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On The Road

Sensational sedans: Toyota Avalon and Kia Cadenza offer style and comfort at an affordable price

courtesy of Kia
The 2014 Kia Cadenza offers 295 horsepower and has a combined fuel efficiency of 22 mpg.

Many car owners need a four-door sedan. These vehicles are suitable for a family road trip, an evening out with another couple or taking clients on a tour of the area.

Last month we drove two sedans that are ideal for such outings: the Toyota Avalon Limited and the Kia Cadenza. These 2014 models are stylish, comfortable and – best of all – affordable. And neither could be called soft, slow or uninspiring – all adjectives that once described all full-sized sedans.

Quality and elegance

We had only one problem after driving both cars: We couldn’t point to any single feature – with the exception of the front grilles – that distinguished one from the other. As a consequence, we can discuss the Avalon and Cadenza together. We’ll leave it to buyers to decide which one they find more visually appealing.

Both sedans are spacious with well-appointed interiors. Each sells for less than $45,000. Even with front-drive gasoline engines producing 268 horsepower (Avalon) and 295 horsepower (Cadenza), they deliver reasonable, though unremarkable, combined fuel efficiency of 25 mpg and 22 mpg, respectively.

They’re almost exactly the same size – each approximately 16 feet, 3 inches long – with more than 36 inches of legroom in the backseat and spacious trunks that can hold 16 cubic feet of luggage. The new swoopy rear rooflines that every designer seems to be doing these days make rear-door entry just the slightest bit awkward for tall passengers, but once inside, headroom is quite adequate.

Beyond the spaciousness of these cars, we were particularly impressed with the quality and elegance of the appointments. Just five years ago, we wouldn’t have seen this level of leather trim and wood-grained accents in a family sedan costing less than $50,000. But the interior beauty is more than skin deep. The rear seats are deep and comfortable, while the front seats are effectively supportive and bolstered to be pleasant even on long journeys. The Kia even includes adjustable thigh bolsters, sure to be appreciated by those with legs longer or shorter than average.

Owners of both of these cars will feel as if they’ve stepped up to the luxury segment of the market. Our test cars boasted heated and ventilated front seats, panoramic sunroofs, smartkey systems, Bluetooth wireless technology and satellite radio. Toyota makes some of these amenities standard, while Kia prices them into an optional luxury package, though the bottom-line prices for the cars are the same.

There isn’t even really much difference in the overall styling of the instrument panels and center stacks. The Kia is a bit more traditional – busy with buttons and knobs – while the Toyota has gone a little overboard the opposite way, with very chiseled surfaces and touch-sensitive controls that seem almost contradictory to the wood accents. At least the Toyota controls are reasonably intuitive, though we still think touch-sensitive screens and buttons are, well, too touchy for automobiles – especially on bumpy back roads.

Road handling

Similarities extend to driving impressions. There is no effort to hide the fact that these sedans are intended to ferry a family in comfort rather than to entertain the driver with performance. Not that either car is slow – both can reach highway speeds from a metering light in less than 7 seconds, which not too long ago was considered lightning quick.

It’s on the tighter curves that both cars remind drivers that they were designed to be family sedans – not sports sedans. Against that standard, steering and handling are just fine, and neither car ever feels unsafe or even close to the edge of getting out of control. Of course, as is the case with nearly every new automobile today, we have 10 years of progress in braking and stability control engineering to thank for this handling confidence.

It’s comforting to see that both cars have managed to squeeze out enough money to include backup cameras and navigation systems. In addition, both test cars came equipped with the optional technology package that provides radar-equipped cruise control so that the car automatically maintains a safe distance behind the car in front without continuous active intervention by the driver. Here again, the Kia adds that little bit extra by including lane-departure warning and blind-spot detection in the technology option, systems that only a few years ago were only available on the most expensive luxury cars.

Bottom line: The buyer who expects to be carrying passengers – family members, adult friends or important clients – on a regular basis and wants comfort and luxury without affectation would be pleased to own either one of these cars. Just select the one with the most appealing appearance.

Longtime Los Altos residents Gary and Genie Anderson are co-owners of Enthusiast Publications LLC, which edits several car club magazines and contributes articles and columns to automotive magazines and online services.

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