Kia started out in the U.S. market in the early ’90s as a bargain brand, but it’s all grown up now and moving into the premium class with the addition of the Cadenza sedan for 2014.A near clone of the Hyundai Azera, the Cadenza is a credible large sedan in the same class with the Toyota Avalon, Chevrolet Impala, Ford Taurus, Chrysler 300/Dodge Charger and Buick LaCrosse.With a base price of $35,100 (plus $800 freight) and a top-end price of $41,100 with both of the available options packages – Luxury and Technology – the Cadenza is even pushing into luxury territory. It could easily be cross-shopped against the Lexus ES 350, Infiniti Q50 and Acura TL, although those are slightly smaller sedans.While the Cadenza is a few thousand dollars less that some of those models, it’s not lacking in anything other than a luxury nameplate when it’s compared honestly to the entry Lexus, Acura and Infiniti sedans. For those who can live without having a fancy brand name in their driveways, the Cadenza comes across as a real bargain.It’s no slouch in the power department, either. Its 3.3-liter V-6 engine cranks out an impressive 293 horsepower and 255 foot-pounds of torque, which easily beats the 268 horsepower of its biggest competitor, the Avalon. Consumer Reports recently ranked the Cadenza above the Avalon, and even above its own Azera sibling – although all three of these Asian sedans fell below the top-ranked Impala and second-place LaCrosse.Just as the Avalon is a stretch version of the Toyota Camry, the Cadenza comes from the Kia Optima (and Hyundai Sonata) architecture. It’s 5.2 inches longer than the Optima, and nearly an inch higher and wider. It also has a wheelbase two inches longer.The V-6 is connected to a six-speed automatic transmission, which shifts quite smoothly and usually at just the right times. But there is a manual-shift function, too, for those who want to be more involved with the driving.Inside, there’s room for five people, although as in most sedans these days – even the bigger ones like this – it’s a tight fit for three adults in the back seat. With just four people onboard, though, everyone is quite comfortable in the Cadenza.The trunk is roomy, as well, with 15.9 cubic feet of space. The trunk includes a first aid kit and a temporary spare (under the floor), but there are no storage cubbies.There are some other architectural differences between the Cadenza and Optima, including a different front sub-frame that Kia says was needed to accommodate the V-6 engine. The Optima comes only with a four-cylinder. The Cadenza’s electric power steering offers less driver feedback than I would like, and the ride emphasizes cushy over control. But this is typical of the class. These big sedans are aimed at an older customer than the typical sport sedan, and apparently older people prefer a softer ride (not me).Overall, though, I had no serious complaints with this car, which is surprisingly well-done. The interior is luxurious without being ostentatious, and the layout of controls and instruments seems very well-thought-out.For my gadgets, there was a convenient tray in the center console in front of the shifter, where there was also a USB port and an auxiliary input for the audio system, and a 12-volt power outlet. It’s nice to have the USB port out in the open rather than tucked away in the bottom of a center console box, as many other vehicles have. A second 12-volt outlet is deep in the console box, however.There are dual sunroofs (from an options package), one over the front seats and one over the rear. But only the front one opens – it tilts or slides. The shades for both operate with a single button. In the center of the dash is an analog clock, a touch usually found only on luxury brands.Decent-size bottle holders are included in the front door pockets, but there are none in the rear doors – a curious oversight in an otherwise nearly flawless interior. The rear passengers do have two decent cupholders in the pull-down center armrest, but that eliminates the middle seating position.There is also a pass-through to the trunk when the armrest is lowered. There is no rear power outlet, but I suppose the backseat passengers could use the one in the center console between the front seats.There is polished wood trim on the upper door panels and dash, and some chrome trim in the cabin. Chrome surrounds the climate and audio controls, air vents and the start button. Also included are automatic up/down power front windows and power/folding/heated outside mirrors with integrated turn signals.Fog lights and the grille are trimmed with chrome. Dual chromed exhaust outlets are built into the outer edges of the rear bumper, which helps give the Cadenza its sporty looks. There are LED taillights and marker lights.Among standard amenities is an advanced in-dash navigation system with an SD card slot for the map data, which can be updated on a computer. The nav and audio information is displayed on an eight-inch touch-screen. SiriusXM Traffic and Kia’s UVO Internet/eServices are included.There’s also a rearview camera and backup warning system. The premium Infinity audio system has 550 watts and 12 speakers, including rear surround speakers and a subwoofer.Other items included in the base price 18-inch alloy wheels, leather seats (heated in front), dual-zone automatic climate control with rear vents, keyless entry with pushbutton start, 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat and Bluetooth phone connectivity.For an additional $3,000, the Luxury Package brings the panoramic sunroof with power retractable sunshade, adaptive high-intensity-discharge headlights, seven-inch color LCD instrument cluster, premium Nappa leather seats, a memory-enabled 12-way ventilated driver’s seat with cushion extension, heated/power tilt/telescopic steering wheel, heated outboard rear seats, and a power rear sunshade.The Technology Package, also $3,000 and available only with the Luxury Package, adds 19-inch alloy wheels, an electric parking brake with auto hold, radar cruise control, water-repellant front side windows, blind-spot detection system with lane-change assist, and lane-departure warning.With the Luxury and Technology packages, there is the option of a white interior at no extra cost, which came on our car. It included white Nappa leather trim, wood-grain accents around the window switches, and a premium headliner.EPA ratings are 19 mpg city/28 highway/22 combined, but we averaged just over 25 mpg, according to the onboard trip computer.Safety features include four-wheel antilock disc brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, front and rear seat-mounted side air bags, roof-mounted side-curtain air bags for both rows, electronic stability control with traction control, hill-start assist, and tire-pressure monitoring.
The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1994. Contact him at email@example.com.