2014 Kia Cadenza

SAN DIEGO — Before we set foot and butt into the all-new full-sized luxury offering from Kia, we knew we would like it because we were enamored of its platform mate, the Hyundai Azera, after a recent 1,500-mile trek. What we weren't expecting was how much more we liked the Cadenza. Both sedans have the same energetic 3.3-liter direct-injection V-6 producing 293 horsepower mated to a six-speed automatic and both provide a generous helping of performance measured in the mid-six-second range from 0 to 60.

Both offer a quiet, well-appointed interior and both are well-suited to haul four adults in style and comfort.

What we found was that the Cadenza, loaded with enough standard and optional equipment to compete with the top-line luxury and family sedans in the full-size segment, has a more sporting persona that competes more directly with such nameplates as the Acura TL, Cadillac CTS and Audi A6. The Azera has been designed to tackle the likes of the Toyota Avalon, Chrysler 300 and Buick LaCrosse.

But in recent weeks the Cadenza, Kia's most powerful and most luxury-loaded vehicle in its U.S. history, has been stacked up against the Avalon, Taurus, Chevy Impala, and others — and no surprise to us it has admirably acquitted itself in the camparos, winning over the magazine writers/judges just as it won us over after 150 miles on winding California mountain roads and stretches of 70 mph interstates east of San Diego.

Make no mistake, the Cadenza is not a sport sedan in the mold of BMW, but it is more sporty than the Azera and most of the family-class competition, more in tune with the Acura and Cadillac. The ride will be compatible for most people, we think, but the suspension is aggressive enough for grins and giggles on winding stretches of road. The electric power steering offers excellent feedback.

The 3.3-liter V-6 engine is a good fit for the Cadenza's luxury persona. Performance is at or near best in class and is exactly what is expected with 293 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque. That's good for measured times of 6.3 seconds from 0-to-60 and 14.8 seconds at 95.7 mph in the quarter mile. Even more impressive is the short 118 feet it took to stop from 60 mph.

Kia says not to worry about gas mileage — the V-6 comes with an EPA rating of 19 city and 28 highway, standard fare for the segment.

The Cadenza gets a more mature rendition of Kia's current styling theme. The Kia-style grille is a bit smaller and the overall styling details more subtle, but the family resemblance is unmistakable. It's a design that should wear well over time and remain up-to-date years down the road.

Kia has done a lot of work on its interiors in recent years, and the company has hit the top of the charts with the Cadenza, which gets true luxury touches with first-class materials, well-damped buttons, quality leather and a well-designed dash.

While rear-seat legroom is quite adequate with commendable shoulder room — none of our usual passengers in the same-size Azera encountered a problem — the Cadenza does come up short against the newly redesigned Impala and the Volkswagen Passat, which have limo-like back seats. But if you want to tackle the Acura TL or Cadillac CTS — which we think are fair game — the Kia wins the day. One downside, the rear seatbacks do not fold down for added cargo space.

Kia has kept pricing simple with just one model starting at $35,100 not including destination charge. There are three packages — premium, technology, and white. Many people might be content with the standard features, which are many, including keyless entry and ignition, dual-zone climate control, 10-way power driver's seat, rearview camera, navigation, and a 12-speaker Infinity sound system.

What more do you need?

Well perhaps you might be tempted by a panoramic sunroof, upgraded leather upholstery, a heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, a driver's seat cushion extender, and a power rear sunshade. That comes in the premium package.

And you might be enticed by 19-inch alloy wheel, adaptive cruise control (our favorite feature), and blind spot/lane departure warning systems. Those features come with technology.

The white package includes white leather upholstery, added wood-grain accents and suede headliner, sun visor and rear shelf trim.

The packaging idea keeps things simple, but forces people to order things they don't particularly want to get one feature they do desire such as adaptive cruise control or a heated steering wheel.

The base price rises to $41,900 with the premium and technology packages checked off.

Kia has done a commendable job in building a car that offers more space, more luxury and more performance than its top-of-the-line Optima. Winning over Optima owners should be no problem. If non-Kia owners can be convinced to give the Cadenza a test drive while shopping for entry-level full-sized luxury, they might indeed become Kia owners.

— Jim Meachen