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Kia Cadenza (click on image for a slide show)Kia crafts a fine flagship with Cadenza

By Jim Bray
September 20, 2013

While its name might sound like something out of a furniture store, Kia's new Cadenza sedan (click on image for a slide show) is a fine vehicle that's good to drive and comes with just about every feature you could imagine short of an onboard biffy.

The Cadenza (which is actually a musical reference) supposedly shares a lot with its Hyundai sibling the Azera which, given the Azera's history, isn't a bad place to start. It's a full size family sedan with enough performance to keep all but the most lead-footed satisfied, a gigantic trunk, and very good value considering all the stuff that's included in the price.

Kia Canada provided a Cadenza Premium for review, a car that tipped the fiscal scale at $44,995. Now, that might seem like more money than a Kia is worth, but a lot has happened over the past few years, meaning such sentiments are actually "old school thinking." So if you think this new Kia flagship is anything like the old Kia flagship, the Amanti, you definitely have another think coming.

That's because the South Korean carmaker has advanced by leaps and bounds since the days of the Amanti, so much so that if you aren't including Kia on your list when you start shopping for a new car or SUV, you're really doing yourself a disservice.

Cadenzas get their motivation from a 3.3 liter V6 engine that develops 293 horsepower and 255 lb.-ft. of torque. While that isn't up to the output of some competitors it's definitely enough get up and go to get the job done. Remember, this kind of horsepower was V8 territory not too many years ago!

The Kia sends that power to the front wheels (no all wheel drive model is available at this time) via a very smooth six speed automatic transmission with a decent manual mode that includes paddle shifters.

The car's suspension, which features struts up front and a multilink bum, strikes the handling balance on the comfort side of the equation, but while it's soft, is isn't going to rock you to sleep as you drive - which is probably a good thing! Brakes are four wheel discs with ABS and the usual nannies. Pedal feel and brake performance is fine.

The "loaded?" question...

Even the "base" Cadenza comes with a dizzying amount of stuff, including rear parking sensors and rear view camera, navigation system, Bluetooth for phone and tunes, and a rocking Infinity 12 speaker audio system. You also get heated leather seats (8 way power adjustment and memory for the driver and four way adjustment for the front passenger), steering wheel-mounted controls, a smart key with push button start/stop, dual-zone automatic climate control, automatic headlights and a tire pressure monitoring system.

That's a lot of stuff, but the Premium package raises the bar substantially, with such stuff as a beautiful panoramic sunroof, adaptive HID headlights, 19 inch alloy wheels (18's are standard) and something they call a hydrophobic windshield and front door glass – which may mean that, on top of everything else, the Cadenza also has rabies!

Actually, it may refer to the fact that the Cadenza’s automatic dual-zone temperature control has an "Auto Defog" system that detects condensation inside the windshield and turns on the defogger automatically.

The Premium package also adds premium leather, heated-and-ventilated front seats and heated rear seats, power tilt/telescope adjustment for the (heated) steering wheel, a power-operated rear window sunshade, adaptive cruise control, blind spot detection and a lane departure warning system you can shut off and (thankfully!) it'll stay off!

Instrumentation and interfaces are straightforward, intuitive, and easy to see and use. Kia seems to be taking a page from the Volkswagen group in coming up with a great user experience, which isn't surprising since they poached their chief designer from that German company a few years ago. And in an age when vehicles and their capabilities are getting ever more sophisticated and complicated, such ease of use is a breath of fresh air.

One annoyance is the lawyer screen on the center stack's LCD. Kia's giving us a bit of a blast from the past here, because you have to click through the onscreen disclaimer before you can get at the multitude of functions behind it. This isn't just a Kia thing; it used to be pretty well ubiquitous, but as time has passed more and more manufacturers are giving folk credit for having a brain. Kia should join them.

There's room for three in the back seat and it's spacious enough that passengers back there might not even fight much. If they do, the trunk is Mafia hit man big.

The Cadenza burns regular unleaded gas, and Kia says it gets 25/38 miles per gallon (11.2/7.4 liters per 100 km.) city/highway, which is pretty good.

Give the Cadenza a quick glance and you could mistake it for the Optima, another excellent (albeit smaller) sedan that's undoubtedly causing sleepless nights in the automotive headquarters around the world. But while the Optima competes with such worthy vehicles as the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Ford Fusion and Hyundai Elantra, the Cadenza goes head to head with the likes of Ford's Taurus, the Toyota Avalon, Hyundai Azera and Volkswagen Passat, all of which are also good choices.

This is a new market niche for Kia and they've definitely entered it with a splash. It's a logical next step in the evolution of South Korean cars and is kind of analogous to how the Japanese manufacturers tackled the car market decades ago: offer more vehicle for less money.

Okay, the Koreans didn't always offer more vehicle (remember the Hyundai Stellar?), but the days of South Korean cars being cheap junk are long gone and no one need be embarrassed to drive a Kia today. So while there may be better, or nicer, or more luxurious cars out there, it's hard to argue against the Kia Cadenza's combination of size, performance, luxury and equipment for the price.

Nicely done, Kia.

Copyright 2013 Jim Bray

Jim Bray is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. His columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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