BY ANDY ENRIGHT
As audiences go, motoring journalists are a tough crowd to please. It's true that writing about a bad car usually generates more entertaining copy than writing about something uniformly competent. With this in mind, many members of Her Majesty's press corps were gleefully sharpening their knives in advance of Kia's launch of the Magentis in 2001. Their faces when they emerged from the car were a study of lost opportunity. The withering comments, the unflattering comparisons and the opening paragraphs on the theme of 'ideas above their station' would all have to be saved for another day. The Kia Magentis, they grudgingly accepted, was actually pretty good which, coming from this dispirited bunch, was high praise indeed. Actually, the Magentis is better than pretty good. It's a huge step forward for Kia and drives like cars costing twice its asking price. It's also one of the more interesting used buys around at the moment, the initial slice of depreciation having reduced these quality cars to prices that read like a misprint.
Models Covered: (4 dr saloon 2.0, 2.5 litre petrol [LX, SE])
Perhaps we shouldn't have been so surprised that the Magentis was quite as well developed as it was. Its predecessor, the Clarus, wasn't a bad car. It was saddled by a curiously bovine name and was launched at a time when bashing Kias was still widely accepted behaviour but it showed signs of promise. Few expected quite such sweeping advances at the 2001 launch of the Magentis, however, and Kia were rightly proud of their flagship car. Initially only a V6 engined model was available, although at prices starting from under £12,000 here was a Mondeo sized car that retailed for less than the price of some Fiestas, making it the cheapest V6 engined car on sale in the UK. An upspec model laden with gadgets and fitted with a sports H-matic suspension was also made available. Late 2002 saw the first change to the Magentis range. The flagship V6 SE automatic carried on as before but the entry-level V6 car, badged LX, had its engine swapped for a 2.0-litre four cylinder unit and £1,000 was lopped from the price. A number of minor styling changes were also made to the Magentis range in early 2003 including different headlamps. The jury's out on whether the new look represents an improvement. In 2004 the 2.5-litre V6 engine was shown the door and the Magentis range reduced to one model with 2.0-litre power and a choice of manual or automatic transmission. An all-new Magentis made landfall in 2006 replacing this model.
What You Get
First impressions are promising. The styling of the Magentis, whilst unlikely to be the last word in urban cool, is tidy and well proportioned, if a little bland. In an Asian testament to US design there's a lot of chrome on the outside, starting at that imposing grille and taking in some broad side rubbing strips and pert door handles. The wheels, although of an inoffensive design, look as if they could have benefited from being slightly larger, and are accosted by some rather bulbous-looking rubberwear. The headlamps are of the obligatory jewel-effect, whilst the rear view is again cleanly styled but liable to slip from the memory without registering any residual impact. You can choose between a 2.0-litre as fitted to the LX model or instead opt for the 2.5-litre V6 engine, this one putting out a respectable 166bhp. The Magentis offers plenty of car for the money but then Kias have always done that. It has certainly had its work cut out against the usual suspects such as the Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall Vectra models - though if you want one of those with a V6, be prepared to pay a lot more for it. Even so, perhaps it's fairer to compare this car with something a little less European and more in line with the Magentis' value proposition. Targets like the Daewoo Leganza and Hyundai Sonata look fairer game for the flagship Kia, being of similar size and price. Bear in mind however, that only the Sonata offers V6 power - for £2,000 more than the top Magentis. Naturally if you plan to build a big car for small change, you have to cut a few corners here and there. The real expertise comes in disguising where the corners have been cut. Whereas big companies like Ford and General Motors pour millions of pounds into engine development and chassis tuning in order to produce an excellent product, companies such as Kia, to be blunt, don't. What the Magentis concentrates on instead is a generous equipment list that will give instant showroom appeal, and the Kia has some notably impressive features. All models get alloy wheels, air conditioning, anti lock brakes and electric windows as well as driver and passenger airbags and front foglamps. An eight-way adjustable driver's seat, remote opening boot, powered heated mirrors and a six-speaker CD stereo system also feature on the base model. Go further upmarket with the auto-only SE variant and you'll get a leather interior with some injection-moulded wood to look at, plus side airbags, traction control, climate control for the air conditioning, an electric aerial, heated mirrors and cruise control. Practicality is always going to be a given with any Kia and the Magentis delivers with a 386 litre boot. Photocopier salesmen need no longer resort to using a dog-eared brochure. You can imagine the opportunities such a cavernous boot will afford them. "Of course if you don't like that photocopier, I've got a few more in here somewhere."
What You Pay
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What to Look For
Make sure the car is in perfect condition. There's no reason why it shouldn't be, as it will be within warranty, but any dents, scratches or interior damage will knock values hard. One advantage of the Magentis is that most cars will have had a relatively easy life, the majority of customers using them for motorway wafting. Otherwise insist on a full service record and contact a few franchised dealers to try to find the best bargain available.
(approx based on a 2001 Magentis 2.5LX) Like their cars, Kia spares prices have gained an enviable reputation for good value, and replacement parts for the Magentis are all agreeably cheap. A clutch assembly is around £255, whilst front brake pads weigh in at around £40. An alternator will cost around £150, and for a starter motor you'll be looking at £130. The only comparatively pricey parts are the jewel effect headlamps.
On the Road
Kia not only have Hyundai to thank for saving their corporate hides, they also owe them a debt of gratitude for the V6 engine that they saw fit to share with their Sonata model. Fitted to the Magentis, it offers a creamy, if not particularly rapid, driving experience, the feeling of well being augmented by the huge seats and velvety ride quality. Turn up the air-conditioning, crank up the stereo and you can't help but feel that this Kia is a very pleasant companion, just so long as you don't simultaneously show it a bend and press the pedal on the right, whereupon it's prone to a touch of roll and wallowing. The V6 model gets the Sports H-matic transmission. Whilst sounding about as sporting as an attack of gout, it is no less than the Porsche-based tiptronic gearchange system and helps to make those twisty bits something less of a chore, although with a car as relaxed as the Magentis, it's inclusion is something of a puzzle. This is a car you'd much rather stick in Drive and waft about in, enjoying the toys and taking it easy. As an antidote to road rage, it pretty much hits the spot.
Paying under £8,000 for a 2001 model Kia Magentis V6 feels almost criminal. The problem is there aren't that many to choose from. Never in the field of used car purchasing was so much offered for so little by so few. Your best hope of finding one may well be to canvass your local Kia dealer in the hope that they've got an ex-demo car. As a used buy, the Magentis' surprisingly stable residual values don't make it quite such an outrageous steal as many had predicted but its still a whole lot of metal for your money. If you're a mature buyer looking for a comfortable car that will last for a few years, the Kia Magentis is a serious contender.