Do you remember back in the early 90's when Korean automaker Kia first hit North America? Despite riding on the coattails of Hyundai who entered the arena a few years earlier, the company struggled through nearly a decade of earning approval from consumers. In a time when "Buy American" sentiment ran strong, Korean cars were viewed as inferior not only to the big 3, but also to Japanese imports who were finally gaining acceptance and the public's interest. The economy car maker eventually gained ground during tough economic times when it offered inexpensive new cars coupled with generous10 year warranties to reassure nervous buyers.
Well, those days are long gone. Kia is the fastest growing brand in the US, it's sales surpassing even it's more established big brother Hyundai; and the company has recently earned it's spot in the top 100 Global Brands. The company's 2013 Optima was voted the International Car of the Year by Road and Travel magazine. In 2012 the Kia Soul was ranked the highest in initial quality by J.D. Power and Associates. In Canada this year, it's cars have been finalists in 2013 "Best of the Best" awards and the 2013 Sorrento won the 2013 Insurance Institute For Highway Safety Top Safety Pick.
No longer focusing on cheap, city cars, Kia is poised to unleash a series of higher end vehicles in the North American market beginning with their new flagship car the Cadenza, which will enter North America's premium sedan segment later this year. Known in Korea as the K7, it's above the K5 Optima it's replacing, signalling Kia's intent to take things upscale. Priced to start in the sub- $40,000 range, it's considered an entry level luxury car and Kia believes that it will be a genuine competitor to more established luxury brands by 2017.
Available in only one trim, the standard Cadenza is packaged with Kia's most powerful 3.3 litre V-6 engine, 6 speed automatic with paddle shifters and produces 293 HP. This engine leads it's class, even beating the Toyota Avalon, it's chief rival. It's heavy on electronic gadgets including push start, back up camera, 8-inch touch screen, navigation and a premium 12-speaker sound system. Two additional packages will be offered, premium and technology for those who want even more gadgets or features such as sunroof, adaptive HID headlights, 19-inch aluminum wheels, leather and a lane departure warning system.
Sitting at the top of the Kia hierarchy, in 2015 we can expect to see Kia's K9, the Kia Quoris in showrooms. This $60,000- $70,000 sporty full sized rear wheel drive will be positioned against BMW's 5- series and Mercedes-Benz' E-Class despite being as large as the 7-series and the S-Class. Big and imposing with European styling, the large grill, dual exhaust and big rims will definitely get it noticed against it's more diminutive competition.
It's taken over 20 years, but through challenging American and Japanese automakers by improving quality, fuel efficiency and design; Kia has risen above it's initial image problems and firmly established itself in the North American market. Having conquered the lower end segments, the company is about to become a challenger to the established upper classes of automakers, something we probably never imagined two decades ago.
By Linda Aylesworth - autoExpert.ca