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2014 Kia Cadenza | Rocky Mountain Review +VIDEO

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2014 Kia Cadenza

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

By Dan Poler
Rocky Mountain Bureau
The Auto Channel

Author's Note: I cannot overstate how deeply impressed I am with this car. The price/performance at $42k is an amazing value. It's very rare that I drive a car and think "if I had to go buy a new car tomorrow, I'd put this on the list." This one is on the list, at or near the top.

I'm generally a German car guy. This car drives better than the last 3-series I drove and costs $14k less with way more options. It's really time for the anti-Korean snobbery to end.

Kia Cadenza. A luxury Korean sedan. Sounds a little strange, doesn’t it?

For all of the ground gained, in some ways, Korean vehicles struggle to realize acceptance in the US. Although it’s now more than twenty years out of date, a stereotype remains in the minds of some American consumers when it comes to Korean automobile – cheap, small, underpowered, unreliable, lightly-optioned vehicles. It’s unfair, it hasn’t been true for decades, but for some it remains nonetheless.

Let’s ignore these preconceived notions and labels and look at the vehicle itself. When we do so, what we discover is that the Kia Cadenza is an excellent re-entry into this market segment, and its Japanese and German competitors should be on notice.

The Cadenza isn’t Kia’s first foray upmarket – for a period in the 2000’s they imported the Amanti – you’re forgiven if you don’t remember it – the odd-looking sedan vaguely resembled a Crown Victoria mated to a Jaguar S-Type. Bland and better suited to chauffeuring passengers in the back seat than to being a driver’s car, it wasn’t a smashing success, and sales ended in the 2009 model year.

The Cadenza is completely different. It’s all-new, based upon a lengthened Optima platform with a new front subframe to accommodate the 3.3-liter V6 under the hood. It shares many of its components with its cousin, the Hyundai Azera, although the Cadenza is fitted with some changes like a much-appreciated firmer suspension.

On the outside, the Cadenza looks upscale, substantial, and luxurious. Our tester sat on 19” wheels with 245/40-19 tires which fill their cutouts nicely. Design cues are unmistakably Kia with an upscale twist – of course, the clearly visible tiger nose grille, and subtle touches which bear a familial resemblance to the Sportage, Forte, and Optima, but look closely and you’ll see something more. Cues are borrowed from others as well. There’s a noticeable resemblance in the headlights to the prior-generation Acura RL, and tail lights more-than-a-little resemble the current Mercedes E-Class. Tail lights and daytime running lights are LED-illuminated translucent bars, a particularly nice touch which makes the Cadenza look great.

Inside, the Cadenza is a model of understated luxury. Everything within sight and within reach simply looks and feels classy. Our tester came equipped with the (surprisingly) no-charge white leather package which includes a premium headliner that looks and feels almost like a semi-aniline material, a great upscale touch. The white is just off-white enough to not be impossible to keep clean, approaching something of a light gray, a nod to the practicality of everyday life. There are just the right amount of small, tasteful chrome accents throughout the interior, and black wood accents for the upper portion of the steering wheel and throughout provide a nice contrasting touch. Seats are comfortable and supportive, with power lumbar and thigh adjustments for the driver in addition to the usual host of adjustments. Dash materials are soft-touch, absent hard plastics and odd seams. Controls are mostly well placed and within reach, although some controls and even the far side of the eight-inch display that controls the navigation and entertainment systems can be a bit of a long reach.

The interior of the Cadenza is where the value of this vehicle truly shines. Advanced features like navigation, leather seating, and an Infinity surround sound audio system come standard in the vehicle’s $35,100.00 base price. It’s clear that Kia is clearly focused on the details. Little things, like the fact that the fonts used on buttons and for the navigation and instrument cluster digital displays match each other. The Cadenza is 95% of the way there in being a true luxury vehicle, but there are a couple of noticeable items that do feel a little, well, cheap – the driver gets a cooled seat with the luxury package, but not the front passenger, for example – and the compass built into the rearview mirror is a standard LCD green, not matched to the rest of the interior lighting of the vehicle. One might think that we’re picking nits at this point, but to truly be a luxury-competitive vehicle, the little things become more and more noticeable.

