There are premium brands. Then, there are premium cars.
What is the difference? Good question. One might argue that it comes down to pedigree, the sales and post-sales experience. Others might argue on the side of snob appeal, enthusiast's chauvinism and lifestyle choices.
At this year's Chicago Auto Show, I stumbled upon two surprises. First, the manufacturers offering Ride-and-Drive experiences on public days were open for business on the media and social media preview days as well. Kia just happened to be one of those OEMs doing so.
The biggest surprise was what Kia had available to drive. This particular vehicle was just introduced to our market at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The car was designed to sit on top of the lineup once vacated by the baroque and uninspiring Amanti (er, Opirus). Though some might have wrote this off as a larger Optima with the usual design tenets found on almost every Kia, you may be surprised by how well this one was executed.
It was perhaps one of the highlights of my time in Chicago that I got to drive the 2014 Kia Cadenza.
The front-wheel drive premium sedan arrives to do battle with the likes of the Ford Taurus, Buick LaCrosse, Chrysler 300, Nissan Maxima, Toyota Avalon and its sister, the Hyundai Azera. The look is purely Kia, but with softer edges all around. On one hand, it is handsome and big. On the other, it might be a bit too anonymous. One look at the grille shape will tell you it is indeed a premium Kia – thanks to its chief designer Peter Schreyer (ex of Audi).
Inside is massive. Simply, getting inside of the Cadenza is like getting inside of a huge sedan. There is more than enough room for four businesspersons heading to the big meeting in style. The pre-production car is swath with a nice hide, but I was told that the softer Nappa leather would supplant this in production for our market. Yet, the seats are big, comfortable, supportive and offer plenty of adjustments for anyone taking the wheel.
The workspace behind the wheel is also terrific, but has a bit more hard plastic than needed. I was also told that piano black surfaces will appear above the HVAC switches as well as in its current place around the upper edge of the console. I would also hope for more softer touch surfaces all around, but the overall quality of the Cadenza's cabin is quite good.
The North American market will get the 293-horsepower 3.3litre GDI (Gas Direct Injection) V6 found on the Azera. One drive will convince you that this was the right choice for the Cadenza. It simply goes – no drama, no fight. The fluid power allowed the Cadenza to manage the streets of Chicago's South Loop with ease. A six-speed automatic is tacked onto the big V6 with only its front wheels driven.
That did not stop the car from losing any traction. Quite the opposite was experienced. My requirement for traction management systems – traction control and all-wheel drive, included – is to not just work, but do so without any fight or fright. The Cadenza found an ice patch on a u-turn several blocks from McCormick Place and just grabbed traction in just a few seconds. You heard and felt it, but it simply gave traction to where it needed it. I was quite impressed.
Driving dynamics will definitely surprise you in the Cadenza. It did a good job absorbing some of the worse of Chicago’s streets, give it a better lane and it will glide, Handling, steering control and brake action was not bad, either.
It is not exactly known how much the Cadenza will cost. If the Azera is a measuring stick, Kia will price these starting in the low-30s. A fully equipped Optima SX Limited can be had around $35,000, while Hyundai offers up the V6 Genesis sedan for a few hundred dollars less. One would hope that the Cadenza would perch itself below $40,000 with everything on the order sheet ticked off.
Do not think for a moment that I will let the Cadenza off so easily. Yes, I loved how it drove, the comfort it offered and the notion this will nudge itself onto a crowded field of large executive sedans. But, it is a crowded field where the main concerns are fuel consumption and overall value. I just fear that this good premium sedan will be overlooked. Then, I would have to ask whether there are enough consumers in this segment to sustain another offering.
The Cadenza is Kia's argument for why one in this segment would choose it. One would hope the production models to be sold later this year will deliver more than what was experienced in this brief drive in Chicago's South Loop.
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Kia Motors America.