Do you want a large Korean saloon car? Well go to America then, that’s where they sell this.
Day one: I’d known for a while that I was going to the United America of States with my job so I asked my car journo mate Aaron if he could sort me out with a press car, preferably something interesting that isn’t sold in Britain. Unfortunately, the very reason I was going to America – to shoot the opening sequence for The Grand Tour with a flotilla of cars driving across the desert – turned out to be the very reason Aaron struggled to do my evil bidding. All the cool stuff was booked up. By the time he sent me a message saying even Mazda weren’t returning his messages, it seemed all hope was lost. But then he came back asking if I’d like a Cadenza. Fearing he was offering me a type of bush or some kind of spinal problem, I looked this up. Cadenza is not a back problem, it’s a type of large-ish Kia saloon and belongs to a very specific sub-set of car enjoyed only in North America. They’re quite big and roomy and tend to have V6 engines powering the front wheels. They’re generally conservative in design, softly sprung and bought by people of a certain age who can’t stretch to a Cadillac. The Toyota Avalon is a good example, or the Buick LaCrosse. The American press refers to them as ‘near luxury’ cars. I think I understand ‘near luxury’. It’s fancy, but not too fancy. Like the kind of restaurant you’d go to midweek. Or the kind of clothes you’d wear when you want to be well presented but not too formal. That’s what this car is: It’s smart casual. The first generation Cadenza arrived in 2013, then a mere three years later Kia seem to have decided they could do better and announced this brand new 2017 version. Anyway, after doing some research, a Cadenza sounded soft, V6 powered, favoured by the elderly and therefore like a Korean Rover 75. I asked Aaron to book it immediately.
Unfortunately, although I’ve looked at several pictures of the Cadenza online, I’ve completely forgotten what it looks like. Hence I’m standing in a car park on the outskirts of Los Angeles airport waiting for the valet to bring it around, accidentally attempting to seize the keys to sundry Hyundais and Nissans before the real thing hoves into view. And actually, it’s quite nice looking in a handsome, unthreatening way that your mother might enjoy. It even has some details your mum would call ‘snazzy’, particularly the little lightning flash inside the headlight and the unusual concave grille. Kia has quietly got very good at making smart, orderly interiors and this one is no different. Everything is very logical, very sensible and very easy to use. When it’s dark and late and you’re going to an unfamiliar part of town, this is what you want to get into. Actually, what you want to get into is a taxi. But an easy-to-use Kia is the next best. Sure enough, the nav takes me straight to my hotel where I find three jet lagged Grand Tour presenters who have had so many glasses of crisp, delicious jet lag that they’re all going to bed early. I’ve no option but to do the same, in preparation for a long day of Cadenzaing tomorrow.
Day two: My colleagues are off to do some promotional duties and I’m driving solo into the desert. The Credenza turns out to be very well suited to the sort of long cruise Americans take as a fact of life. It’s quiet, it’s stable, the ride is good, the eight-speed auto changes gear almost unnoticeably. It lopes along in a relaxed manner, stereo playing, air con aspirating, cooling seats gently sucking the stickiness off your back. The only thing I don’t like about it is the lane change function on the indicators, which does five flashes when you nudge the stalk instead of the customary three. But it later turns out there’s a sub-menu that lets you choose between five and three, as you prefer. This isn’t an electrifying car, but it is very considerate.
Day three: We’re filming out in the desert. I hitch a ride in the presenter fun bus and leave the Cerveza in the hotel car park where it blends in seamlessly. This is the sort of car undercover police people should use. It’s got to be better than an unmarked Crown Victoria which, let’s be honest, might as well have LOOK! IT’S THE POLICE! written up the side.
Day four: Another day of desert filming for which the Coldpizza is surplus to requirements. I tell several colleagues what I’m driving and each gives the same reply which is, ‘Oh. Erm, anyway…’ Later I try to sell TV’s James May on the idea that it’s a bit like a Korean Rover 75 and he distinctly perks up at this notion, but then I have to admit it’s not really like a Rover 75. It’s far too modern and slick. Also, the ride is good but not THAT good.
Day five: You might be wondering how the Influenza handles. Well, there aren’t many corners in this part of California but from what I can tell, those soft springs mean it kneels onto its outside front wheel yet there’s a decent amount of grip and the steering is of a reasonable ratio, though it gives little sense of being directly connected to the front wheels. But in truth, worrying about how this Kia handles when you come over all helmswrightish is as relevant as wondering what a Radical SR4 would be like at green laning. Better to leave the GeorgeCostanza in its natural habitat, which is cruising calmly down the freeway back to Los Angeles.
I’m staying the night with my wife’s family. In the past I’ve rolled up to their house in a variety of showing-off things including a Camaro, a Mustang and an Aston Rapide. So the bar is high, flashness-wise. ‘What car do you have?’ asks my sister-in-law, peering out of the window. It’s that Kia out there, I say. ‘Oh,’ she replies, looking straight through it. Ironically, Kia bills this car with the strapline, ‘Impossible to ignore’. On recent evidence, that isn’t strictly true.
Day six: I go for breakfast with my friend Pat. Pat is not interested in looking at my car because he wants to show me the all-white, old-shape Ford F150 Lightning he’s just bought. It is a ridiculous car. The complete opposite of the Kia which is proudly unridiculous.
Later I meet another mate, Paul, for a coffee. Paul is not interested in cars which is why it’s a surprise when he catches me walking back to it and shouts for my attention. ‘Hey, is that a Kia?’ he yells enthusiastically. Paul does a lot of things enthusiastically, but none of them is about cars. Turns out he was recently invited to take part in a market research clinic based around saloons similar to his Acura. He says he was ‘blown away’ by the features of the Kias on display and how much value-for-money they offer. One thing I’ve learned is that Americans, no matter how rich they are, prize value-for-money very highly. More importantly, Paul becomes the first person to be actively impressed by my Kia.
And on that high note, I have to give it back. Bye bye TonyDanza, you have been a quiet but useful servant. As cars go, it’s smooth, comfortable and it feels well made. It’s also very easy to use. In particular, most of the controls are large and logical, which must be a boon if you went bifocal towards the end of the Reagan administration. In many ways, this car reminds me of a well-planned hotel room. You don’t fully appreciate the socket by the bed for your phone and the single switch to turn off the lights rather than an enforced 40 minute odyssey to extinguish all 19 sodding lamps housekeeping have left on because you only notice these things when they’re not there and their absence becomes annoying. Lots of cars, even very good ones, have little bits and pieces that are annoying. But the highest praise I can give to this Kia is that, whilst not an exciting car, it is unusually un-annoying.
The car talked about here is a 2017 Kia Cadenza Technology. It has a 3.3-litre V6 engine making 290 horsepower and connected to an eight-speed automatic gearbox. It costs $38,990 which, at the time or writing, is about £31,500.