Buyers looking for a roomy sedan with a lot of luxury features get a new choice this year, and it's a good-looking, well-powered, impressively mannered four door with a Kia badge on the front.
The 2014 Kia Cadenza, due in showrooms this quarter, takes the automaker's value-for-the-price strategy into the premium sedan market and flat out encourages shoppers to compare.
The list of standard features on the front-wheel drive Cadenza is lengthy and includes a rearview camera, navigation system and 18-inch wheels — things that are not standard on the base, 2013 Toyota Avalon or base, 2013 Buick LaCrosse.
With one engine — a 293-horsepower V-6 — the Cadenza offers more power than the Avalon and the base LaCrosse engine, too.
And this Kia comes standard with a free telematics system. Among other things, it can save a parked Cadenza's location and help guide the driver back to the vehicle via GPS after a day of shopping or after a weeklong vacation.
Plus, the Cadenza has Kia's generous warranty that provides powertrain coverage for 10 years or 100,000 miles, whichever comes first, as well as limited basic warranty coverage for five years or 60,000 miles. Roadside assistance lasts for the same five years/60,000 miles.
Kia officials plan to release pricing as the car arrives at showrooms in a few weeks. But they haven't disputed media reports pegging the Cadenza starting retail price somewhere around $33,000 to $34,000. This is where the top-of-the-line versions of the mid-size, 2013 Kia Optima SXL sedan are priced.
In comparison, the 2013 Toyota Avalon, with 268-horsepower V-6 and six-speed automatic transmission, has a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, of $31,785. But for an Avalon buyer to add a rearview camera and navigation system, he or she has to move to the Avalon XLE Touring, which starts at $36,295.
Meantime, the 2013 Buick LaCrosse with base, 182-horsepower, four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic, has a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $32,555. But with rearview camera, navigation system and 18-inch wheels, the LaCrosse trim level rises to include a 303-horsepower V-6, and the starting retail price moves up to $36,260.
Though Kia has a reputation for low-priced cars like the Rio and Soul, the move to a premium sedan isn't unexpected. Kia has been on an 18-year market share surge in the United States and last year sold a record 557,599 vehicles here.
The Cadenza is built on the same platform and uses the same 3.3-liter, double overhead cam, direct injection V-6 that's in the Hyundai Azera sedan, which has a starting retail price of $33,145. Hyundai and Kia are owned by the same South Korean company.
The test Cadenza showed, however, that it is no mere Azera makeover. For one thing, every piece of sheet metal on the outside is different than the Azera's, and the Cadenza is a few inches longer, overall, than the Azera.
Some observers liked the Cadenza styling more than that of the Azera. They remarked that the headlights are reminiscent of those on a BMW, while the rear end reminded them of an Audi. Perhaps this reflects the work of Peter Schreyer, president and chief design officer at Kia, who used to work for Audi.
Besides its attractive styling, the test Cadenza impressed by well it handled for a car that's more than 16 feet long.
On highways, the tester rode smoothly and showed itself to be a pleasant cruiser. On potholed city streets, the Cadenza kept the rough stuff away from passengers. On winding, country roads with off-camber sections, the Cadenza hewed close to the pavement and remained poised and controlled. Even in up-and-down road shocks, there was no harshness from the suspension.
Kia uses independent MacPherson struts up front and an independent multi-link setup in back, and the test car had heavy and sizable 19-inch wheels, which are part of an extra-cost Technology package. But still, there was no heavy feeling or jolting of unsprung weight at the wheels, and the tires didn't send a lot of road noise into the cabin.
It also was not immediately apparent that the Cadenza uses electric power steering, because the steering felt natural, not artificial.
The Cadenza comes standard with the usual safety equipment — eight air bags, traction control, electronic stability control and hill descent control. Other safety items, such as side blind spot monitoring and lane departure warning, are part of an extra-cost option package.
Passengers conversed easily inside the quiet Cadenza interior. Strong, confident engine sounds came in now and then during accelerations to let the driver know the Cadenza was at-the-ready with power.
Shifts from the automatic transmission were smooth and heardly noticeable. This tranny comes with Sportmatic shifting so drivers can click through the gears sans clutch pedal, if they want.
Torque peaks at 255 foot-pounds at 5,200 rpm, and the Cadenza goes from zero to 60 in around 6 seconds.
The federal government fuel economy ratings for the Cadenza are 19 miles per gallon in city driving and 28 mpg on the highway for an average of 22 mpg.
The test car averaged better than that — 24.1 mpg — for a noteworthy range of 445 miles on a single, 18.5-gallon tank.
Best of all, controls and buttons are well organized and easy to operate in the Cadenza. There's even a manual tuning button for the Infinity radio, which has an eyebrow-raising 550 watts of power, 12 speakers and surround sound — all standard.