Amanti is packed with standard features that the American, European and Japanese manufacturers simply can't offer at such bargain-basement prices, fully exploiting the labor-cost advantage the Korean automaker enjoys relative to its competition.
The Amanti competes with the Toyota Avalon, Nissan Maxima, Ford Taurus, Chrysler 300, Hyundai Azera, and Buick LaCrosse and Lucerne: a formidable group when it comes to interior package size and value.
Kia crossed into the near-luxury segment when it launched Amanti for 2004. Initially, its upright, vaguely retro-modern look polarized buyers, but a redesign for 2007 has softened the Amanti's styling statement. The 2007 revisions upgraded the V6 engine and suspension and shaved 250 pounds off the curb weight.
The engine delivers strong power when accelerating onto busy freeways. The ride is nice on rough highways and the steering is very light. The suspension is tuned to obtain a smooth ride quality.
The Kia Amanti was launched as a 2007 model in early 2006. There are no changes for 2008.
Kia Amanti ($25,495)
The Amanti we drove was a festival of black leather upholstery and solid, functional shapes, with white marking on all the switches, controls, and gauges: a simple, well laid out and very appealing interior scheme with very little crowding of controls. Everything was well placed and easily understood. Everything we touched and used felt like quality, with smooth actions and positive stops on everything that moved.
The cabin is quite roomy front and rear, with plenty of leg and head room for six-footers in the rear, along with separate air conditioning circuitry and a second 12-volt power point. The seats are thick, supportive and nicely coved, front and rear, and the driver's seat has plenty of adjustment range including lumbar support.
There is a 3-D effect to the Premium instrument package that we liked a lot, with a centered gear indicator that switched back and forth between manual and automatic modes. We particularly liked the layout of the buttons on the steering wheel for the cruise control and sound system, beautifully integrated and easy to use.
The Infinity sound system was easy to use, though it was lacking an auxiliary input for digital music players. Music sounded clean and powerful through the system's nine speakers.
Another feature we really liked was the top center digital display screen with trip computer, a large display with large, easy to read markings for time, day, date, temperature, mileage, distance to empty, etc.
A navigation system is not offered, however.
The 264-horsepower 3.8-liter V6 engine is competitive with just about everything else in the class in terms of power output, smoothness, and quietness of operation. It sounds virile and healthy when booted or downshifted, and accelerative power is prodigious, even with 3770 pounds to motivate. Yet, in fifth gear overdrive, you can hardly hear it running. The transmission shifted quickly and quietly, and is equipped with a manual-control gate for performance driving.
The EPA classifies the Amanti as a large car, and it is, with 106 cubic feet of interior volume, but the Amanti drives and feels like a smaller, more nimble car overall.
The fully independent suspension handles bumps and potholes nicely. It leans a bit when driven around corners quickly. The power steering assist is related to engine speed, not vehicle speed. We thought it felt a bit on the light side, overboosted and uncommunicative, but it was fine.
The brakes are as powerful and as quick to act as the throttle, which means they're very good and very linear, with ABS and electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) as backup.
The 2008 Kia Amanti is a worthy alternative among family sedans. It's compact on the outside, big on the inside, and it is loaded with standard features and amenities, all at aggressive prices. The engine has big, smooth power; the car is whisper-quiet on the road; and the suspension is near-luxury in its ride quality. Combine all those attributes with a superb warranty, free roadside assistance and the possibility of an honest 24 miles per gallon, and the Amanti is a real contender.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw filed this report from Detroit.