Once known as the builder of “cheap and cheerful” autos, Kia has been on a tear as of late.
Much of the credit goes to design chief Peter Schreyer, who after making his mark at Volkswagen and Audi, has taken the company lineup from drab to delightful.
But the automaker’s success is down to more than just appearances, as today’s Kia models not only look sharper both inside and out, but benefit from better build quality and loads of tech that was once the domain of vehicles much higher up the pricing ladder.
The 2014 Cadenza is the new flagship for this Korean automaker.
If you haven’t been paying attention to the new Kia, you may think the Cadenza is simply a Schreyer spin on an existing Hyundai – and to that point, you’d be partially correct.
The Cadenza, known as the K7 in overseas markets, isn’t based on the current Hyundai Genesis sedan, but on the Azera which is still available in the U.S., although discontinued here after 2009.
And because of this connection, it gets the same engine – a DOHC 3.3-litre V6 with gasoline direct injection that produces 293 hp and 255 lb/ft of torque. It is mated to a six-speed automatic with paddle shifters that drives the front wheels.
The rear-wheel-drive Genesis, on the other hand, is powered by a 3.8-litre mill that delivers more brawn (333 hp and 291 lb/ft), but in a slightly larger and heavier vehicle that will cost you more dough.
Different cars tapping the same segment – but for this type of vehicle, it’s less about muscle and more about style and premium amenities. And on the latter two counts, the Cadenza does not disappoint.
Not that this near-luxury, full-size sedan is a slouch when you plant the pedal. Its 1,700 kilograms will launch from rest to 100 km/h in about 8 seconds, under the control of an autobox that does its job quietly and smoothly – even under hard throttle.
Cadenza’s Euro styling, however, moves me even more than its powerplant. With its broad shoulders, wide stance and pronounced wheel arches over the massive 19-inch alloys on my Premium tester, this car looks firmly planted.
First impressions are bold, with Kia’s signature tigershark grille sprayed black with a chrome surround, and flanked by swept-back projector headlamps over a row of LEDs.
This fronts a long, contoured hood and steeply-raked windshield, all contributing to an elegant silhouette and overall look that wouldn’t be out of place on the Autobahn.
In rear, LED taillights and twin ovoid exhausts complete the Cadenza’s polished exterior.
This vehicle is available in two trim levels: base at $37,795 and Premium (as tested) at $44,995), and the differences between the two, aside from wheel size (you get 18-inchers on base), and the higher trim’s panoramic sunroof, are really more about tech.
For the extra $7,200 you also get smart cruise control, blind spot detection and lane departure warning – the latter two of which you can turn off when, not if, they become annoying. Premium also provides driver’s seat cooling and memory, rear heated seats, power tilt/telescopic steering (also heated), electric rear sunshade and “hydrophobic” front door glass.
You wouldn’t think the latter feature to be a big deal, but its ability to shed water was much appreciated during a recent record downpour where the front wipers and clear side windows helped keep me safe on a very busy highway.
Still, even the ‘basic’ vehicle offers a lengthy list of standard features that includes power folding and heated side mirrors with signal repeaters, rearview camera with parking sensors, navigation, leather seats (heated up front) with eight-way power adjust for the driver and four-way for the front passenger, smart key with pushbutton start, dual-zone climate control, rain-sensing windshield, and Infinity 12-speaker audio system with Bluetooth.
There’s loads of knee room in back, where you can really stretch out, and separate ventilation for a cool breeze on rear passengers. The armrest drops down to reveal a pass-through to the trunk.
As you’d expect in a full-size sedan, the Cadenza’s trunk is huge. At 451 litres, there’s ample room for four golf bags or luggage for a week on the road. Sure, that pales next to any SUV, but many people who buy these behemoths don’t need them, and for today’s smaller families, a better-handling premium sedan makes a brilliant alternative to an average sport utility.
Especially one with the levels of craftsmanship I found throughout, in its premium leather and abundant soft-touch materials, chrome bezels and polished woodgrain inserts, and in the minute panel gaps that wouldn’t give up the slightest squeak or rattle over rough pavement.
Even the din of rush hour traffic barely penetrated the passenger cabin, which was Lexus-quiet.
So is there a future for a $37K-plus Kia?
You might have asked the same of Toyota and Nissan a few decades ago, now happily selling Avalons and Maximas for about the same money.
Kia may be new to this segment, but as we’ve seen with Hyundai’s growing success, the Korean manufacturers are quick studies, and now worthy contenders in the premium automotive marketplace.
Kia Cadenza Premium 2014
Body Style: full-size luxury sedan
Drive Method: front-engine, front-wheel-drive
Engine: 3.3-litre V6 with gasoline direct injection (293 hp and 255 lb/ft of torque)
Fuel Economy: (Regular) 11.2/7.4 L/100 km (city/hwy)
Cargo: 451 litres
Price: base $37,795; Premium $44,995 (as tested, plus freight and taxes)