By RON SESSIONS | Contributing Editor Road trips are special.…
Kia has done it again: produced a vehicle that provides enormous value for what the customer gets. As one of the fastest growing brands of the decade, it’s kind of Kia’s thing. They love surprising us auto journalists with standout technology, high-end finishes all packed into a vehicle that competes with the likes of Cadillac, Lexus and BMW, yet doesn’t require so much of your hard-earned cash.
So, how has a once barely known Korean brand risen to this new status? Michael Sprague, COO and Executive Vice President of Kia Motors America, attributes it to five tenets for Kia’s path to growth: investing heavily in the brand, focusing on quality, strengthening the Kia name, elevating the ownership experience, and expanding into new markets.
As Kia’s first dedicated design lead in America, Peter Schreyer has been responsible for the design resurgence at Kia since joining the company in 2006 (you likely have noticed his design touches on Kia’s vehicles such as the signature tiger nose grille).
“Optima is the vehicle we feel has transformed the brand the most,” Sprague shared before a room full of auto journalists. Why? The Optima truly embodied the dynamic design language that Schreyer brought to the table.
Nearly a decade afeter Kia put its new stragety in place, they had seven Super Bowl ads, partnerships with sports icons and music events.
In 2016, Kia is now rising to the top of the pack in ratings such as J.D. Power Initial Quality Study, where Kia received the number-one spot – a first for a non-luxury brand in nearly 30 years.
“It’s not one, big, huge leap,” Sprague says about the brand’s success. “It’s constant refinement that has led us here.” To keep that success growing, Kia plans to invest $12 billion over the next five years to develop green and autonomous technologies for its vehicle lineup.
How does Cadenza slot into Kia’s brand strategy?
Meet the clean shaven, masculine four-door sedan that exudes sophistication at a bargain price. Kia does not force its customers to sacrifice anything. If you will commit to buying and enjoying your Kia, then any stigma initially attached to the brand’s roots in affordability will erode away.
What makes this sedan stand out from the rest are its concave chrome grille and its Z-shaped light signatures. Sheet metal between the front and rear fascia remains clean and clutter-free, with minimal lines to keep your eye moving along. A chrome rocker panel accent helps to break up the solid side panels and to connect the Cadenza’s aluminum alloy wheels.
“It’s not one, big, huge leap. It’s constant refinement that has led us here.” — Michael Sprague, COO and Executive Vice President of Kia Motors America
A noticeably quieter ride can be attributed to improvements to the platform, a laminated windshield, sound insulation in the A pillars, and the same full-body pan found underneath the K900. Kia increased the torsional rigidity of the Cadenza by 35 percent thanks to high strength steel and the generous use of structural adhesives.
A 3.3-Liter V6 direct injection gas engine with 240 horsepower and 253 lb-ft of torque provides enough power for this mid-size sedan. Kia has done an exceptional job with its 8-speed automatic transmission that was actually developed in-house.
Consumers can select from 18 or 19-inch wheels with Michelins specifically designed for the Cadenza. Kia adds larger brakes on this vehicle to improve stopping power. Perhaps most surprising is how little compromise passengers have to make once inside. With 107.8 cubic feet of interior space – more than all of Kia’s competitors in this class – there’s plenty of room for four adults to stretch their legs.
From a technology standpoint, buyers can expect the third generation UVO system that comes standard with compatibility for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. A color head-up display is a welcomed touch, particularly when showing speed limits and navigation instructions. If you’re a Samsung user, then you’ll also enjoy wireless smartphone charging. Harman Kardon premium audio with Quantum Logic Surround Sound — a fascinating technology that converts digital music back to the original recording studio quality — elevates the experience in the Cadenza’s cabin.
Why buy the Cadenza?
Admittedly, this isn’t the first time the Cadenza has been launched; Kia introduced the car for the U.S. market in 2013. There hasn’t been much talk about the vehicle since then, but it’s positioned to slot in under the bigger, more expensive K900 and to sell better.
Sprague says the Cadenza bridges the gap between the Optima and K900, and presumably, the age difference and life stage that each of those buyers possess. That’s certainly true given the $17,000 difference in their respective starting price points. But the question we’re left asking is, “Why buy a K900 when one can get all of its goodies in the less expensive, better looking, more nimble Cadenza?”
We enjoyed the quiet cabin, soft ride and steering of the 2017 Kia Cadenza. Its sport mode came in handy as we explored the twists and turns of the Virginia backroads. A new, chocolatey leather interior paired with quilted seat inserts offer a unique flare, giving the Cadenza a luxe touch. While legroom is lengthy, we found the Cadenza to be short on elbow room — a problem likely solved by upgrading to the brand’s top-tier K900 full-size sedan.
Like an enduring rock band, Kia continues to bring its fan base the hits. As Sprague laid out in the brand’s key tenets, Kia has expanded into new markets in just the last few years — from updating its compact SUV in the Sportage to adding this mid-size offering in the Cadenza. Kia is smartly playing it safe with design, adding exterior elements that are attractive without overdoing it, while focusing on what consumers actually want on the inside as well as price point. It’s a recipe for success, so now it’s up to the customer to determine how success the 2017 Cadenza will look.
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