On The Road

Two traditional sedans from nontraditional sources

Courtesy of Kia
The Kia Cadenza Limited, above, sells for approximately $45,000,

Judging from the vehicles seen throughout Los Altos, we don’t deviate much from national trends that favor crossovers and SUVs – yet there are still many reasons why people might buy a sedan.

Two 2017 examples that we drove last month, the Volvo S90 and the Kia Cadenza, are worth consideration for someone who wants a vehicle with a big back seat for clients or family members but doesn’t require a climb up to get into the vehicle.

Although both cars are well-equipped four-door sedans that have been completely re-engineered for 2017, there are some major differences between them. So what might be desirable for one customer might not be right for another.

The Volvo S90 T6 Inscription we drove, categorized as a luxury sedan and manufactured in Sweden, is priced at $66,105. In contrast, the full-sized Kia Cadenza Limited, categorized as a near-luxury sedan and manufactured in Korea, can be purchased for $45,290.

What accounts for the difference in price, which would seem to make the Kia a much better bargain – fancier car for a smaller price tag – than the Volvo? That actually isn’t an easy question to answer.

Volvo reliability

Looking first at the Volvo, let’s start with basic numbers. We drove the T6 all-wheel-drive version, with the relatively small 2-liter inline 4-cylinder engine. With both turbocharging and supercharging, however, the engine produces an impressive 316 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque distributed to all four wheels through an 8-speed gearbox but still covers 25 mpg of gasoline in combined driving. Other dimensions that are helpful in the comparison: The Volvo S90 is 195.4 inches from bumper to bumper, with a comfortable 35.9 inches of rear legroom, but it has only 13.5 cubic feet of trunk volume.

The exterior design is pleasing – Volvo has come a long way from the old days of staid Swedish boxes – with simple details and smooth, flowing panels. Taking advantage of LED technology that redirects the beam as the car turns, the S90 features a “Thor’s hammer” shape for its headlights, combining heritage with avant-garde Scandinavian styling.

That Scandinavian styling carries over into the interior, which proves that luxury needn’t be synonymous with opulence. Detailing is simple, with soft-finish wood paneling complementing smooth swaths of leather, accented by slim touches of brushed aluminum.

This simplicity is also integrated into the interior technology, which combines a horizontal screen in front of the driver to simulate gauges and a generous vertical screen on the center stack to provide all necessary information. Touch screens and voice recognition allow an absolute minimum of controls. Just for the sake of variety, appar- ently, the driver starts the engine by twisting a knob just behind the gear selector on the console, rather than pushing a button or turning a key.

In terms of safety and convenience, Volvo is definitely keeping up with its rivals from Germany. In addition to low-speed collision avoidance and an only-from-Sweden large-animal detection and avoidance system (moose and deer are a serious problem on Swedish highways, apparently) the new S90 incorporates a semi-autonomous driving capability that matches the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and is way ahead of other manufacturers.

The only quibble we could find in our week with the S90 was that the steering wheel angle and rake could be adjusted only by manually releasing a lever below the dashboard, while its luxury competitors all offer an automatic four-way adjustment actuated by a knob on the steering column.

Comparing the Kia

Looking at the basic numbers for the Kia Cadenza for comparison, the model we drove was powered by its standard 3.3-liter V-6 engine putting 290 horsepower and 253 pound-feet of torque to the front wheels through an 8-speed transmission. However, relying on standard power technology rather than turbocharging, the Kia manages only 23 mpg in combined driving, 2 mpg less than the Volvo S90. In terms of relevant dimensions, the Kia is only a fraction of an inch longer than the Volvo, but with the front-wheel drive configuration provides 37.2 inches of rear legroom and 16 cubic feet of trunk room.

The exterior styling of this dramatically restyled second-generation Cadenza is admirable, with a nice combination of pleasing lines and imposing appearance, appropriate for Kia’s flagship model. Of course, this shouldn’t be surprising, because the car was the first effort of Peter Schreyer after he joined Hyundai-Kia from having designed Audi’s luxury sedans.

The Kia’s interior is equally impressive but is in sharp contrast to Volvo’s minimalist interior. The choices of quilted leather on the seat bolsters; multiple panel components of wood, vinyl and plastic outlined with chrome on the doors; and extensive arrays of controls on the console, center stack and armrests are clearly meant to convey a feeling of affluence to both driver and passengers.

Our only quibble with the Cadenza is that the information screen in the center of the dashboard was quite small relative to comparable cars in its class.

We do want to make a point of complimenting both manufacturers on a feature that is only beginning to be found on new cars: a 360-degree camera system.

Using cameras under the side-view mirrors as well as on the front and back of the car, the system produces a view of the car that appears to be from a camera on a drone suspended approximately 20 feet above the car. Being able to check obstacles in front and back, the distance to cars on either side and line the car up on the parking lot lines are real advantages in maneuvering one of these large cars in small parking garages.

The bottom-line question: Is the Volvo worth $20,000 more than the Kia? The Kia is an incredible value for money, while the Volvo is known for its reliability. In the end, each buyer has to answer that question for him or herself, because in terms of features and performance, we couldn’t find anything that clearly and unambiguously separates one of these cars from the other.

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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