Almost twenty years ago Toyota decided to out-Buick Buick with a large, luxurious sedan called the Avalon. Now Kia is set to do the same thing to the Avalon with the Cadenza.
The posh newcomer shows a more refined, less dramatic interpretation of the successful Kia look, appearing suitably upmarket for the target audience. Ironically, the Avalon has a newly youthful, athletic stance, suggesting the Toyota is a mite more comfortable in its skin.
Inside, the Kia is conservative and of generally higher quality than the Toyota, with nice plastic moldings, sumptuous leather on the higherend versions, and a plethora of useful features. Real wood might be welcome, but otherwise there is almost nothing to fault; room is generous, the infotainment system easy to fathom.
In contrast, the Avalon is more immediately enticing, with sweeps of black chrome and touch-sensitive controls. But it is undone to a degree by cheaper materials, a Toyota hallmark for the last several years. Both are very roomy front and back, though the Avalon has the larger rear seating area. Model for model, the Cadenza has more features, a longer warranty and costs less.
While both are ostensibly aimed at mature buyers, the Kia does a slightly more successful interpretation of the classic land yachts of yore. Its ride is better at absorbing pavement pockmarks, though bigger hits show up a structure that might be a bit less stiff than the Avalon’s. But the Toyota’s brittle, constantly agitated ride gets old quickly. Neither could be described as corner-crazy, and both are very quiet and PHOTOGRAPH COURTE SY OF TOYOTA refined, preferring hushed progress up to very high speeds.
They hit higher velocities rapidly, too, with 0-60 runs being within a tenth of a second of each other at 6.2 to 6.1, favoring the Avalon. It also gets the better real-world fuel economy, thanks to its lesser mass, which also cancels out the Kia’s horsepower advantage at the drag strip. Each is powered by a V6 engine mated to a six speed automatic; horsepower and torque numbers are 293hp/255lb-ft for the Korean car and 268hp/248lb-ft for the Japanese. Each powertrain is refined and cultured-sounding and both trannies have paddle shifters for when the mood strikes. Steering feel in both is nonexistent, but accuracy and precision is fine, as is the modulation and stopping power of each sedan’s brakes.
Which car makes more sense depends on where one lives and the roads most travelled. Forsaken urban pavement favors the smoother riding Kia; its higher quality trimmings and extra features are also attractive. For those who live where the town council actually cares what the taxpayers think, the Toyota’s higher mpg and more dynamic profile—both inside and out—may make more sense, as its busy ride is less bothersome. Regardless, both are excellent examples of the refined cruisers that once were the exclusive province of the domestic auto industry.
Prices as tested:
$39,160 (Cadenza); $40,840 (Avalon)
19/28mpg (Cadenza); 21/31mpg (Avalon)