Kia has big plans for America. The Korean brand that was written off in the 1990s, and is best known for making inexpensive cars with long warranties, isn’t planning an assault on the mass market. Kia has bigger plans: compete head on with Lexus, BMW and Mercedes. Say what? Yep. By 2017 Kia promises they will be ready. Rather than leaping right into the market, Kia is dipping their toes into the murky waters of the near-luxury pool. In many ways the near-luxury segment is a harder place to compete. This segment is full of aspiring brands trying to move up (Buick and Cadillac), brands that are floundering (Acura), brands that are treading water (Volvo and Lexus’s FWD models ), brands trying to expand down (Mercedes with the CLA) and brands that have no idea what their mission is (Lincoln). Into this smorgasbord lands a sedan that managed to be the most exciting car I have driven this year and the most awkwardly named. Now that I have that spoiler out of the way, let’s dive into the Credenza. I mean Cadenza.
By pure happenstance I ended up with an Elantra GT immediately after reviewing the 2014 Kia Forte sedan. As I said last week in the Forte review, the Elantra and Forte are related, but this isn’t a case of Korean badge engineering. It’s far more complicated. The Forte is the new kid on the block while the Elantra has been around for a few years. At this stage in life, Hyundai is trying to inject vitality into the Elantra name by adding new models. First we got the four-door sedan, then a two-door coupé followed by the Veloster which is just a four-door hatchback Elantra (yes, I know Hyundai calls it a three-door, but I know better). If you’re confused by door counts, the new Elantra GT is a five-door. Say what?
When Kia started selling the ’94 Sephia in America, nobody was worried. Not the American car companies still adjusting to the market share lost to the Japanese competition, and not the Japanese who used cheap and reliable cars to take the market share in the first place. The laissez-faire attitude to the Korean upstart was understandable, the Sephia was a truly horrible car. In 1997 Kia filed for bankruptcy protection and the big boys patted themselves on their back for not worrying about the Asian upstart. When another unremarkable Korean company purchased 51% of Kia, nobody cared. They should have.
The Japanese are always worried about what the North Koreans have up their sleeve, but if the writing on the wall were legible, they would be more concerned about what’s going on in the south. If the 2009 Hyundai Genesis was a shot across the bow of Lexus and Infiniti, then the Genesis 5.0 R-spec may be a torpedo hit below the water, and speaking of which, even the Germans should take notice. Of course, we heard this before with the likes of the VW Phaeton, however that model tanked, so is the top-line Genesis biting off more than it can chew? Lets find out.
I’m a product of the 1970s, and as a result I was just the right age to remember when Kia came on the scene in 1992 (available for sale 2 years later), the first Kias were cheap to buy but fairly cheaply made as well prompting the running joke was that Kia meant: “Korean, Inexpensive, and Awful.” Fast forward to 2011; Kia/Hyundai products are on an impressive roll, sporting competitive looks and competitive features without the sting of a large price tag. Could the new Optima Hybrid be the frugal shopper’s green alternative to the mainstream Camry and Fusion or even the Lexus HS250h? Let’s find out.