Drivers's Seat: Kia Cadenza could pass for much pricier


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2014 Kia Cadenza: Ready for the big leagues?

Price: $41,900 as tested ($35,100 base). The $6,000 worth of options is split between the technology package -- smart cruise, lane departure and blind spot warnings and more -- and the luxury package -- panoramic roof, leather seat covers and heated steering wheel and rear seats.

Marketer's pitch: "Impossible to ignore."

Conventional wisdom: This is a Kia?

Reality: Yep, this is a Kia. And it's pretty nice, but not without its flaws.

Luxury in new places: Kia may have gotten its start in the econobox segment, but the company knows there's real money to be had from more expensive machines. Hence, the all-new Kia Cadenza. Will it stand up to the likes of the Acura RLX, and even maybe show a frugal XTS or LS460 shopper a couple tricks?

The Cadenza is a beautifully appointed sedan that could pass for one of the more expensive sedans I've tried over the past four weeks.

The driver's seat is great, if a little lumbar-y for my tastes -- I found the seat pushed my lower back out a little too far.

Super speedy: The 3.3-liter V-6 produces a grand 293 horsepower, so the Cadenza really rocks and rolls. And, as bonus, Kia engineers have tuned a nice exhaust note for when the car is floored. This is right up there with the RLX of last week's column.

Shifty: The shifter is way too subtle. It just moves a hair to change gears and there is just no feel to it. Steering wheel paddles offer another way to change gears but they've never been my favorite way to go.

Outside: Kia designers have come a long way in the past few years. The Cadenza has truly pretty lines, even resembling a Jaguar sedan without feeling derivative.

Stepping in: The doors have some wicked corners. I witnessed Mrs. Passenger Seat almost bonk herself with the top of the front door, and the rear doors have a jagged middle corner common on a lot of sedans.

Tuning in: For some reason, the center pod has the display above the heater controls, which are above the radio controls. It took me a minute to realize I didn't have to fish through the touchscreen to operate the radio.

The radio does have a pair of knobs on either end between a bevy of buttons for AM-FM, media or Sirius XM, plus navigation buttons. Having the buttons is helpful, but they aren't arranged in any logical pattern that makes hitting them on the fly intuitive.

Sad songs: The Cadenza may be upscale, but it doesn't have an ear for quality music. The sound system lacks the full range of adjustments that even cheaper Mazdas and Volkswagens might offer. And the UVO sound system suffers from its usual malady: It cuts off the first note or so of every song on your CD. I've actually contacted Kia public relations over this issue on earlier vehicles and have not gotten a helpful response thus far.

Not too hot, not too cold: The heater controls also suffer from over-buttonization. The blower, temperature and head-chest-feet choices are all on buttons, so a glance away from the road -- or several -- is almost a must.

Nice display: The speedometer graphics are delightful. Like Cadillac, Kia has used its LCD powers for awesomeness: A graphical representation of an old dial speedometer rather than some whizbang space-age setup. And the cruise control notification is worked in subtly as an orange circle around the dial.

Fuel economy: It's rated for 22 mpg combined city/highway, which is on the low side. But you can feed the Cadenza regular fuel, which saves some money.

Where it's built: Hwsang, South Korea.

How it's built: The Kia siblings built at that plant, the Soul and the Forte, get pretty good reliability grades from Consumer Reports. The Cadenza's predicted reliability is about average.

In the end: Kia may cringe at the idea of its Cadenza taking on the likes of the LS460, the XTS VSport and the Acura RLX. But despite the minor glitches noted, the Cadenza is a solid also-ran to the Acura RLX, and at a bargain price.

And both of these "less-expensive" sedans offer good reason to hold off on shelling out $75,000 for one of the big boys.

Scott Sturgis, a freelance auto writer, can be reached at mrdriversseat@gmail.com.


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