By Frank S. Washington
DEL MAR, Calif., –What appeared to be a Kia Optima was sitting in front of the L’Auberge Resort and Spa here but it was bigger; it was a full size sedan. The 2014 Kia Cadenza is the latest nameplate being introduced by Kia.
But it begs the question why. Kia is one of the most envied automotive brands in the marketplace. For at least the last five years sales have been through the proverbial roof. Almost every new product that the Korean automaker has introduced has been wildly successful.
And now with the Kia Cadenza, the automaker is serving notice that players in the full-size sedan segment are not safe either. Kia thinks there is a gap opening up between full-size mainstream sedans and luxury sedans.
The Cadenza, with base prices of $35,900, $38,900 and $41,900 depending on the option package, is Kia’s bid to fill that gap. Kia showed a chart with the Cadenza’s competitive set of vehicles and according to the automaker, the Cadenza cost less by several thousand dollars in most cases. That too keeps pace with Kia’s penchant for offering more for less than competitors.
Kia’s new flagship had the automaker’s tiger nose grille, stretched character lines on the contoured hood and crystalline headlights. Broad shoulders, large wheels, wide stance and a lower front fascia gave the Cadenza visual substance.
The front-wheel-drive Cadenza had a 293 horsepower direct injection V6 that made 255 pound-feet of torque and it was mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. The car’s wheel base is two inches longer than a Kia Optima; overall the Cadenza is five-inches longer and one inch taller. Simply put, it is a bigger car.
The back seat was cavernous. There was plenty of leg and head room. The floor was almost flat and there was plenty of hip room. Three people could be relatively comfortable riding in the back seat.
Kia is pitching the Cadenza as a premium sedan and it had all the fixings to qualify: The car can be equipped with blind spot detection, a rear view camera, a 12-speaker 550 watt audio system is standard, adaptive cruise control, a smart key, lane departure warning and a panoramic roof is some of the stuff available on the Cadenza.
Perhaps best of all is the service package. Kia will provide complimentary factory scheduled service appointments for the first five visits that will remain enforce for 36 months or 37,500 miles.
The test drive route went through rolling hills north of here into the wine country, inland and then out and onto the North Coast Highway. The rural highways here are some of the most scenic anywhere. But the two lane torturous twisting undulating highways also test chassis stiffness, engine torque and power, automatic transmission gear selection as well as handling and suspension prowess. This is especially true for small lightly powered cars as well as full-size sedans like the 2014 Kia Cadenza.
The car was quiet; there wasn’t even much wind noise. Gear selection was sure slotted, in fact, unless under aggressive acceleration, you couldn’t feel the Cadenza shift gears. It was a very smooth powertrain. And the engine didn’t work that hard getting up and over the hills.
Kia product developers wanted a car that sported European design but did not ride as firm as a European sedan. Thus, the Cadenza’s suspension was a little soft but the car did not feel like a land yacht. The ride was comfortable but there was a little bounce when springs and shocks approached maximum compression rates traversing long sharp depressions.
Kia was one of the first automakers to go with a horizontal layout in its interior. In the Cadenza, the leather swathed dash was folded on top of itself giving the appearance of a saddle bag. There was soft touch leather with a faux wood strip protruding from underneath the edge and then a harder surface protruding from underneath the wood.
Climate controls were packaged together beneath the center vents and the audio controls were packaged together beneath them. Each group had a faux wood template.
Steering ratios were sharp, the Cadenza responded smartly to driver input. The full-size sedan handled like a much smaller car. Visually, the Cadenza was much bigger inside than it appeared to be from outside.
From a design standpoint a large car that looks and handles like small car is a successful exercise. That appears to be what Kia has in the Cadenza.
Frank S. Washington is editor of AboutThatCar.com.