First drive: Kia Cadenza 2011 across the UAE
Kia is putting a lot of faith into their all-new flagship model, the 2011 Cadenza. In fact, they are going all out to promote the full-size sedan. While even large outfits like Ford and VW cheap out at media driving events, Kia lined up close to 30 brand-new cars for the day in March. In fact, the fleet of Cadenzas was so big that most of the gathered GCC media scribes ended up one-person-per-car. I certainly enjoyed my privacy when pushing the limits of the car, instead of worrying about any aging passengers vomiting in the passenger seat.
The test cars on offer were fully loaded, with ventilated leather seats, touchscreen navigation, panoramic glass roof, HID headlights with glowing eyebrows, LED tail lamps, 17-inch alloys, push-button start and a power-adjustable steering wheel.
Once I started banging around the premium-looking cabin panels, I wasn’t sure what Kia was trying to do here. Sections of the dash and doors are truly soft to the touch, with added leather padding that oozes luxury. And then on the other hand, parts of the dash and door panels even on the upper parts are hard plastic. And while the instrument cluster gets some stitched leatherette lining, the steering wheel is a plasticky one-colour affair. As is, the Cadenza firmly competes with the Toyota Avalon, although it could’ve easily reached for Lexus with some further effort. However, given pricing that competes with midsize sedans, it is hard to argue really.
Surprisingly, the navigation/multimedia system is easy enough to figure out, probably due to my years of experience fiddling with various other systems, but it turned out to be easier to use than some others I’ve used before. The automatic a/c takes a while to cool, but does well eventually, while the Bluetooth phone also took a while to pair, but worked fine.
Another surprise came when we set off from the creekside part of the Intercontinental Festival City hotel. The initial take-off was quick, with a bit of tyre squeal even. I’d attribute this to a short first gear rather than any abundance of power.
I unintentionally ended up breaking away from the convoy as soon as we left Festival City and headed towards Hatta. The navigation was only of use if we got lost, because the provided “route book” charted a course through hundreds of rural roads that took me halfway to Fujairah and Al-Ain before doubling back to Hatta, and nicely avoiding the ridiculous Omani checkpoints that are now on the direct Dubai-Hatta road.
Along the way, I found myself hitting 240 kph, braking for speed humps, dodging camels, rolling down steep mountain roads and doing extra circles of empty roundabouts just for the heck of it. I also saw my first real donkey in a decade, standing alone on the side of the road, which was ironic because I had just watched Shrek the day before.
The Cadenza is not a sports sedan. It is not even a sporty sedan, so if anyone thought of this car as a front-wheel-drive BMW, it isn’t. However, it is a phenomenal luxury car, and driving it made me think of the Lexus reference again.
It rides softly over everything from potholes to camel dung. Even speed humps and gravel were reduced to a minor inconvenience. It is also at least as quiet as a Lexus ES, if not more so, while having better ride comfort than any BMW with run-flat tyres. Gliding around in a spacious leather-lined car with vented seats and hands-free phone, I spent my time making numerous business calls and cutting advertising deals (finally), and I could picture any CEO doing the same behind the wheel of this car.
Funnily enough, after the free lunch at Hatta Fort Hotel, the route back was through some insanely-twisty mountain roads that few probably know about, with steep ear-popping drops and blind single-lane corners. Doing the run at only moderate speeds, the Cadenza felt out of its element, with body roll and tyre squeal making a regular appearance. There wasn’t much feedback from the controls, and I kept wishing I had a sportier car to tackle those turns.
The 3.5-litre V6 engine was suitably muffled and had enough power for regular highway use, such as overtaking trucks and jumping into junctions. The 6-speed automatic gearbox was also smooth enough, though not always the quickest in responding to sudden throttle inputs. The manual-shift capability works well via the stubby shifter, but with a minor delay in responses.
Somewhere along the way, I briefly lost my way and spent a bit of time figuring out where the book wanted me to go, eventually coming across the convoy that many others chose to stick to. It was funny seeing so many Cadenzas in a line, and I started noticing things like the Lexus-inspired exhaust tips, the Audi-inspired tail lamps, and the Lincoln-inspired chrome rear-bumper strip. Some would say these are copies, but I actually felt that Kia did well to make the car look like a luxury car. The actual car also looked much better in darker colours than the lighter colours used in all the manufacturer photos.
At the end of the day, I came back convinced that Kia deserves the accolades they are getting. Even if I didn’t approve of some of the material choices, the build quality was insanely flawless. I did not notice any glaring quality issues like I usually do in Ford, GM, Nissan and even Toyota products nowadays. Their initial press conference even bragged about a 20% sales increase in 2009, at a time when all other manufacturers were making losses or going bankrupt.
While the Kia Cadenza is not for everyone and certainly not a technological innovator, it will likely satisfy the majority of luxury car buyers who wouldn’t care for the ratio between hard and soft plastics, and who would never intentionally burn rubber around turns. This car would easily appeal to casual drivers if they could overlook any pre-existing brand bias.
For prices and specs, visit the Kia Cadenza buyer guide.