sluggish transmission. Toe the gas for power coming out of a corner, and you'll often catch the automatic loitering in the higher gear you were in when you entered the turn. The result is slow acceleration followed by a late downshift and sudden, peaky power. Drivers will notice this tendency during normal urban driving; there's no need to push the limits to find it. Equally vexing is the transmission's performance at parking lot speeds, where it occasionally stumbles — and makes a big fuss of it — while downshifting to first. The gearbox is electronically controlled, so these pitfalls could conceivably be ironed out in the future.
Putting aside the transmission glitches, the V-6 is quite capable. It delivers energetic acceleration from onramp stoplights all the way up to highway speeds, and passing at 60 to 70 mph is nearly as easy. Pushed hard, the engine emits a hoarse roar — far from the pleasing sound of a Nissan Maxima's V-6 or Chrysler 300's Hemi V-8.
Four-wheel-disc antilock brakes are standard. The pedal feels a bit on the mushy side, but it delivers firm stopping power when pushed hard.
Using the EPA's 2008 gas mileage calculations, the Amanti is rated at 17 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway. While those figures represent an improvement over the 2006 Amanti (calculated with the 2008 standard for consistency), they still trail most competitors.
|Gas Mileage Compared|
|Gas mileage*||Recommended fuel|
|2007 Kia Amanti||17/24||Regular (87-octane) unleaded|
|2007 Buick Lucerne (V-6)||17/26||Regular (87-octane) unleaded|
|2007 Buick Lucerne (V-8)||15/23||Premium (91-octane) unleaded|
|2007 Chrysler 300 (2.7L V-6)||18/26||Regular (87-octane) unleaded|
|2007 Chrysler 300 (3.5L V-6)**||17/24||Midgrade (89-octane) unleaded|
|2007 Chrysler 300 (V-8)**||15/23||Midgrade (89-octane) unleaded|
|2008 Ford Taurus**||18/28||Regular (87-octane) unleaded|
|2007 Toyota Avalon||20/28||Regular (87-octane) unleaded|
|*City/highway EPA estimates using 2008 testing standards.|
Ride & Handling
Kia says the suspension has been significantly stiffened for 2007 — an effort to abate the previous car's "floaty" character. Even so, the new four-wheel-independent suspension and thick P235/55R17 tires yield generous comfort, gliding over ruts and potholes while the cabin stays relatively undisturbed. Highway noise is low enough that you can soak up classical music — or hash out directions with your passengers, as the case may be.
Expectedly, the tradeoff comes in handling, where the Amanti exhibits significant body roll through corners. The steering wheel doesn't feel particularly precise, but at least its movements are naturally weighted, with none of the intermittent vagueness that afflicts steering in the 300 and Lucerne. The Amanti takes a bit more effort than either of those cars to turn at low speeds, though its 38.2-foot turning diameter beats both. The Avalon still leads the group at 37.0 feet.
The short dashboard and narrow, clipped window sills make the cabin look much smaller than it is. Getting in and out is easy, thanks to a high seating position and doors that open unexpectedly wide. From the driver's seat, my 5-foot, 11-inch frame had plenty of legroom and headroom, and there's enough range in the seat adjustments for taller or shorter drivers to position themselves a safe distance from the airbag. Optional power-adjusting pedals help in that regard, though I would also like to see a telescoping steering wheel; this one only tilts.
The seats are well-cushioned, with enough side bolstering that they don't feel flat or formless. The optional leather upholstery is convincingly sumptuous, on par with its competitors and a discernable cut above the stuff you'd get in an Accord or Camry. Those in back have enough room to spread out. The seatbacks are recessed a bit, which makes for relaxed lounging but also means passengers have to sit upright to pull off a graceful exit.
For 2007, the dashboard has dropped last year's stair-stepped construction for a more conventional dome and shelf. The dark faux-wood trim in my test car seemed fitting; less appealing was the abundant silver-painted plastic, which ranged from discreet on the center controls to downright tacky around the cupholders and gearshift.
Otherwise, the materials are generally high-quality, with fabric- rather than plastic-covered window pillars and soft-touch surfaces all the way down to the glove compartment cover. Individual controls show signs of a tight ship — the turn signal stalks click with precision (you'd be surprised how many cars botch this) and the knobs about the radio and climate displays have a high-quality feel. Two notable exceptions: Both the remote key fob and power-window switches feel like they were plucked off one of Kia's economy cars.
Total cabin volume measures 106 cubic feet. In back, the trunk holds a hefty 15.9 cubic feet of luggage. As with most full-size cars, the backseat does not fold; a small pass-thru in the center can accommodate a pair of skis.
|Sizing Up Full-Size Cars|
|Cabin volume (cu. ft.)||Trunk volume (cu. ft.)||Folding backseat|
|2007 Kia Amanti||106.0||15.9||No|
|2007 Chrysler 300||106.6||15.6||Yes|
|2007 Toyota Avalon||106.9||14.4||No|
|2007 Buick Lucerne||108.0||17.0||No|
|2008 Ford Taurus||108.0||21.2||Yes|
|Automaker data for base models; optional equipment, such as a moonroof, may change volumes slightly.|
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the 2007 Amanti its highest score, Good, for frontal crash tests. IIHS has not conducted side-impact tests for the car. Standard safety features include four-wheel-disc antilock brakes, active head restraints and eight airbags — the mandatory dual front airbags, side-impact torso-protection airbags for both the front and rear seats, and side curtain airbags for both rows. Traction control and an electronic stability system are optional.
Features & Pricing
Without the destination charge, the base Amanti starts at $25,495. That's $2,500 less than last year's Amanti, which had a smaller engine but more standard luxury features. Standard equipment for 2007 includes one-touch power windows, power locks with keyless entry, dual-zone automatic climate control, power front seats, a single-CD audio system and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio and cruise controls.
Options include leather upholstery, power-adjustable pedals, a moonroof, electroluminescent gauges, an upgraded Infiniti stereo and a trip computer with a 4-inch dashboard screen. Traction control, brake assist and an electronic stability system are packaged together for $500, but you have to buy $3,400 in other packages first — a real shame for those on a budget. A navigation system and rear parking sensors, two items common in full-size cars, are unavailable.
A fully loaded Amanti runs just under $31,000.
Amanti in the Market
If it had a more dynamic drivetrain and a few additional creature comforts, the Amanti might emerge as a leader in this segment. At present, it's a solid bet for anyone seeking a less-expensive alternative to the prevailing options out there. That's been Kia's formula for some time: comparatively inexpensive cars that don't blow you away outright, but are competitive enough to be a good choice for value-minded buyers. It works at $12,000, $18,000 and — wouldn't you know — it even works at 30 large.
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