published Saturday, November 30th, 2013

Test Drive: Kia Cadenza scores high on style points

The new 2013 Kia Cadenza is the Korean automaker's first attempt at a luxury car.
The new 2013 Kia Cadenza is the Korean automaker's first attempt at a luxury car.
Staff photo by Mark Kennedy

FAST FACTS

* Model: 2014 Kia Cadenza

* Exterior color: Satin Metal

* Interior color: beige

* Engine: 3.3-liter, V-6

* Horsepower: 293

* Transmission: six-speed automatic

* Fuel economy: 28 mpg highway, 19 mpg city

* Dealer: Pye Kia of Dalton

* MSRP (as tested): $42,160

It's going to take some time for Kia to roll off the tongue when you're listing luxury brands. Mercedes, Lexus, BMW, Kia. ... See?

But if the brand-new Cadenza full-size sedan is any indication, it won't be long until luxury import customers start whipping into Kia stores to check out the merchandise.

We took the short hop down to Dalton, Ga., earlier this month to Pye Kia to test- drive the Cadenza, which competes in the same segment as the BMW 5-series and the Lexus ES 350 sedans. Yet, its base price ($35,145) is more in line with upper trim levels of the Chevrolet Impala and Toyota Avalon.

From its curvaceous sheet metal to its supple Nappa-leather covered seats, the Cadenza has the look and feel of a car that will compete both on quality and price against the more-established luxury nameplates. It also is rumored to be in the vanguard of more new luxury cars from the aggressive Korean car company.

STYLING AND FEATURES

With the help of Pye of Kia sales consultant Conrad Easley, we were able to snag a Satin Metal Cadenza with beige leather interior. The color, accented with chrome embellishments, conveys status. (Other available colors are Aurora Black, Metallic Bronze and Platinum Graphite.) The Cadenza shares a family resemblance to the mid-size Optima, which is generally considered to be the purest design in its segment.

The Cadenza has a high belt-line and steeply-raked front and rear glass. A character line starts at 10-o'clock on the front wheel arch and bends gracefully back through the tail-lights. The honeycomb grille is a bit smaller and more subdued than the Optima's. Ten-spoke wheels and an integrated spoiler on the rear deck-lid are nice touches.

Inside, the cockpit is packed with creature comforts, including an automatic rear window shade and a driver's seat extender for the long-legged among us. The Cadenza is clearly a showcase for Kia R&D, so look for some of its goodies to trickle down. (For example, I noticed Cadenza-style ventilated front seats are available on the compact Kia Forte. Wow.)

The interior of the Cadenza is superbly furnished with heated/ventilated front seats, a surround-sound system by Infinity and an 8-inch infotainment display with easy-to-use functions. A $3,000 tech package adds advanced cruise control, blind spot detection, lane departure warning, an electronic parking brake and 19-inch alloy wheels. A $3,000 luxury package gets you a two-stage panoramic sunroof, high-intensity headlights, the ventilated seats and a heated steering wheel, among other things.

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

On a spirited drive on the freeways around Dalton, the Cadenza's 3.3-liter direct-injected six-cylinder engine was smooth and willing. Under hard acceleration the big sedan leaps forward. Steering is composed and the ride has just enough sportiness dialed into the suspension to keep things fun. Brakes are sure, but not overly aggressive.

Security is enhanced by an array of advanced safety features in the Cadenza. The lane-departure warning is great for long trips when drivers are likely to experience fatigue. A nice comfort touch is a memory function that returns the driver's seat to your favorite dimensions while also resetting the side mirrors.

BOTTOM LINE

Like all Kias, the Cadenza carries the brand's excellent 10-year, 10,000 mile limited power train warranty. Fuel economy is a respectable 28 mpg highway, 19 mpg city.

The Cadenza -- our test car was $42,160 before generous available discounts -- is a screaming bargain for those who want all the luxury options without the pretense of having a luxury nameplate in the garage.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is a Times Free Press columnist and editor. He writes the "LIfe Stories" human interest column for the City section and the "Family Life" column for the Life section. He also writes an automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for ...

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