Gourmet restaurants and McDonalds both serve salads. Both establishments offer greens, vegetables and some kind of dressing. Setting aside Mickey D's portion-controlled, polymer-intensive presentation, I doubt anyone would confuse the two salads based on appearance or taste. But what of a "proper" premium sedan and the Kia Amanti? It's an intriguing idea: an upmarket midsize sedan at a family sedan price. Cutting out a badge-related price premium is always tempting… but seldom worth it.
There's no discounting presentation here: the Amanti sheetmetal embodies its upmarket aspirations, and bombs. Kia's range-topper faces the world with an unmitigated knockoff of a last-generation E-class' front end (sans hood ornament). From the side, the Amanti's roofline brings to mind a 1995 Chrysler LHS. Vertical taillights and a bustle-butt truck lifted from a 1999 Bentley Arnage bring up the rear. Taken as a whole, the Amanti stands out in a parking lot like a black cat in a dark room.
The Amanti's "premium" amenities are a study in contradiction. Germanically-firm-yet-supportive bucket seats are upholstered in glove-soft leather. But the windowsills are rock-hard and about an inch wide. Adjustable pedals are optional. A telescoping steering column isn't. The instrument cluster bedazzles with electroluminescent gauges. But there's no satellite radio or MP3 input for the sound system.
The four-door offers its occupants eight air bags to help survive a crash, but you have to pay for stability and traction controls to help avoid one. The Amanti has power locks. But they can't be set to lock automatically. A dual zone automatic temp control is standard, but your sat nav system will have to come via a suction cup.
The four-inch screen in the center of the dash promises a nav system– and delivers a trip computer, radio, temp and time with white "toothpick" numbers against a black background. While the door-mounted seat adjuster on the passenger's side looks like the eight-way control for the driver's side, it just moves the seat fore and aft and reclines it. In spite of the supple leather on the seats, plastic of all textures dominates.
Space you got, and lots of it. Up front, Indiana Jones fans may affix their preferred head gear. The back seat's chair-height seating is even more impressive. Even with the front seat adjusted for my 6'3" frame, my 6'5" son sat comfortably behind me. There's plenty of room for four, or even five, more statistically representative humans; the Amanti's cavernous trunk can easily handle the luggage they'll need (provided at least two are male).
The Amanti's ride is more than good-I mean, "supple" enough to lure a [the?] octogenarian out of his Mercury Grand Marquis. The Korean sedan floats over highway bumps with the kind of ease once lauded as "an easy chair on wheels." The 3.8-liter 264hp V6 powering the pastiche is virtually silent while cruising. Depending on how much speed you're demanding, increasing your rate of progress produces a coarse growl. The indecisive transmission then tries to find a lower gear and… you're off. The powerplant's 260 lb-ft of torque finally kicks in and you move out smartly, or cheaply, whichever.
Any attempted change in direction proves what anyone who understands automotive dynamics 101 will have deduced from the paragraph above. Double wishbones up front and a multi-link setup out back promise more than they can deliver. Combine them with numb, over-boosted steering and anything approximating spirited driving requires a level of skill best employed on a driving sim.
And then there's branding…
When most people think Kia, they think cheap. The corollary: questionable build quality and dubious resale values. While nothing broke down or fell off during the week I drove the Amanti, the ignition switch was already loose enough to wiggle in its housing.
Although hardly anyone would pay the Amanti's $31,695 sticker price, an estimated first-year depreciation rate of around 50 percent should give the prospective buyer serious pause. More specifically, from January through June of this year, Kia sold 2,090 Amantis. Some 1,117 of those were sold in June. If that doesn't reek of fleet sales, I don't know what does.
By the same token, if you'd like a comfortable, reasonably economical car that would be big enough for a family of four (or if grandpa wants to downsize from his Town Car) just wait a couple of years. By then you should be able to buy a 2008 Amanti for a third what it cost new. Of course, the same sort of depreciation applies to the "real thing"– only at a slightly slower pace. Timely gratification, cheap or luxurious. Choose one.
(Kia of North America supplied the car, insurance, and a tank of gas)