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WHEELS OF THE WEEK

2004 KIA AMANTI: Kia calls this "an affordable premium sedan," and if you see it in your rearview mirror, you may well mistake it for a Mercedes because of the Amanti's elliptical-shaped headlights.

The Amanti has 16-inch alloy wheels, wood-grain finish on the doors, a four-spoke steering wheel with illuminated remote controls for the audio system and vehicle speed control, and hard-cased compartments that fold out from the front doors to accommodate bulky items.

The parking brake is operated by foot, freeing additional space on the center console. The Amanti has more headroom and front legroom than competitors such as Toyota Avalon, Chrysler Concorde and Buick LeSabre.

Among the Amanti's other features are four-wheel disc antilock braking system with electronic brake distribution; traction control, eight airbags and electronic stabilizing to avoid skids.

A variable valve inside the exhaust muffler reduces exhaust noise by closing at low speeds. At higher speeds, the valve opens to improve engine performance.

The Amanti's body contains foam padding within the wheel arches and urethane insulation pads in the primary pillar sections to further reduce road noise. The floor pan, roof and dashboard contain sound-deadening pads that minimize interior noise and vibration when the car is moving.

The front-wheel-drive sedan is powered by a 3.5-liter, twin-cam, transversely mounted 24-valve V6 engine producing 200 horsepower at 5,500 rpm, coupled with an electronically controlled five-speed automatic transmission that offers fully automatic adaptive operation or a sequential manual mode.

Manufacturer's suggested retail price: $24,995.

_ FRANK R. HOTCHKISS

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