It’s a well known fact that Hyundai owns Kia, and most of the cars you see in one marque has a corporate cousin to match. But for those paying attention, it seems as if Hyundai has been having all the fun lately with performance cars and no-holds barred luxury cars. Like Hyundai, Kia has made massive strides in recent years. It’s no longer about a long standard equipment list, low price and long warranty. And as Hyundai has made the dive into more prestigious markets, contemporary Kia’s have evolved into their own style, one with a heavy European accent. That’s no accident, as the man who signs off on Kia designs used to head the design studio at none other than Audi. And while Hyundai’s design direction seems to favor swooping, organic shapes, Kia’s look of late is as crisp and well tailored as an Armani suit. With well priced, competitive cars, it seemed maddening that with this design philosophy the flagship Kia was the mid-size Optima.
Kia deserved better, and in 2014 it received it in the form of the new Cadenza. Based on the Hyundai Azera, the Cadenza has been on sale in South Korea a few years now, but it is new to us in the US and Canada. Kia’s last attempt at going for a larger, premium car was the ungainly Amanti, which featured a garish chromed egg-crate grill. This time around, the Cadenza features a grill shape that is becoming the familiar face of current Kia cars. It is simple, tasteful, and not over the top, but most importantly, it is giving Kia a recognizable face, something the brand has never had before. And when the chief designer’s last job was creating premium German luxury cars, it hardly comes as a shock that the Cadenza is simply dripping with class. Our test car was finished in Smoky Blue, as seen above, and shod with stunning 19″ alloys. This is a car that feels at home in the most posh of settings, and makes no excuses for itself. If you want to scoff at the Kia badge, well, that’s your problem.
So we’ve established that Kia is certainly capable of designing what looks like a premium car, but what about the cabin? That’s what really counts, right? Thankfully, Kia got it right. The interior is handsome, for sure, but not as memorable or distinctive as the exterior. In other words, you can squint your eyes and think you could be sitting in any premium car. The Cadenza offers an airy, roomy passenger compartment. The seats are comfortable, but the lack of any meaningful side bolsters reminds the emphasis is on luxury, not sport. Gauges are crystal clear, and I’ve always found Kia’s touch-screen infotainment center easy and intuitive. Even so, I did appreciate having actual buttons on the center stack to touch. The quality of materials seemed on par this price point, and I appreciated thoughtful details like the analog clock. Bottom line, the Cadenza’s interior is top-notch, and a place where you could easily clock a few hundred miles in a day and come out feeling fine.
Although in foreign markets buyers have a few choices when it comes to what goes under the hood, here in North America our only choice is the top spec engine. The front-wheel drive Cadenza is offered with a 3.3L direct injected V-6 rated at 293hp, and is paired to a six-speed automatic. Kia does not release performance figures, but most third party car guys are getting 0-60mph times of six and a half seconds or so. In other words, the Kia can scoot. I am told that the gearing in the Cadenza was altered slightly from the Hyundai Azera for better off the line performance . I’ve driven both cars, and I honestly can’t say I noticed a difference. The Cadenza offers a ‘just right’ amount of power to move you along with authority, and a ride tuned more to comfort than sport, but this is no floaty barge by any means. The Kia does not purport to be a sport sedan, so take taking it for what it is-a premium, front wheel drive luxury car, it certainly meets or exceeds a driver’s expectations.
True to Kia tradition, the Cadenza boasts a long list of standard features. Goodies such as dual zone auto climate control, Infinity surround sound audio, navigation, rear camera display, SiriusXM satellite radio, Bluetooth, leather seats, power heated front seats, front and rear LED lighting, and back up warning sensors are standard fare on the Cadenza, which has a base price of $35,100. Our test car added the Technology Package (Advanced Smart Cruise Control, Blind Spot Detection, Lane Departure Warning, Hydrophobic front windows and 19″ alloys), and the Luxury Package (Panoramic sunroof, HID headlights, Nappa leather, ventilated driver’s seat, heated rear seat, heated steering wheel and power rear sunshade). Or, to put it more simply, our Cadenza was loaded. One interesting nuance with our Cadenza was when you opt for both the Technology and Luxury option packages, at no extra charge you can get the ‘White Interior Package’ as seen above. What you get is white Nappa leather and a suede headliner-very nice touches, indeed, and it added a special air the Cadenza’s interior. Thankfully, I had the Cadenza when it was cold outside, so I did not have to worry my eight year old son would drag in 10 pounds of dirt, mud and sand from summer camp on the Kia’s pristine white hides. If you’re a family man, and really need an excuse to spend some time in the garage treating the white leather on a daily basis, you might want to reconsider that option. Including destination charges, our Kia Cadenza rings up at a still reasonable $41,900.
So, for Kia’s first effort at going upscale, the result is impressive. Granted, it helps that Hyundai already tested those waters and did just fine. The Cadenza is the fulfillment of where Kia design has been pushing towards-upscale, European influenced design. With this car, Kia now has the goods to compliment the look, and the result is genius. And Kia is not stopping there. Here at The Garage, we look forward to reviewing the larger, more powerful Kia K900. Stay tuned!