Two Large Front-drive Cars Buck the Sales Trend

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2017 Kia Cadenza - Image: Kia

April wasn’t a hot month for auto sales, what with two less selling days than the same period last year. Overall, the industry was down nearly 5 percent last month, with — in many cases — only the hottest-selling models, many of them recently revamped SUVs, posting a net gain.

April held some surprises, though, and one had to do with a pair of vehicles that should be on their way to the funeral home. That is, if all automakers acted on what they saw in the tea leaves. Certain automakers, Toyota and Kia among them, aren’t quite as eager to hop onto the all-crossovers-and-trucks bandwagon. Because of this, there’s still choice for someone looking for a large, front-wheel-drive sedan with plenty of content, but not luxury vehicle levels of it.

These people actually exist, albeit in ever smaller numbers. And these people apparently like what they see in two particular models.

During the recent 2019 Toyota Avalon test drive, some murmuring was overheard about the rival Kia Cadenza, and how it’s not worthy of unflattering jokes. Our own Chris Tonn discovered this after driving a second-generation Cadenza last year. Positioned above the midsize Optima, the refreshed Cadenza is apparently everything a Korean Buick should be.

While poring through yesterday’s sales data, I noticed that, while Kia volume fell 5.2 percent in April, year over year, Cadenza sales rose by 10 vehicles. Hardly a massive gain, but a gain nonetheless. Year-to-date, however, the Cadenza found 65.5 percent more buyers than the same period last year.

Curiosity piqued, I looked back in time to find the Cadenza, outfitted with a 290 horsepower 3.3-liter V6 and eight-speed automatic, just posted 12 consecutive months of year-over-year sales gains in the United States. The current generation hit the market in late 2016 as a 2017 model. I must say, it was a little surprising. (A quick check of Kia’s consumer website shows no special offers for Cadenza buyers.)

2016 Toyota Avalon - Image: Toyota

A similar thing seems to be occurring over at Toyota, where the long-in-the-tooth Avalon awaits its imminent, edgier replacement. While Toyota’s car division sank 12.7 percent in year-over-year sales in April (brand-wide sales fell 4.7 percent), the Avalon posted an 18.5 percent gain. Over the first four months of 2018, Avalon volume rose 21.9 percent.

Unlike the Kia, however, there’s a good financial reason to go looking for a soon-to-be-outdated Avalon. Toyota has $5,000 in factory cash waiting for anyone interested in a cushy highway cruiser with legendary longevity. It’ll be interesting to see where the new model takes this sales trajectory.

True, you won’t mistake either car for a sales juggernaut. The only thing making their sales noteworthy is the fact that they’ve pulled back from the brink, as any change in volume direction is this class means a change from the norm. Regardless, it shows there’s still sales to be had in a sparsely populated, rapidly declining segment. (And especially if there’s cash on the hood.)

[Images: Kia Motors, Toyota]