If you've followed Kia over the last 20 years, you remember those first cars. The 1994 Sephia I tested was pretty basic. It had everything you needed but absolutely nothing extra. It felt like a knock-off previous-generation Toyota Corolla. However, unlike the Hyundai Excel a decade earlier, it wasn't really bad, just plain.
Of course, we all know the story. Over the years, Kia's models have not only proliferated but improved significantly with each generation. Now, it's time for Kia to introduce their "Lexus." It's called the Cadenza, and a fine flagship it is.
There's no compromise here. There is exactly one model - Premium. It's big and it's beautiful. And, it comes with all the good stuff standard. You get a navigation system and a 550-watt Infinity stereo with 12 speakers, including subwoofer. You sit on leather seats and hold a beautiful leather and wood wheel, bask in full climate control, and much more.
The Cadenza is motivated by a 3.3-liter V6 that puts out 293 horsepower and 255 lb.-ft. of torque under the shapely hood, all driven through a six-speed automatic with SportMatic manual paddle shifters. Yet, it drinks regular gas. The EPA gives it ratings of 19 City, 28 Highway, and 22 Combined. I averaged 19.5 mpg. The EPA Green scores are 5 for Smog and Greenhouse Gas.
It's a great thing that Peter Schreyer, the former Audi designer, is in charge of how Kias look. When I parked my Smokey Blue Cadenza test car next to my wife's Liquid Blue Metallic Audi, you could see some similarities. The proportions are just right, neither boring nor overstyled. While the German brands today are abandoning their formerly conservative, handsome look for something more exuberant, the Cadenza wears the look of a classic BMW, Audi or Mercedes. It looks expensive.
Inside, the car lives up to its impressive body, with the right look and feel. The heated steering wheel has the top third of wood, the rest leather. It's always fun to turn a steering wheel and have a different-feeling handful. It is definitely a luxury touch. Everything is there, including an illuminated console bin, sumptuous leather seating, and the perfect blend of textures and materials.
My tester featured both of the two available option packages. In case the standard amenities aren't enough for you, order the Technology Package and get Advanced Smart Cruise Control, where you can follow the car in front at a set distance (and automatically slow down when that driver does). You also get Blind Spot Detection, a popular feature that probably prevents hundreds of accidents every day. This package includes "Hydrophobic" front door windows, which stay clear when the rain hits them. I wasn't able to test that feature, thanks to some fine late summer weather.
The Luxury Package fills in what the standard package lacks. Get a panoramic sunroof, upgraded leather trim, a ventilated driver's seat with electric seat cushion extension, and an electric rear sunshade. The Supervision meter cluster performs a little light show when you turn on the car. The number dividers for the speedometer shoot out from the center of the gauge and assemble along the ring of the meter. I never got tired of watching the show. An image of the car winks its headlamps at you, as if to say "Hi." There's a little musical tune, too.
It wouldn't be a great car if with all that equipment, it was a bore to drive. Luckily, it's not. The 3,668-pound car drives like it's lighter, yet sails happily along the freeway in cruise mode. The sport-tuned suspension, along with the 19-inch wheels and tires from the Technology Package made the car feel planted and ready for anything.
My tester, as a benefit of containing these packages, had the optional white leather interior at no extra cost. You don't see those every day, and I'm sure you'd have to take care of it, but it illuminated the cabin and felt very posh.
With the packages, this car really has everything you could want. I was sure there must be some flaw, and I did find one tiny problem. I set the otherwise divine audio system to NOT change volume with road speed, but it insisted on doing it anyway, so I worked the knob a bit when commute traffic speed varied. But that's it.
The price is $35,900, including shipping, for the base model. Add in the two packages and you'll be at $41,900. That may be the only problem the Cadenza will have to solve. Are there enough buyers for a $42,000 Kia? I think if enough people actually sample the car, after their disbelief fades they may see their way to signing some papers and participating in the remarkable Kia success story.