Kia's Middle American Amanti

Kia's Buick-style upmarket sedan offers a great value, nice interior, smooth ride, and a good warranty for less than $30,000

Editor's Rating:

The Good: Bang for the buck, nice interior, good warranty

The Bad: Cobbled-together exterior styling, no navigation system

The Bottom Line: A Buick-style sedan at a bargain price

Up Front

If ever there was a car targeted at the heart of Middle America, it's the '07 Kia Amanti sedan. It's a Buick-style, entry-level luxury sedan with a ride cushy enough to satisfy a suburban retiree, an attractive leather-lined interior, and tons of standard equipment. Yet you can buy a well-loaded Amanti for less than $30,000.

The Amanti's restyling for '07 is typical of a trend by Korean automakers, at least based on the vehicles I've been test-driving lately. Kia's parent company, Hyundai, has come out with its hot-selling Santa Fe SUV and its new, bigger Veracruz, which like the Amanti have been heavily focus-grouped to appeal to Middle American tastes. To some degree, Kia's Sorento SUV has a similar focus-grouped feel to it. Korean carmakers are moving upscale by making quicker, nicer, and pricier vehicles, and the Amanti is part of that trend.

The Amanti, which first came out in 2004, has been significantly upgraded. The '07 has a bigger engine—a 3.8-liter, 264-horsepower V6—than the previous version of the car, yet is significantly lighter and gets better mileage than the model it's replacing. The '07 is rated to get 19 mpg from regular gasoline in the city and 26 on the highway. And, if my experience is any indication, the car comes close to matching its government mileage rating. In 516 miles of mainly highway driving, I got 22.8 mpg.

The Amanti's big appeal is bang for the buck. There's only one trim level, with a starting price of just $26,175. Standard equipment includes power doors, windows, and mirrors; an auto-dimming rearview mirror; steering wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls; a CD player; power front seats; and 16-in. alloy wheels. Standard safety gear includes eight air bags, including full-length side curtain air bags that often cost extra, and four-wheel antilock brakes with electronic brake force distribution.

There are relatively few options. The main package adds numerous extras for $2,500: leather upholstery, heated front seats with a memory system for driver's-seat settings, an upgraded sound system, adjustable pedals, a trip computer with 4-in. display, and heated outside mirrors that automatically tilt down when you back up.

For another $1,300 you can upgrade to black leather, aluminum interior trim, and 17-in. spoked alloy wheels. A sunroof adds $900, and a package that includes electronic stability control, traction control, and braking assist only costs $500. The only thing missing is a navigation system, which isn't offered on the '07.

Excellent warranty coverage is another plus. The Amanti's includes a five-year/60,000-mile basic warranty with free roadside assistance over that period, plus 10-year/100,000-mile limited power train protection.

Exterior styling is a negative for me, though this of course is subjective. For '07, the Amanti was supposedly only "freshened up" (rather than fully redesigned), but changes were made in the design of the hood, grille, headlights, front and rear bumpers, trunk, tail lights, exhaust outlets, and rear quarter panels.

To me, the result is a sort of Frankenstein design that seems cobbled together from several rival models Kia hopes to emulate. For instance, my regular FedEx delivery guy approached the car from the front and thought it might be a Mercedes because the new grille is vaguely reminiscent of a Mercedes grille (minus the famous logo, of course). From the rear, the Amanti looks a little like a Lincoln Town Car to me (not exactly the look I would have chosen).

The Amanti is not a big seller. But, from a small base, sales are soaring—they're up 41.3% in the first four months of this year, to 3,266 units. Kia's overall U.S. sales were up 7.5% to 99,610 units during the same period.

The Amanti appeals to older, relatively well-heeled buyers who otherwise might be buying a Buick or Toyota (TM) Avalon. The average age of Amanti buyers is 54, as opposed to 60 for the Avalon and 68 for the Buick Lucerne, according to the Power Information Network. By contrast, buyers of another direct competitor, the Chrysler 300, average a relatively youthful 49.

More than half of all Amanti buyers pay cash, almost as many as for the Lucerne and Avalon. Only 27% of Amanti buyers are women, which is even lower than for any of the Kia's main rivals. (The Power Information Network, like, is a unit of The McGraw-Hill Companies (MHP).)

