Kia Amanti

Review Notes: Kia Amanti
Personality Luxury feel from the passenger seat
Unusual features Jaguar styling
Above Average: Sound insulation, ride
Needs Work In: Gas mileage, power, cornering
EPA gas mileage 17 city, 25 highway
Price Base, $28,435

With its Jaguar front, Mercedes side profile, and Passat rear, the Kia Amanti has the usual Korean “less expensive than it is” looks; inside, an abundance of light wood-like trim, standard leather seats and trim, and a tasteful interior design increase the upscale look and feel. Mercedes-style seat adjustment buttons on the doors help to complete the illusion, though the overall look is more elegant than some real Mercedes.

The Kia Amanti should look luxurious, because it's the most expensive Kia yet - but for that price, you get a car with an enormous interior, strong sound insulation, a quiet V6, sensible controls and displays with a quality feel, a comforting ride, and a well-mannered automatic transmission. It's a relaxing car to drive, yet it has plenty of power for quick getaways from traffic lights or for highway passing. The five-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission can be credited with much of this; it always seems to be in the right gear, immediately kicks down when needed, and is invariably gentle if sometimes a little slow to shift. For those who prefer to do it on their own, the transmission includes a manumatic option - shove the shifter to the right from Drive, and you can push to raise a gear and pull to drop one. The computer will take over to prevent the engine from redlining or stalling.

Kia notes that "gear changes are controlled by a neural network that monitors a range of parameters, including acceleration, deceleration, engine speed, oil temperature, and road conditions." It also takes the driver's current style into consideration. Independent clutch control valves help to make the transmission smoother and more responsive.

Motivation from the 3.5 liter V6 is usually gratifying though sometimes slightly delayed; while quiet even under full throttle, the engine seems quick and happy to rev, but has little power in the lower rpms. When driven gently, the Amanti feels comfortable, and sips gasoline at a roughly average rate (hence the 17/25 EPA ratings); however, when the driver takes advantage of the engine's power, fuel is guzzled rapidly, resulting in SUV-like numbers. We never came close to 25 mpg on the highway (though we nearly hit 20 by adhering strictly to the speed limit), but, then again, EPA ratings are usually on the high side. Power ratings are low for the class and engine size, with 200 horsepower (with 91 octane; 195 with 87 octane) and 220 lb-ft of torque.

The suspension seems fairly sophisticated, sacrificing some cornering for a smooth, sometimes wallowing ride akin to that of the Toyota Avalon and old-style American cruisers; it uses the proven double wishbone type suspension up front and multi-link suspension in rear, and feels as though it's capable of better cornering than we achieved, largely because the tires squeal rather loudly around hard turns, especially under acceleration. Indeed, we could easily elicit a squeal from a dead stop simply by hitting the gas hard. The tires are good for comfort, but leave much to be desired for performance; consider spending an extra $250 for better rubber from Tire Rack. That said, most people will find the Amanti's cornering to be good enough, especially considering the comfort level. Rough roads are easily dealt with, devoid of the noise or subsonic booms that often come with them. Most potholes, even fairly deep ones, were handled with aplomb, and never a loss of control. The Amanti's ride is, in short, deserving of its upscale appearance.

Cornering generally feels good even without the active suspension, partly because of electronically controlled variable steering that increases assistance at low speeds. The active suspension mainly helps in emergency maneuvers. However, you can expect a good deal of squealing when you take turns quickly, along with chirps on spirited launches from a stop.

The brakes are good, and four-wheel antilock brakes are standard along with front and rear discs. Other safety features include standard front and rear side curtain airbags, front active headrests, and antipinch windows (which is good because all four windows have express lowering and raising, quite a convenience feature). One accident-prevention feature is sun visors that include extenders to make sure the driver isn't blinded by the sun; another is a set of powerful, well-focused headlights. At night, backlighting is a green color that avoids distraction, but could have been chosen more widely. The gauges are again Mercedes-style, with a wide backlit band around the black centers, and the yellowish-green should probably have been amber, white, or green, rather than the current shade.

Also standard are some normally-optional features, including a dual-zone automatic climate control that works easily and intuitively and includes an a/c defeat button; eight-speaker CD/cassette; power windows, lock, and mirrors; heated mirrors; eight-way power driver's seat and four-way power passenger seat; keyless entry with alarm; cruise; wood-grain interior accents; floor mats; and fog lights. Some of the minor amenities so often sacrificed nowadays in pursuit of cost savings include an overhead sunglass holder, three coinholders, actual ashtray, gas-powered hood props, and fold-in rear-view mirrors. In another nice feature removed by competitors, the cruise control has two indicators: "CRUISE" when you activate the system, and "SET" when the speed is locked in. That's a good way to avoid confusion.

