Play that Cadenza again

Kia’s big sedan out­classes its ri­vals, costs you less

Winnipeg Free Press - Section E - - AUTOS - By John LeBlanc

THE all-new 2014 Cadenza is a great ex­am­ple of the dif­fer­ence be­tween a brand’s re­al­ity and its per­cep­tion.

For most new car buy­ers, the Kia badge on the Cadenza screams main­stream — as in Chevro­let or Toy­ota. But in truth, and based on its styling, per­for­mance, level of tech­nol­ogy and Kia’s stated up­mar­ket am­bi­tions, the large lux­ury sedan is a di­rect ri­val to more es­tab­lished mod­els such as the Acura TL and Lexus ES 350.

So af­ter a week be­hind the big Korean four-door, what’s the truth?

Just as the ES 350 uses a stretched ver­sion of the Toy­ota Camry, the Cadenza is es­sen­tially a length­ened Kia Op­tima. And un­til the full-size, rear­wheel-drive 2015 Kia K900 lux­ury sedan ar­rives later this year, the fron­twheel-drive Cadenza is os­ten­si­bly the brand’s flag­ship sedan, and it’s priced ac­cord­ingly. The base $39,280 (all prices in­clude freight and pre-de­liv­ery in­spec­tion fees) Cadenza is $3,800 more than the topline Op­tima SX.

While Kia has tar­geted the more es­tab­lished Ja­panese lux­ury brands, fea­ture for fea­ture, my topline $45,795 Cadenza Pre­mium tester still won the value race.

The Pre­mium trim makes the Cadenza like an all-in­clu­sive lux­ury re­sort. On top of the gen­er­ously equipped base model, it adds high-end safety and lux­ury fea­tures that in­clude adap­tive cruise con­trol and light­ing, blind-spot de­tec­tion, lane-de­par­ture warn­ing, a huge sun­roof, heated and vented driver’s seat, power rear cur­tain and much more. And much of the Cadenza Pre­mium’s stan­dard kit can’t be found on a $45,585 Acura TL Tech and will cost you $53,845 on a com­pa­ra­bly equipped Lexus ES 350.

Much of the value of these big­ger four-doors lies in their abil­ity to of­fer a lux­u­ri­ous and com­fort­able cabin we’d nor­mally as­so­ciate with a full-size lux­ury car. In that re­gard, the Cadenza does not feel main­stream. Com­pared to the Acura and Lexus, the Kia’s au­dio, HVAC and driver con­trols are more log­i­cally laid out. Ev­ery item you touch feels up­scale and pre­mium, with the Kia’s soft-touch plas­tics, leather and wood trim eas­ily equal to the Acura and Lexus in over­all fit and feel.

A par­tic­u­lar in­te­rior high­light is the Cadenza’s large, UVO touch-screen in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem. Not only is the qual­ity of the screen graph­ics high­res­o­lu­tion, the voice-ac­ti­vated sys­tem is one of the most re­spon­sive and eas­i­est to use I’ve en­coun­tered.

The Cadenza’s stretched wheel­base over the Op­tima re­sults in more rear legroom, but it still falls a few inches short of the ES 350. Yet, with 451 litres of trunk space, the Kia of­fers more stor­age room than the Acura and Lexus com­pe­ti­tion.

Four-cylin­der en­gines power the smaller Op­tima, but the Cadenza comes ex­clu­sively with a 3.3-litre six-cylin­der gas en­gine mated to a six-speed au­to­matic gear­box. Rated at 293 horse­power and 255 pound-feet of torque, the Kia V-6 out­mus­cles its Ja­panese ri­vals on the spec sheet.

With a 1,575-kilo­gram curb weight, the Cadenza weighs con­sid­er­ably less than the 1,610-kg ES 350 and 1,701-kg TL. So it’s no sur­prise the Kia’s 6.4 sec­onds to go from zero to 100 kilo­me­tres per hour is 0.1 sec­ond quicker than the Acura, and a sub­stan­tial 1.5 sec­ond faster than the Lexus.

Alas, with es­ti­mates of 11.2 litres per 100 kms in the city and 7.4 on the high­way, the more pow­er­ful Kia is also the thirsti­est near-lux­ury sedan here. At 9.9 L/100 kms city, 6.4 high­way, the less-pow­er­ful Lexus is the most ef­fi­cient.

In use, the Cadenza’s pow­er­train is as smooth as the Ja­panese V-6s. So you can check that off your list of con­cerns. The Cadenza’s di­rect-in­jected V-6 feels strong right up to its 6,400 r.p.m. red­line. There are steer­ing­wheel-mounted pad­dle shifters, but I sus­pect most buy­ers in this class will leave the con­sole-mounted gear se­lec­tor in D and let the quick-shift­ing au­to­box do its thing.

Here’s an­other bit of clar­ity for this class of car: A com­fort­able ride is a pri­or­ity, not out-and-out han­dling. In that re­gard, the big Kia de­liv­ers. Even with the low-pro­file 19-inch rub­ber, the Cadenza ab­sorbs bad pave­ment well. Yet its sus­pen­sion doesn’t get too floaty over large un­du­la­tions as the softer Lexus does.

The Cadenza’s only driv­ing debit is an elec­tri­cal steer­ing sys­tem that is a lit­tle over-boosted and with­out feel.

If you’re the type of buyer who’s not both­ered by the badge on your lux­ury sedan’s grille, the new 2014 Kia Cadenza is a sud­denly se­ri­ous con­tender. Its pack­ag­ing, re­fined driv­ing de­meanour and pha­lanx of stan­dard fea­tures match or bet­ter the more ex­pen­sive Acura TL and Lexus ES 350.

And if you feel se­cure enough in your driv­ing skills, feel free to skip all the safety fea­tures on the topline Pre­mium model and amp up the Kia’s value propo­si­tion even higher by opt­ing for the un­der-$40k base ver­sion.

The neigh­bours will never know the dif­fer­ence.

JOHN LEBLANC

The 2014 Kia Cadenza of­fers a nice bal­ance of ride and han­dling.

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