DETROIT – Kia Motors America looks to balance value with upgraded comfort when it introduces its new Cadenza flagship in May, says Tom Loveless, KMA vice president-North American sales.

Loveless says during the North American International Auto Show here that in addition to conquest sales, the auto maker expects many customers to move up to Cadenza when 36-month leases of the Kia Optima start expiring in spring 2014.

Strategically, the Cadenza fits into what Kia identifies as a space between volume cars and near-luxury models. Whereas 22% of luxury buyers in 2010 were moving up from volume brands, only 8% were doing so last year. For Loveless, that means people are being more careful with their money, making purchase decisions that are rational as well as emotional.

The car has not yet been priced, but it will appeal to buyers by having the same value approach as other models, Loveless says.

Kia is following the 1980s strategy of Japanese brands that offered well-equipped cars at lower prices. And like those auto makers in their early days in the U.S., Kia is on a steady path of growth.

Loveless says the brand increased its market share in 2012 for the 18th straight year, despite offering no new products. This year, the auto maker will launch six more new or significantly redesigned models after the Cadenza, with the next one to be unveiled at the Chicago auto show.

The Cadenza’s technical innovations include an automatic cruise control that can bring a car to a complete stop, says Orth Hedrick, director of product planning. Many other adaptive cruise-control systems do not brake from highway speeds to a full stop, but demand instead that the driver act when the speed is reduced.

Kia has received the technology ahead of its sister brand Hyundai, and was developed with Hyundai Group supplier Mobilis and another supplier, Hedrick says.

The Cadenza is powered by a 3.3L direct-injection gasoline engine mated to a 6-speed transmission, developing 293 hp and 255 lb.-ft. (346 Nm) of torque. Hedrick says oil-cooling jets on the pistons were imported from racing experience to improve performance.

Much work also was put into reducing noise, vibration and harshness and tuning the sound of the powertrain, as the car is moving up in class for the brand. Kia says the Cadenza slots in the large-car, or D- or E-segment, and will compete against models such as the Toyota Avalon, Nissan Maxima and Buick LaCrosse.