It's a question we kept revisiting, repeatedly, during a couple of days with the all-new 2014 Kia Cadenza
Because if you don't mind driving a car that tops $40k and has the Kia badge, the new Cadenza is a model that feels like a luxury car in almost every respect.
Styling is important, but only part of it. You need only look at Kia's last effort, the Amanti, to understand how far the brand has come with its styling in just a few model years. While the Amanti looked like an assemblage of cues borrowed from earlier luxury cars, the new 2014 Cadenza is representative of the brand's clean, Euro-chic look.
If you don't even remember the Amanti and just googled it, we're not surprised.
The Cadenza is far from forgettable, especially if you go by appearance. With the its stance, its proportions, its low-profile 19-inch alloys, and its LED taillights and HID headlamps, it all adds up to a car that could be mistaken for a rear-wheel-drive sport sedan. We think it's better-looking than its Hyundai Azera cousin, actually.
And the name is right; 'Cadenza' refers to the colorful solo that often bookends a concerto. And we feel that, with the brand's trajectory upward, this is a model that makes the refresh of an entire lineup complete.
Performance is possibly the only aspect of the Cadenza that might not be what's suggested at face value. It's essentially offered in a single driving flavor—and while it's not a wallflower it's not particularly punchy either.
Power and torque figures from its 3.3-liter all-aluminum, direct-injection V-6, at 293 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque are respectable for this kind of sedan. The engine doesn't spoil you with low-end torque the way that some other powerplants in this class do, so you need to use the rev range more than you might expect. Luckily, the transmission is quite eager to downshift (sometimes it's almost busy). The throttle also has a jumpy tip-in that could use an Eco mode—or a more linear throttle calibration befitting of its 'premium' presentation.
You won't find a Sport mode (or Eco mode), and there are no multi-mode steering or suspension settings. What it does include is a manual gate, along with steering-wheel paddle shifters, letting you make the call on what gear to be in. We like how it won't force a downshift, even at full throttle—great when you're on a tight set of uphill corners.
Sport-tuned, but not edgy
The only thing that might change everyday performance a slight bit is the upgrade to the 19-inch wheels that you get with the Tech Package our test car had. We didn't drive a Cadenza without it, but our car rode well over a wide range of surfaces. The Hankook Optimo tires they're shod with have decent, predictable grip otherwise, although they're vocal.
Kia calls the suspension sport-tuned, but it's hardly an edgy performer, or one that you'll want to take hauling down back roads. We took it out to some of our favorite ones, pitching it only moderately into corners, and the suspension found an unsettling wallow out of tight, imperfectly surfaced corners (quick prescription: more rebound damping, please!). The steering is too light and numb, and the 3,800-pound (as we tested it) Cadenza isn't one that does well with quick back-and-forth transitions or tight hairpins.
All this sounds like criticism, but that's only if you go against the Cadenza's modus operandi and truly drive it like a sport sedan; it's happy to hustle along curvy roads at what almost anyone would consider a brisk pace.