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Text and photos by Cor Steenstra
A long time ago I was designer at Mercedes-Benz in Germany. During that time we were working on the W220 project, which, to us, had to set new standards in quality and design. Not only did we want to get away from that bulk and bland current S-Klasse, we wanted it to have an excellent fit and finish, better than we had seen before on a Mercedes production car.
Of course the engineers were vehemently stating that what was currently there was the best possible, and that nothing could ever be done to improve on that. German engineers being German engineers, everyone believed them, even though in our hearts we knew better. How can you doubt a German engineer? How can you change his mind? How can you prove him wrong?
Enter the first generation Lexus LS!!!! It had tight shut lines that we could only dream of, surfacing quality as in a dream, and the ride and road holding were simply beyond par. We used and abused that Lexus LS in order to convince management that changes were possible, that engineering had not tried hard enough, and we got our way.
I hope something similar is going on at Lexus, in this case about design and creating a design identity. I hope they are dragging in this Kia Cadenza and other more recent Kia’s as examples of how to do that. If they have not, if they snubbed their noses at it, they are so wrong.
Kia has managed to create not only a complete series of cars with quality levels that can hold their own against the best, they have also completely changed their design identity. They went from stale anonymous to recognizable, sporty, dynamic, elegant and desirable within a few short years. Hats off to Kia. What Lexus has been struggling with since its inception, and in particular the last few models, Kia achieved rather easily.
This Kia Cadenza as we had it was clearly not a new Lexus IS350, and clearly not a Cadillac ATS. The Cadenza did not have leather on the IP nor did it have a sporty suspension set up. The Cadenza however, was much more spacious than both of them, had a very smooth and sultry 6 cylinder engine, had an excellent ride, had a build quality that was fully on par with the Lexus and Cadillac and, oh yeah, it was about $16,000 less expensive.
Design wise the exterior was a very well designed, well balanced, dynamic looking luxury sedan, with a face that easily stood out in the crowd, but was not vulgar, nor did it attempt to conjure up false images of cultural connections. It was simply good, very good. The Cadenza is not a head turner, nor was it intended to be, and neither were the ATS nor the IS350.