The air conditioner had average effectiveness, with easy to use controls and dual-zone automatic temperature control. The automatic feature worked well, taking the fan down as soon as it could, and making fan transitions gentler to enhance that luxury feel.

The interior of our test car looked quite luxurious, thanks partly to the leather, partly to the choice of colors (beige coupled with a darker brown above the wood trim or, on other models, light gray/beige coupled with a darker gray above the wood), and partly to the little touches such as bright chrome door openers and gearshift trim. The gauges are easy to read, with the large speedometer needlessly going to 160 mph but getting away with it because of its size and 5-mph markings; between the speedometer and tachometer is a PRNDL (gear indicator), which switches to individual gear selections (1 through 5) when the manumatic is used. Rounding out the gauges are a thermometer and gas gauge. The two main gauges have a narrow white trim layer around the perimeter, invoking recent Chrysler designs, and dull chrome rings which evoke some luxury but which would look better in bright chrome.

Our 2005 test car's leather package, insanely priced at $1,805, included memory for the driver's seat and mirrors, Infinity speakers and CD changer, and a four inch monitor set into the dashboard that looks like a navigation system when off, but turns out to be a trip computer (when this is not ordered, an analog clock takes up the space).

The 2006 model had a higher sticker price but included the leather, save for the Infinity stereo, CD changer, and trip computer, which were an extra $1,000 all taken together. The bottom half of the trip computer display in this package is taken up with radio information - the stereo in these cars have no display, but since they're always sold with the trip computer, that's okay - the middle with the time and date, and on the top a single trip-computer line of data is shown. That can include average speed since the last start, distance to empty, gas mileage, and the like. It would be nice to be able to can the date and get two bits of trip computer data, but the current setup is still easier to use and read than most. The large control button for the trip computer makes sense and avoids driver distraction, and the information and control is equally available to driver and passenger. A large button, when pushed, pops back out with clock controls - clever.

Indeed, all controls on the Kia are clever and easy to learn and use. Even the trunk and gas cap release buttons are in an unusually clever (read: visible) location. Our only complaint is minor: pressing the Window Lock button doesn't just lock out passengers, it also prevents the driver from raising or lowering the windows. Kia has still made a lot of progress: the driver's door lock no longer controls the entire car, and the window buttons (the newer, safer style) have two detents, one for manual operation and one for express.

Headlights are activated from a stalk; the driver has full manual control, or can choose an automatic position that has no delay built in, and may keep the lights going on and off a bit too often. The headlights go off completely when the key is removed, good for saving the battery but sometimes inconvenient. Interior lighting is well labelled, with the dome light having three well-marked (in English) positions: off, door, and on. The doors also have marker lights built in. The luxury look was dimmed only by the row of blank plates covering unused switches on the dashboard.

Unlike past Kias, the Amanti uses a conventional wheel-mounted cruise control system, with four buttons including a Cancel button. Our test car also had radio control buttons on the opposite side of the wheel. The cruise control is gentle and predictable, and the buttons have distinctive feelers for easy "glance-free" use, but four buttons for the cruise is still a bit excessive, and the ordering doesn't make much sense.

In a tradition revived by many manufacturers, the key is now mounted in the instrument panel, where it's easier to see; Kia's switched to a more attractive ignition lock to match the new, more visible location.

Storage space is everywhere, with front and rear map pockets (the ones in front fold out), large extra slots in the glove compartment that greatly increase its usefulness, an overhead sunglass console, a central set of covered cupholders that can hold objects when not in use, and a clever dual-level center console. Dual-level consoles are not unusual, but well-designed ones still are, and this one is well-designed, with unequal length pushbuttons to easily open the two levels, no "special movements" required. Both layers are covered in felt for sound insulation and to prevent damage to anything fragile.

Sound insulation is worth noting here, because the interior of the Kia is noticeably devoid of any annoying wind noise; the outside world and engine are well filtered out. The only noise-related issue in our first test car was a large amount of fairly quiet creaking/rattling which seemed to come from the interior trim. In all fairness our test car had 9,000 auto-journalist miles, which seems to be the equivalent of 50,000 normal miles. Our second test car, with only 4,800 miles, had absolutely no creaking or rattling, so there might also have been production issues that were later worked out.