Behind the Wheel

If you've never driven a Kia—or haven't driven one recently—you'll be astonished by the Amanti's ride. It's strikingly smooth and quiet, and I don't just mean in comparison to other Kias. The Amanti has gas-pressurized shock absorbers and a double-wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension that are all tuned to provide luxury-car comfort. The car's designers also seem to have added a lot of sound-deadening material to the '07. I was surprised by the quality of the Amanti's ride from the first moment I put the car in gear.

Like the Sorento, the Amanti is also surprisingly quick. I got zero-to-60 times of around 7.5 seconds. That's a few ticks slower than the 7.1 seconds I got in the Sorento, but it's plenty quick for anyone who isn't a hard-core speed freak. My times were actually slightly slower in manual mode than letting the transmission do the shifting. The manual-shifting mode is vaunted as the "sport" mode in the owner's manual for the Amanti, but it didn't seem particularly sporty to me.

Handling isn't impressive. At 3,778 lb., the Amanti is relatively light (251 lb. lighter than the previous Amanti). But the front/rear weight distribution of 62/38 is hardly the 50/50 that BMW and Porsche strive for, and the lack of balance shows in the car's clumsiness during cornering. This is not a car that hugs the road when you head into a curve a little faster than intended.

The Amanti's interior is its strong point, especially if you pay the extra $3,800 for the two main option packages. The leather seats in my test car were soft and seemed well made, and the contrast between the shiny aluminum trim and the black leather was striking.

Kia seems to have borrowed several features from Mercedes-Benz. For instance, the controls for adjusting the power front seats are on the doors and are shaped like little raised silhouettes of a seat. If, say, you want to tilt the seat back, you push on the little silhouette of a seat-back. As in a Mercedes, the buttons to open the trunk and gas-tank lid are handily placed on the driver's door, where they're easy to reach, rather than on the floor.

There are numerous other thoughtful features in the Amanti that you don't expect to find on a relatively inexpensive car. For instance, there's a switch in the glove box that locks the trunk and a second "subkey" that won't unlock the glove box or the trunk. This allows you to keep valuables safely locked in the trunk when you have to turn the car over to a parking attendant. There's also a switch to turn off the traction control. The rear seats don't fold down, but there's a pass-through from the trunk into the passenger compartment for skis and long objects.

There's plenty of legroom in the Amanti's rear seats, even with the front seats all the way back. However, I found the driver's seat a bit cramped. I'm 5 feet 10 inches tall and had the seat positioned as far back as it would go most of the time. A tall person would probably have to make space by tilting the seat back, which cuts into space for the passenger in back.

In a few places, the materials in the Amanti's interior still aren't quite yet up to snuff. The metal fitting for the starter key looks like it came off a bargain rack. That would be O.K. if it were on the side of the steering column, but it's on the dash where it's plainly visible. The cloth-like roof-lining material also is unattractive. Where the material is stretched over the roof pillars, it looks like the fabric used to make men's socks.

Buy It Or Bag It?

As I've said before, the question with Kia is whether you're willing to take a chance on a second-tier company with low prices. Partly, that depends on whether there's a Kia dealer near where you live. The company only has 630 dealers.

Kia's quality record these days is decent. While Hyundai's J.D. Power quality ratings soared last year, Kia is right in the middle of the range in every category. And, of course, you have the excellent warranty to fall back on if you do have problems.

Even factoring in rebates, the Amanti is less expensive than most of its most direct competitors. According to the Power Information Network, the average selling price of the Amanti is $26,955, as opposed to $31,524 for the Toyota Avalon, $28,905 for DaimlerChrysler's (DCX) Chrysler 300, and $28,099 for the Buick Lucerne.

Those figures include a $1,000 cash rebate for the Amanti that ended on May 31, but my guess is that Kia dealers will continue to bargain on price, given how competitive the market is. Chrysler is offering a discount of $2,500 on the 300 until July 2, and General Motors (GM) is taking up to $1,750 off the Lucerne through July 9. A Korean-made alternative is the Hyundai Azera, which has an average selling price of $26,448, according to Power.

However, the bottom line is that you can get a fully loaded Amanti for just over $31,000, even paying list price. And when you consider how much equipment that includes (just about everything you could possibly want except a navigation system), it's hard to beat the value packed into this vehicle. If you're shopping for a conservative, well-made sedan at a bargain price, the Amanti is well worth a test-drive.

Click here to see more of the 2007 Kia Amanti.

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