One of the lessons of The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen, undoubtedly one of the best books ever written about innovation strategies, is that there is a tendency for companies to cede lower ends of their markets to try to reap the margins that can be realized at the higher; the companies that move into the lower ends then, through improvements begin to rise, leaving those who have essentially retreated upward often on a precipice from which they unceremoniously tumble.
Which is what I thought about when driving the Kia Cadenza. You might think of Kia in terms of the company’s smaller offerings, like the Forte and the Soul. You might realize that it is the company with one of the hands-down best-looking midsize sedans on the market, the Optima. But you probably don’t think of it in the context of the full-size Cadenza.
And I must confess to having a bit of a metal challenge even thinking about the forthcoming K900.
Kia is clearly a challenger that has moved up at an aggressive pace. It hasn’t given way on the low end of things. And it is doing a remarkable job at the higher end, where the Cadenza resides. Although one might compare it to something like a Buick LaCrosse or a loaded Ford Taurus, there are even brands of a less quotidian nature that the Cadenza can be matched with, and it will hold its own quite well.
The Cadenza is offered in two flavors. Premium. Limited. The former has a starting MSRP of $35,100. The latter goes up $7,300 to $42,400.
Here’s what you get for the extra investment, a list that you should take in the context of “There is a tremendous amount of stuff being offered on the entry model if this is what comes on the upper-level model. . .and what a remarkable deal this all is, and while it is highly unlikely, the Kia product developers must have read The Innovator’s Dilemma”: panoramic sunroof; hydrophobic glass; HID headlights with adaptive positioning; LED fog lights; 19-inch alloy wheels; power tilt and telescoping steering wheel; heated steering wheel; color LCD cluster; rear sunshade; Nappa leather seating surfaces; ventilated front seats; heated rear seats; extended driver’s seat cushion; seat memory.
Two points about this:
1. This is all high-quality. It’s not like the seats have all of the comfort of plastic lawn chair and the materials sourced from a liquidator’s outlet.
2. If you were to take the list of offerings that transforms a Premium to a Limited and ticked the boxes on a vehicle configurator from any number of luxury brands, you’d see the number rise much, much higher than the $42,400 figure before you got too far along the list.
And this may be a problem for Kia inasmuch as there probably remains a gulf between how the brand is perceived (“Isn’t that the company with those hamster commercials?”) and what it is putting on offer in the market.
But it certainly isn’t a problem for the prospective customers who go out comparison shopping.
Some automotive companies do a check-list approach to product development. They create, in effect (if not fact), an Excel spreadsheet of what the competitive set has, then sets about to match those offerings, perhaps adding something here and there to their product. And what’s often the case is that the resulting products have a whole lot of gear but not a lot of soul.
The Cadenza seems to have been a total exercise in design, not only design in the context of the stately but stylish sheet metal, but also from the point of view of making it all of a whole, not something that seems to be cobbled together in order to meet the Excel metrics.
Engine: 3.3-liter DOHC gasoline direct injection V6
Horsepower: 293 @ 6,400 rpm
Torque: 255 lb-ft @ 5,200 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Steering: Motor-driven rack-and-pinion
Wheelbase: 112.0 in.
Length: 195.5 in.
Width: 72.8 in.
Height: 58.1 in.
Interior volume: 106.8 cu. ft.
Cargo volume: 15.9 cu. ft.
EPA: 19/28/22 city/highway/combined mpg