The interior is far larger than most people would expect in a Korean car, with a great deal of space for both front and rear passengers and good headroom across the board. The trunk is also quite massive and conveniently layed out, with most of its area underneath the trunk lid rather than hidden underneath the rear deck. A pass-through is standard, because the rear seats do not fold forward; the rear seat passengers also get a fold-down console with storage space and dual cupholders. This console includes a power outlet, which parents of younger children may want to disable.

Our first test car had the convenience package, which includes an extra-large power sunroof, heated front seats, and autodimming inside mirror, at a total cost of $900 (these features were all standard in our 2006 model). The autodimming mirror tended to stay pretty bright, making us wish for a manual mirror, but it did have a Homelink garage door opener built in. The sunroof is easily operated, with separate buttons for sliding open, tilting, and closing to avoid distraction; a single press of the vent button lifts the sunroof up all the way. Our test car also had a $20 first aid kit attached to the inside of the trunk.

It's worth looking at the standard features on the 2006 models, because along with a hefty price hike much more equipment has been made standard. There's the 3.5 liter V6 and five-speed automatic with manual override; P225/60R16 tires on alloy wheels; full-size spare; four wheel antilock disc brakes; front and rear side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags; active front headrests; anti-pinch windows (they stop when they encounter an obstacle); leather; heated front seats with convenient variable controls; power windows, locks, and mirrors; heated mirrors; remote; auto-dimming rear-view mirror with built-in garage door controls; cruise; floor mats; fog lights; remote trunk and gas-cap release; and audio buttons on the wheel.

The electronic stability control system and the traction control system together ran to a mere $500, quite worth the extra cash, though the stability control didn't make much of a difference in subjective handling.

The Amanti is hardly a “driver’s car,” but not everyone wants to sacrifice comfort for a few extra miles-per-hour in the slalom. Indeed, few people drive to the limits of even cars with lesser handling than the Amanti (as shown by sales of the first-generation Avalon).

While expensive for a Kia, the Amanti is competitive with similarly sized vehicles such as the Chevrolet Impala, base Chrysler 300, and Toyota Avalon. In addition to a wide range of standard features, the Amanti has a 10 year, 100,000 mile powertrain warranty, a five-year, unlimited-mileage bumper to bumper warranty, and 24 hour roadside assistance. Kia's parent company, Hyundai, has seen increasing quality reports in recent years, beating Japanese automakers (aside from Toyota) in many cases. The only downsides we can see to the Kia Amanti are the squeal-prone tires, lack of US/Canadian content (2%), and, mainly, gulping fuel, the result of having a full two tons of steel and such to haul around with a less than ideal engine. This is an enjoyable, easy to live with car and not at all what most people would expect from Kia - though it is completely in keeping with its appearance.

  Kia Amanti Toyota Avalon Buick LeSabre Chrysler 300
Length 196 192 200 197
Wheelbase 110 107 112 120
Weight 4021 3417 3567 3700-4000
Passenger Volume
(cubic feet)
105.6 105.6 107.6 106.6
Trunk capacity
(cubic feet)
15.5 15.9 18 15.6
Front headroom 40 38.7 38.8 38.7
Rear headroom 38.4 37.9 37.8 38
Front leg room 43.7 41.7 42.4 41.8
Rear leg room 37.2 40.1 39.9 40.2
Power 200 @ 5500 210 @ 4400 205 @ 5200 190 @ 6,400
250 @ 6,400
340 @ 5000
Torque 220 @ 3500 220 @ 4400 230 @ 4000 190 @ 4000
250 @ 3800
390 @ 4000
EPA Mileage 17-25 21-29 20-29 21-28 (2.7)
17-27 (3.5)
17-27 (5.7)
Base Price
x 1000
$28 $26 $26 $24 (2.7)
$30 (3.5)
$33 (5.7)

The Kia Amanti does fairly well in comparisons, though the gas mileage is worse than even the Chrysler 300C (with a 340 horsepower V8). Interior volume is on par with the big Avalon and superior to Camry; trunk apacity is similar to Avalon and 300. The ancient but still fairly attractive LeSabre is the space king of this crowd. The 300/300C has the most firm, sporty ride of these four, at the expense of the others’ plush interiors.