You gotta like it when an auto maker steps up with a statement car like the 2014 Kia Cadenza. Not long ago, we were calling Kia an upstart among car brands, a comeback story filled with hopes, dreams and ambition. Now Kia has a flagship sedan aimed squarely at the Acura TL, Buick LaCrosse, Nissan Maxima, Lincoln MKZ and Toyota Avalon.
That from the Kia Soul company, the little rig that starts at less than $17,000 and is to Kia what the Beetle is to Volkswagen, says Kia chief designer Peter Schreyer. And just as the Bug company went all Passat on us, Kia has the Cadenza, a $37,995-$44,995 premium sedan bulging with a 293-horsepower, direct-injection V–6, standard leather upholstery, navigation system, rain-sensing wipers, fancy 18-inch wheels and power folding mirrors.
This is the formula Kia has been working with for the past decade or so: give the buyer more for less and in a sexy package.
You can decide on the looks, though I like them, from the stylish shapes in the doors to the LED lighting up front. But the facts say that almost none of the cars targeted by the Cadenza have a standard 12-speaker stereo, or a no-cost rear-view camera. The Avalon in base trim comes close to the Cadenza starter, but not quite.
Then if you go upstream to the most expensive Premium Cadenza ($44,995), only the Avalon matches the Kia’s rear heated seats. Among this set of sedans, only the Avalon and MKZ also come with “smart” cruise control at no extra charge. You could make the argument that a $45,000 Cadenza is delightfully well-equipped: power expandable leg cushion, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, panoramic sunroom, high-grade leather upholstery, a power rear window curtain – the list is numbingly long and meant to be.
The Kia types don’t blanche at the brass of this latest step up the automotive rung. And they most certainly want you to make a list of what their vehicles have that the competition lacks.
But just throwing features into a tin can with pretty shapes would mean nothing if Kia hadn’t spent the better part of the last decade reinventing itself. That started with the basics, too.
Take safety. The Soul and Rio are Top Safety Picks of the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, meaning they have scored well in the demanding crash tests done by the research arm of the U.S. insurance lobby. The Optima, too, is a Top Safety Pick, as are the Sportage and Sorento. So Kias are robust and they come equipped with the latest safety gear.
In the Cadenza, that means eight standard airbags and a numbingly long list of active safety equipment, from the usual such as anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control, to a brake assist system that helps you avoid rear-enders in panic stops.
The smart cruise control is a radar-based system that automatically maintains the distance between you and the car in front. Blind spot detection, similarly, uses radar to warn you about traffic where you might not normally see it and a windshield-mounted camera spots when you’re drifting over the line and warns you. Adaptive lighting, also on the pricier Cadenzas, steers your headlamps around a corner as you do.
Now cool as these gizmos sound, they are standard fare in $40,000 luxury cars, even $40,000 luxury cars from Kia. Nothing special in and of themselves. Except all of them haven’t been sold in one Kia before, not in one car at a price that is highly competitive with the best in the segment. Though to be fair, only the base version of the Maxima ($37,880) starts at a higher sticker than the Cadenza in Kia’s target group. So the Cadenza is well-equipped but still not cheap.
Reliable? Research says Kia still has some work to do. In the latest J.D. Power and Associates three-year Vehicle Dependability Study (VDS), the Kia brand finished well below average. But then, so did BMW, Mini, Infiniti, Mazda and Volkswagen. On the other hand, in the most recent Consumer Reports reliability report, the Kia brand finished 10th overall and slightly above the average.
If the Cadenza is any indication, fit and finish issues will not emerge as a trouble spot. The materials in the Premium version, in particular, are first-rate. The gaps between panels and components are as tight as anything in the industry, too. The whole package looks and feels as expensive as the price tag.
And the car behaves on the road on a par with its main rivals, too. Perhaps even a little sportier than most. Loads of power, too.
Yes, the Kia brand remains a work in progress, but the Cadenza suggests that the progress, while slow, is steady. This company clearly has a plan to overtake and beat down the best in the business. For those rivals not paying attention, this could be painful.
2014 Kia Cadenza
Type: Premium sedan
Price range: $37,995-$44,995 (freight $1,455)
Engine: 3.3-litre V–6
Horsepower/torque: 293 hp/255 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 11.2 city/7.4 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Acura TL, Buick LaCrosse, Nissan Maxima, Lincoln MKZ, Toyota Avalon