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Car Report

Test Drive: 2014 Kia Cadenza

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     (Kia)

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     (Kia)

  • kia-cadenza-interior-660.jpg

     (Kia)

  • kia-cadenza-rear-seat-660.jpg

     (Kia)

It’s a premium car from a most unlikely suspect.

The 2014 Kia Cadenza represents the one time bargain rack brand’s step into the near-luxury ranks. Its new flagship sedan is a full-size four door aimed directly at competitors like the Toyota Avalon, Chevy Impala, Buick LaCrosse and Lexus ES.

Priced at $35,900, it’s far and away the most expensive Kia, costing more even than the Hyundai Azera, with which it shares its basic underpinnings and 293 hp V6 engine.

But you’re more likely to confuse it with a BMW 7-Series than something from its sister brand, at least at first glance. Its handsome, low-key appearance lands squarely in the executive class outside and in. Change the grille and logos and I’m sure you could fool a lot of people into thinking it originated somewhere far away from Korea. Hyundai may have a more distinctive brand DNA than Kia, but if the two of these parked in a lot full of German metal, the Azera is the one that would look underdressed.

The Cadenza also comes with a ton of standard equipment, including rain-sensing wipers, dual-zone climate control, a 550-watt audio system, satellite radio and cloud-connected navigation. A $3,000 dollar luxury package adds nifty stuff like a panoramic sunroof, rear sunscreen, HID headlights with some clever faux-LED details, and ventilated seats trimmed in fine Nappa leather upholstery, which isn’t made from cattle, but also not from insects, so we’re good.

Drop another three large on the tech package and you get blind spot detection, lane departure warning, radar cruise control, dizzying 20-spoke 19-inch wheels and hydrophobic windows on the front doors. That means they’re scared of water! If it rains, they automatically roll down and you end up getting soaked.

That’s not true, but the car does use the GPS and driver aids to locate nearby shelter and drive itself there, where it remains until the weather report feed suggests it’s safe to resume your journey.

Also a fabrication, but it’s only a matter of time until cars can do that, so plan on it happening soon. In the meantime, the glass is merely coated with water-resistant finish that shakes off precipitation to stay clear. Not nearly as exciting as my fantasies, but it should help lower your Rain-X expenditures.

As with the exterior, the cabin cribs its style from European luxury cars, and is constructed of a nice combination of high quality plastics, stitched leather and zebrano-look wood. It’s very roomy, front and back, and especially ogle-worthy if you check the box for the white leather upholstery. An appropriately huge trunk sits behind it. Hopefully one of your associates won’t have to.

Despite its sporting looks, and Formula One-inspired paddle-shifters behind the steering wheel, the ride quality is kind of mundane, however. The Cadenza’s moves are a little sharper than the Azera’s or Avalon’s, but only just. Comfort clearly carried greater weight than handling in the design brief; not necessarily a bad thing in this segment. Highway miles are dispensed without fuss, and while its 28 mpg highway rating isn’t at top of the charts, it’s pretty darn close.

Overall, the Cadenza is a much more than fine effort that will surprise unsuspecting drivers and passengers alike. Literally the one thing I could seriously take issue with is that it isn’t “Buick quiet” inside, which actually is a thing these days. Then again, unless you live in a vacuum, few vehicles are.

That said, if you just picked up a new Impala, or are about to trade your Camry for an Avalon, by all means don’t change your plans. Those are both fine cars, and the Cadenza isn’t that much better, and certainly isn’t any cheaper, so you’ll be fine. But, if you are one of the hundreds of thousands of upwardly mobile Optima and Soul owners that Kia has fought so hard to get these past few years and want a car on par with your new midlevel-management job, you really don’t need to waste any time shopping around.

Sadly for the Cadenza, its time in the spotlight is destined to be short-lived. Next year, Kia is launching an even larger, rear-wheel-drive V8 sedan based on the Hyundai Equus, and rumored to be called the K900.

No word yet if the upholstery will be canine in origin (but we doubt it.)

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2014 Kia Cadenza

Base Price: $35,900

As Tested: $41,900

Type: 4-door, 5-passenger sedan

Engine: 3.3-liter V6

Power: 293 hp, 255 lb-ft torque

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

MPG: 19 city/28 hwy