It’s nothing short of astonishing just how far Kia has come in the past decade. Once seen almost universally as an automaker of mediocre, outdated and outclassed Walmart-grade economy cars, Kia has transcended the ranks of mainstream automobile brands, positioning itself as the sporty and stylish choice in most segments it competes in.
Yet Kia’s transformation from a caterpillar to a butterfly didn’t occur overnight. After a few years of peddling just the positively wretched Sephia compact and Sportage compact SUV (North American market-wise, at least), by the early 2000s Kia began working towards a full lineup with the subcompact Rio, larger compact Spectra, midsize Optima, Sorento SUV, and Sedona minivan.
The most unusual of Kia’s early-00s additions however, has to be the Amanti, a car some of our readers might better know as the “Opirus”. For a brand mostly known for bland, forgettable, budget-friendly cars that looked like they were 5+ years too late, the Amanti was certainly an outlier.
Given the automaker’s expansion, it certainly wasn’t the idea of a full-size Kia that was so totally bizarre. After all, in other markets, Kia had been selling the Potentia and later the Enterprise (above) full-size sedans, based on the Mazda Luce and Sentia, respectively.
The rather bizzare thing about Kia’s first full-size car sold in North America lay in its execution. Simply put, the Amanti was an abomination. A gallimaufry of styling elements seemingly copied from other cars including the Mercedes W210 E-Class, Buick LeSabre, and Lincoln Town Car, the Amanti most notably looked like a budget attempt at creating a nock-off Jaguar S-Type, minus the actual grace and dignity of the Jag.
Adding to this were horrible proportions for car of this style. Although a tall roofline and expansive greenhouse may have been beneficial for passenger space and comfort, they only accentuated the Amanti’s disproportionately tall height relative to its short length and wheelbase. Small wheels and their corresponding small wheel wells only made things worse.
These dimensions working together (or should I say against each other) contributed to a look that was very unflattering from most angles. Words like stubby, choppy, and ungainly are just a few adjectives that come to mind.
Quite frankly, the Amanti looked like some cheap black-market knock-off that would’ve been sold on Canal Street in NYC. It even lacked any form of grille badging or identification. And then there’s the name. Is it any coincidence that the name “Amanti” sounds vaguely like “Armani”? “Amanti” may mean lovers in Italian, but there was certainly very little to love about it.
Underneath its cartoonist skin, the Amanti was based on the far more conventional, attractive, and elegant looking Hyundai Grandeur XG that had debuted four years prior. Versus its corporate cousin, the Kia Amanti rode on a 1.9-inch longer wheelbase, and overall was 5 inches longer, 2.6 inches taller, 0.9 inches wider, and some 350 pounds heavier, tipping the scales at over 4,100 pounds.
Power initially came from the very same cast-iron 3.5L Sigma V6, making a rather unremarkable 200 horsepower and 214 lb-ft torque. Not that it probably mattered to the Amanti’s buying demographic, but said engine was capable of dragging the Amanti from zero to sixty in a leisurely 8.9 seconds. 2007 and on Amantis gained a much appreciated power bump to 263 horsepower and 257 lb-ft torque, courtesy of the 3.8L Lambda V6.
But power was likely not a major concern for the relative few who ended up purchasing a Kia Amanti (just 62,710 over the course of nine years of reported sales: 2003-2011). Things such as positive steering feedback, minimal body roll, smoothness of its 5-speed automatic, and lack of squeal from its tall, narrow tires were sadly not to be found in the Amanti either.
Where the Amanti did deliver with bells on was in its cushy and isolated ride, spacious interior, and well-appointed cabin. Standard features included keyless entry, power front seats, front and rear side impact and side curtain airbags, dual-zone automatic climate control, and after 2005, leather upholstery, moonroof, and heated front seats. Most commendably, compared to previous Kias, the Amanti boasted a cabin of much-improved materials and assembly that were more on par with other Asian manufacturers.
Although its strengths were far and few between, the Amanti represented both a tremendous value (in terms of on-paper amenities for the price) and a significant leap forward for Kia. While is probably fooled few as a true luxury car, it did show the world that Kia was capable of making more than just stripped-down, penalty-box compacts.
It’s still somewhat unclear just what intentions and aspirations Kia had with selling the Amanti in the North American market, but ultimately, the Amanti proved to be Korea’s best crack at building a Buick. And while the Amanti may have been every bit as cringe worthy as Kias that came before it, it nonetheless paved the way for the higher-end Kias of today.
Photographed: Norwell, MA – March 2017