CANNON BEACH, Ore. -- Starting from a curbside slot on Broadway in the skyscraper core of Portland, we plot a route leading west on U.S. 26, the Sunset Highway, to Cannon Beach on the rugged Pacific Coast of Oregon.
Vehicle for this daylight dash to the sea -- the 2008 Amanti premium luxury sedan from Kia of South Korea -- stretches long and looks downright elegant with a bold prow and sculptured body styling drawn from classic luxury touring sedans out of Europe.
It also packs substantial firepower, thanks to a V6 engine upgrade which came to Amanti last year.
After adjusting all mirrors, fixing the form-fitting driver's bucket in a comfy position and cranking up Amanti's big engine, we merge into traffic heading south on Broadway.
It's stop-and-go through a series of traffic signals for a mile up Broadway's hill before we hook a right and enter the freeway leading west on Route 26.
To fit into the multi-lane flow of traffic, we step on the throttle.
Amanti's engine responds with a stunning surge and we shoot to the fast lane while climbing a steep slope beside the fir-fringed Washington Park.
The new 3.8-liter V6 lurking below Amanti's hood has an aluminum block and heads with dual cams posed on top.
It generates 264 hp at 6000 rpm plus big torque of 260 lb-ft at 4500 rpm.
All of that muscle translates through a sophisticated electronically-controlled five-speed automatic transaxle with no-load manual shift control (MSC) mode, which Kia labels as Sportmatic.
Our souped-up Amanti surges ahead on Route 26 until we bump against the legal speed limit.
It feels strong and capable of running at a quick clip in the fast lane, but also there's a sensation of plush smoothness in the ride quality which only comes from a large luxury vehicle with all wheels floating comfortably through independent suspension.
The incongruent thought that comes when driving this large luxury car is a realization that the badge displayed on Amanti's egg-crate grille spells K-I-A, a brand once relegated to itsy-bitsy economy cars.
Of course, Kia today shows a diverse mix of value-priced vehicles with Amanti capping the line as the largest product in the fleet and the one stocking lavish features for comfort plus more standard safety gear than any other Kia.
But here's the inimitable Kia twist: The 2008 Amanti bears a bottom-line price tag of only $25,495.
Tack on the unavoidable freight fee of $700 and the drive-it-home figure for Amanti bumps up to $26,195, which may well represent the least amount of dollars required to get the most amount of car among all 2008 models.
Check out that tony exterior package and you might assume Amanti is some fancy import from Europe worth double the MSRP tag.
Conformed as a notchback four-door sedan with seats inside for four or five, Amanti shows a bold prow with the chrome grille tucked between flanking pairs of oval articulated headlamps.
A canted hood and bulging fenders incorporate striking ripples patterned after curves of the headlamps and these waves flow back in tapering lines. The shapes seem familiar, as they're similar to sweeping fender designs on luxury sedans by Mercedes-Benz and Jaguar.
Amanti's profile reveals an arching roofline which rolls down at rear pillars into a convexly curved rear window that evokes images of a classic 1930s-vintage Type 57 Bugatti sports coupe.
Tail treatment appears conservative with a squarish flat deck but curvaceous corners and wraparound horizontal taillamp clusters.
Foundation for the car comes out of the XG350 sedan by Hyundai, Korea's larger automaker and Kia's parent, only the wheelbase has been stretched several inches, the width of the body is about an inch greater and the length of the body projects for four inches longer.
The resultant stretched structure forges a four-door passenger compartment of generous dimensions with a high ceiling so the headroom for front and rear seats is good even for someone with a tall torso.
This is also a broad space so there's ample room for shoulders of those riding in the back, and the long wheelbase adds sufficient legroom for all seats.
A conventional layout puts a pair of comfortable bucket seats up front with a center console housing the transmission shift lever. Behind the front seats, a bench for three has indentations for two, plus a fold-down armrest and porthole for access to the trunk.
Front buckets, designed to fit large American frames, slide forward and back on long tracks to exaggerate floor space and accommodate even a long-legged driver.
And there's a significant list of standard equipment aboard in the manner of a premium luxury car, such as eight-way power controls on the driver's seat plus memory settings for two different drivers, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, dual zone automatic temperature controls, power controls for windows and door locks plus heat elements imbedded in the twin exterior mirrors.
A steel unibody structure surrounds the passenger compartment, with high-tension reinforcements layered at critical junctures to increase rigidity of the system.
The suspension employs independent elements of a double wishbone in front with coil springs, gas-charged shocks and stabilizer bar, plus a rear multi-link system and stabilizer bar. Ride quality feels smooth yet firm and controlled, as the system eliminates typical squat or dive response when accelerating rapidly or braking hard.
Speed-sensitive rack and pinion steering contributes to the agile nature of Amanti.
Also, there are power-assisted brakes with ventilated front discs and solid discs in back, each coupled to a computerized anti-lock brake system (ABS).
And Kia provides elaborate passive safety equipment, including air bags up front, on the side for all four outboard seats as well as in the ceiling as curtain-style air bags hidden above the four side windows.
Kia also offers as an option for Amanti an electronic stability program (ESP) with traction control system (TCS) and brake assist system (BAS) as part of the Electronic Stability Control Package.