The driver is treated to a bevy of driving aids and safety features, including Lane Departure Warning, Adaptive Cruise Control, and Blind Spot Detection. Many of these features are controlled by means of physical buttons, while others are controlled through the vehicle’s seven-inch LCD-in-place-of-a-speedometer set in the instrument cluster. Controls are generally logical and easy to get used to, although we did wish for a bit more control in some cases – for example, the speedometer display, being presented on an LCD screen, was not terribly customizable, and the menu system did not provide for detailed choices commonly found on vehicles of this class, such as being able to select operation of daytime running lights, or disable display of kilometers per hour, always visible in the upper right corner of the instrument panel.

Driving the Cadenza is a treat. The engine springs to life at a push of the start button with a pleasant, low growl. The Cadenza is a very quiet and very comfortable vehicle – in fact, one of the most quiet and comfortable we’ve driven in a long time. Long journeys are a pleasure. The electric power steering is nicely balanced, low effort but with decent response and feedback, amongst the best electric power steering setup we’ve seen.

Put your foot down and the engine is more than happy to send its 293 horses to the front wheels via the six-speed automatic transmission. The auto is shiftable via either the stick or paddles on the steering wheel, but it wasn’t worth the bother – the transmission executes seamlessly on its own. Power is more than adequate – not blow-you-away-pin-you-back-in-your-seat, but more than sufficient for practical use and a little bit of fun. Notably absent is a sport-tuned mode for the transmission, something we hope Kia will consider adding in future revisions.

On the safety front, the Cadenza has received IIHS’ highest rating of “good” for moderate overlap, side impact, and roof strength testing. Also of note is Kia’s excellent warranty coverage, including 10/100 powertrain coverage, 5/60 limited warranty, and 5/60 roadside assistance.

All told, we were left deeply impressed by our time with the Kia Cadenza. At an as-tested and fully-equipped price under $42,000, it represents a significant value – the market may look at this vehicle as a competitor to the Accord and Avalon, but its fit, finish, and style put it in the class of the Lexus ES, and thousands cheaper similarly equipped. The Cadenza is a pragmatic and feature-rich sedan, and Kia has knocked it out of the park with this one. Given not only the Cadenza but the even larger and more luxurious K9 sedan already on sale in Korea, the rest of the market has reason to take notice and be concerned. If you’re still holding preconceived notions about what Korean cars can be, it’s time to let go.

Watch the video of the 2014 Kia Cadenza press event from the 2013 Detroit Auto Show; below.


2014 Kia Cadenza
Base Price: $35,100.00
Price as Tested: $41,900.00
Engine Type: Direct Injected V6
Engine Size: 3.3 Liter
Horsepower: 293 @ 6,400 RPM
Torque (lb-ft): 255 @ 5,200 RPM
Transmission: 6-Speed Shiftable Automatic
Wheelbase / Length (in): 112 / 195.5
Curb Weight: 3,668 lb
Pounds per HP: 12.5
Fuel Capacity (gal): 18.5
Fuel Requirement: Regular unleaded
Tires: Hankook Optimo H426; P245/40VR19
Brakes, front/rear: ventilated disc / solid disc
Suspension, front/rear: MacPherson strut / Multi-link
Ground clearance (in): 5.4
Drivetrain: Front wheel drive
EPA Fuel Economy - MPG
city / highway / observed: 19 / 28 / 23
Base Trim Price: $35,100.00

Options and Charges

Technology Package: $3,000.00 (Advanced smart cruise control, Blind spot detection system, Lane departure warning system, Electronic parking brake, Hydrophobic front door windows, 19” alloy wheels)

Luxury Package: $3,000.00 (Panoramic roof with power sunshade, HID headlights with adaptive lighting system, Nappa leather seat and interior trim, Power driver’s seat cushion extension, Ventilated driver’s seat, Heated outboard rear seats, Heated steering wheel, Supervision meter cluster with 7” color LCD, Power tilt and telescopic steering column, Integrated memory system, Power rear window sunshade

White Interior Package: No charge (White nappa leather seat trim, premium headliner trim)

Delivery: $800.00

Price as tested: $41,900.00

Kia Press Event Video- January 2013 Detroit Auto Show