First, a pop quiz: Who can remember the last luxury entry from Kia?
No one? Well, can't blame you there. It was the Amanti, an easily forgettable sedan that came out in 2004 and actually looked like a weak imitation of a Mercedes. To make matters worse, its performance was soft and limp, much like its suspension.
The next generation in '07 was an improvement, but by '09 Amanti was gone.
So, thankfully, Kia started over with its newest near-luxury candidate, the 2014 Kia Cadenza. This time, friends, the result is significantly better.
Don't take my word for it. Motor Trend magazine crowned it champ over four worthy rivals in a comparison test, crediting its ride comfort, interior space and fuel economy. As a bonus, it said, the Cadenza has a features list that could rival an $80K BMW.
Hard to argue with any of that. Cadenza cruises quietly and with great comfort, has a clean fitting and well-designed interior, and comes with the most powerful V-6 engine that Kia as ever produced.
Cadenza is easy on the eyes, too. It has a European-influenced design featuring LED lights surrounding swept-back headlights, nice contours on the long-nosed hood, and a broad lower fascia. Chrome accents highlight the fog lights and doors. In the rear, twin oval tailpipes offer a distinctive touch.
The front-wheel-drive Cadenza is powered by an aluminum 3.3-liter direct-injected V-6 engine that has decent guts. It generates 293 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque and it works extremely well with its tranny mate, a 6-speed automatic. Shifts are smooth and efficient, though more so on the downside than on acceleration.
Paddle shifters flank the leather/wood steering wheel for those in a sporty mood who want to take back some control of the drive.
On the road I find the Cadenza drives smaller than it looks. It's easily maneuvered around town, handles and corners with ease. And its sport-tuned suspension — MacPherson strut up front and multi-link rear design - gobbles up the imperfections on the road.
On the open road, Cadenza has plenty of oomph to get up the ramps and pass the slower folks. Zero to 60 is rated at 6.3 seconds, which closely matches competitors like the Chevy Impala, Chrysler 300S and Toyota Avalon.
Interstate cruises are sweet: Serene, quiet and comfortable. And the credit here goes to the interior as well as the outside mechanics.
The roomy cabin has comfortable, nicely contoured seats with great back and leg support. Add to that improved sound-deadening materials and it's easy to see why the ride is so quiet and comfy.
Seats are trimmed in soft napa leather and adjusted with 10-way power. As comfortable as they are, extra tall folks need to try it out for roominess. At 6-2, I was feeling somewhat maxed out with headroom. And legroom in the rear is less accommodating than, say, the Avalon.
Cadenza has an elegant feel inside and, with ambient lighting and wood and chrome accents, it's no wonder why. A classic analog clock sits among the climate controls.
Instrumentation includes a virtual speedometer much like the one in the Mercedes S-Class. And a high-res 8-inch screen presents an advanced navigation system with traffic and services, plus a 550-watt Infinity 12-speaker audio system. It also features the rear-camera display for backing safely out of the driveway.
And that's not the only tech safety feature here. In fact, Cadenza has most of the high-tech safety stuff you'll find in high-end models like the S-Class and BMW 7-Series: blind-spot monitors, precollision systems, lane-departure warning and adaptive cruise control which slows the car if it gets too close to the vehicle in front. Most of these can be found in the optional Technology package.
Cadenza comes in just one trim level, but it's nicely equipped: navigation with the 8-inch screen, backup camera, leather trim, push-button start, premium sound, the 10-way power front seats.
Two options packages are available. The Technology has much of the aforementioned safety stuff, A Premium package adds a huge sunroof, power retractable sunshade and adaptive headlights.
So what have we learned from this history quiz? Amanti? Fugettabout it.
Cadenza? Considering its premium ride and interior refinement and comfort, this is an entry-luxury car worthy of including on your shopping list.