Thursday, May 23, 2013

First Look: 2014 Kia Cadenza

DEL MAR, Calif. -- Kia, riding the momentum of its wildly successful Optima sedan, is rolling out another sedan that aims to compete in the premium market and take the brand slightly more upscale.

The Cadenza, introduced this spring as a 2014 model, starts at around $35,100 and offers what Kia calls European-inspired styling and a hearty six-cylinder engine.

Kia unveiled the sedan before automotive journalists in this seaside town near San Diego.

The Cadenza has a style that differentiates itself fairly clearly from the Optima, but it still might be a challenge for Kia to draw the level of consumer interest that has made the Optima such a success for two reasons.

First, the Optima was an established name, having been on the market for a number of years before its 2011 redesign. And while it hadn’t developed legions of fans in its previous incarnations, at least it was a name known to car shoppers.

Cadenza will have to introduce itself, but Kia officials say they plan a heavy marketing blitz to do just that.

Secondly, the Cadenza is making a foray into a pricing bandwidth at which Kia has not previously ventured. The Korean automaker noted during media briefings that the Optima’s success has been built in part by owners of near-luxury brand vehicles trading those in to acquire Optimas. If interest among those consumers is sustained, that could bode well for Cadenza.

Riding through the inland areas of Southern California, the Cadenza proved itself to be a pretty good driving vehicle, with a decisive transmission, more than adequate power and assured braking. The driving route included some twisty roads that the Cadenza handled fairly well, although the body rigidity did not quite measure up to what would be found on a sport-tuned performance car.

But that’s OK, as most drivers in this segment aren’t necessarily looking for the highest levels of performance driving. Instead, what they want is a stylish and practical sedan at a reasonable price.

For the most part, Cadenza seems to deliver.

Fuel economy numbers were a bit disappointing, coming in at 19 mpg city, 28 highway. We’ve come to expect a bit more in that area from Kia.

As for style, both the exterior and interior designs are attractive, but not groundbreaking. The lines and shaping of the car are somewhat similar to what’s seen on recent sedan offerings from Buick, BMW and Toyota.

On the inside, the instrument panel and seating are very Kia-like, which is to say neat, nicely arranged and a bit understated.

Both front and rear seats offered good head and leg room, and the seats themselves were quite comfortable. The driving position was well situated, with good visibility and easy access to all controls.

There are three trim levels on the Cadenza, the base Premium, Technology and Luxury. The base offers a large selection of standard equipment and amenities, which could also help make Cadenza a hit with buyers.

The Cadenza is entering a market segment that has a number of formidable competitors, including the redesigned Toyota Avalon, the Buick LaCrosse, Nissan Maxima and Ford Taurus.

But Cadenza aims to compete on its value proposition, offering a well-equipped, nicely styled sedan in the premium category.

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