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2004 Sedan Buyer's Guide
by Martha Hindes

Kia Amanti
Kia Amanti sedan

Hmmm... Is it a Mercedes? A Jaguar? An Audi? Well, yes.

The new Amanti sedan feels familiar for a reason. In a gutsy move, Kia shrewdly takes bold inspiration from some of the toniest European sedans ever to grace Germany's Autobahn. From faux wood trim to its name etched on the door sill, the Amanti's classical appearance puts Kia in serious contention with this new flagship sedan, the largest ever from the South Korean auto maker.

Reflecting the kissing cousin Hyundai XG350 it's based on, this five-passenger newcomer is longer, roomier and adds what seems like every upscale amenity for pampering luxury. Don't fumble for seat adjusters. Instead of seatside, they're inset Mercedes-style in the door panel. Expect leather touched steering? It's there. The Infiniti sound system is vibrant and pleasing.

An optional, "nav" system lookalike is an easy-to-read blue data panel that adds upscale style. Lockout is banished if the key's in the ignition -- great for the absent minded. Options include a five speed automatic with sequential manual shift and some stability upgrades augmenting standard ABS.

Despite a hint of drift on the speed proportional power steering, an overly sensitive key fob that reacts when barely brushed, annoyingly touchy steering wheel buttons, and forced override of the shift when in manual mode, the Amanti surpasses most expectations. At a $25,000 base, it should compete comfortably with the Honda Accords and Toyota Avalons centered in its crosshairs.

The premium-fueled, front-drive 2.5 liter V-6 delivers so-so mileage but at 195 horsepower is unexpectedly responsive, with plenty of on-ramp power. Ride is cushy, not mooshy. Side curtain airbags and heated seats are standard and won't leave one wanting. This head-turning sedan catches its share of smiles. It promises to demand its place in the crowd among European competitors it complements by emulating only the best.