Perhaps I’ve fallen a bit too much under the influence of the motoring website Petrolblog, which tends to concentrate on the odd, the low-budget, and the accessible, but I’ve taken to noticing unexceptional cars of late and considering their possibilities as “future classics.”
A few days ago, I was out in Merriam, Kansas, finishing up some errands at Target, and I spied an inexplicable car trundling toward a parking slot near where I’d put the Toyota. I couldn’t put my finger on the make or model; it kind of looked like a Malt-O-Meal knockoff of an S-Type Jaguar. The Fruity Hoops of executive sedans, if you will.
I waited until the owner had headed in to the store, and I went around back of the car to find out what in the blind hell it was. What it was, was something I hadn’t previously heard of. It was a first-generation Kia Magentis. Which is basically a tarted up Hyundai Sonata.
I drove a Hyundai Sonata once. It was a rental. It was basically adequate. I didn’t love it, but it didn’t make me swear and worry like driving the pickup does. It took up a reasonable and civilized portion of the road, had good visibility all the way around, did not get as good of mileage as I would have hoped, and was extremely unexceptional. The grey Sonata would have made an excellent getaway car, as it’s practically invisible.
Anyway, when Kia re-badged the Sonata, they gave it a different, more rounded grille, added in the round fog-lamps inboard of the regular headlights, and basically did what they could to posh up an unexciting and overwhelmingly ordinary car. Because its pretensions are so obvious, because it’s trying so hard to be an S-Type for the Sonata budget, it has a certain cockeyed charm. Sure, Cocoa-Rooties might not taste quite as nice as Cocoa-Pops, but you get twice as many for half the price.
The most delightful point of the Magentis, from my perspective, is that Kia had apparently tried to emulate the S-Type Jaguar, which is considered by Jag aficionados and pretty much everyone else, to be the worst Jaguar. It’s lackluster styling and unremarkable performance actually manage to tarnish the just-plain-snob-appeal of the Jaguar marque. It is a car which shows clear evidence that even designers and engineers at Jaguar simply phone it in occasionally.
Now, I do think this car is interesting in that it’s not that common, and that its design inspiration is so obvious, but would I ever consider buying a low-mileage example if it came up at a sufficiently low asking price? Well, not for myself, I wouldn’t, but I’d definitely try to egg my Mom on toward it.
Back when I had the Sonata on loan, I told Mom that I thought she’d like the car, that it was easy to drive, had a capacious trunk, and seemed like it would be a steady, reliable day-to-day sort of car. However, Mom likes a bit of flash. She likes the “new” Chrysler 300, and mourns the death of the chrome trim strips along the sides of cars. Given that the Magentis was graced with a generous serving of shiny bits up front and was made to look a little flashier than its humble Korean roots would suggest, I think this might be a satisfactory ride for her. It combines the mundane practicality of the Sonata with a bit of hey-look-at-me trim which does help to elevate what would otherwise be an ordinary four-door sedan.