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2014 Kia Cadenza Review by Carey Russ +VIDEO

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2014 Kia Cadenza

European luxury and comfort at a very non-European price


    • SEE ALSO: Kia Buyers Guide

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2014 Kia Cadenza

The car I'm driving this week is a midsize sedan with all the comfort and safety features that are expected in an entry-luxury automobile, and then some. No need to remove the "key" fob from your pocket, locking and unlocking are by touch, and starting and stopping the engine by button. Nappa leather seating is power-adjustable, of course, with memory and all outboard positions heated. The driver's seat also ventilated for comfort in hot weather. The leather-and-wood steering wheel is power-adjustable for both tilt and reach and has controls for audio, phone, cruise, and information systems.

A panoramic sunroof lets in light, and allows passengers, especially in the rear seat, a fine view of the sky or scenic attractions above. A power sunshade for the rear window protects them from excessive sun. Navigation and all expected audio modes plus phone connectivity are standard fare. Adaptive cruise control, a blind-spot detection system, and a lane-departure warning system convenience and safety, as do a backup warning system and rear-view camera.

A 293-horsepower V6 engine with direct fuel injection powers the car effortlessly, and, with better than 20 mpg overall easily obtained, economically for the size of the car. A fully-independent suspension tuned in the finest European manner provides a first-class driving experience, and paddle-controlled manual shifting allows the driver to play if he or she so desires.

It sounds expensive and European. It looks expensive and European. It's a 2014 Kia Cadenza. A $40,000 Kia.

It's no surprise that Kia is knocking on the entry-luxury door. I heard of such plans directly from the source a over decade ago, with the introduction of the Kia Amanti. A Korean domestic-market luxury car at heart, the Amanti didn't exactly make an impression in the American marketplace. I said of it at the time "it does bring to mind several British and German luxury sedans. Kia is young, and has yet to discover its own design language. So the Amanti's looks are derivative, but no more so than those of some Japanese luxury sedans."

I was being kind… But Kia has learned, and learned well, in the past decade. It has its own distinctive design language, and if bits of other cars can be seen in spots, the overall effect is unique and readily identifiable. At $35,000 through $42,000, the Cadenza is comparable to the Amanti, adjusted for inflation, and also comparable to the entry-level sedans from BMW, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz -- but is a size larger, and better-equipped at any given price point. It's a tough neighborhood, and Kia is betting on content to crack the established cachet of the Europeans.

Watch the introduction of the 2014 Kia Cadenza at the Detroit Auto Show

In the design and construction of the Cadenza, Kia did its homework. The Cadenza is the car the Amanti never was, with the look and most of the feel of a contemporary European luxury sedan. There are some small details, on the level of interior door handles and some interior trim pieces, and some assembly tolerances, that are not quite up to Euro-luxury standards. There is nothing at that level in the parts bin, of Kia or parent Hyundai. Yet… And if panel gaps are a bit greater than in some competitors, that could well mean less financial grief after a minor fender-bender or parking incident. It will be interesting to see how well the Kia Cadenza does in the American luxury marketplace.

APPEARANCE: Kia didn't have a design language of its own a decade ago, but that was then. They do now, centered on the tabbed grille and understated, flowing shapes, courtesy in large part of German Peter Schreyer, brought is as Chief Design Officer in 2006 and now company president as well. Kia design reaches its high point so far in the Cadenza. A larger, more pentagonal grille set between hawk-eyed headlights that incorporate LED positioning lights gives it a distinctive face, assertive but not overly aggressive. Proportions are right, for a substantial yet toned look. The roofline is far from old-days sedan formal if not completely coupelike -- all the better for rear headroom. Large wraparound LED taillights are a shape familiar from other Kias. The Cadenza looks far more European than Asian -- or American -- and if I didn't know better I'd suspect Italy as the country of origin.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2014 Kia Cadenza

COMFORT: As mentioned, especially in premium form, the Cadenza has everything expected in a entry, or even mid-level, luxury sedan. Seat comfort is very good, with plenty of room and heated cushions for all but the center rear passenger. Bright electroluminescent gauges are easily read in all lighting, and metallic trim around instruments and vents adds a touch of elegance. As does the analog clock in the center stack. The dual-zone climate control system works quickly and efficiently. Trim on the doors and dash is "woodgrain" plastic, not wood -- same as in many competitors (and by the time enough resin is added to wood to keep it from being quickly damaged by sunlight, it's plastic anyway). Is it a "real" luxury car? Everything on the checklist is checked; only the ineffable quality of cachet remains. For those who must have it.

SAFETY: The 2014 Kia Cadenza surrounds its passengers with a sturdy, crashworthy unibody structure. The majority of that structure is strengthened with high-tensile steel, for reduced weight and increased strength. Dual frontal airbags and side-mounted airbags for front and outboard rear positions are joined by full-length side curtain airbags. Four-wheel antilock disc brakes stop quickly and repeatedly, with further standard help from traction control, electronic stability control, and vehicle stability management systems. Optional safety equipment includes blind spot detection and lane departure warning systems. A standard rearview camera helps to improve rear visibility.

RIDE AND HANDLING: If you were blindfolded and put in a passenger seat inside a Cadenza, you could be forgiven for thinking that you were in a European luxury sedan. The Cadenza's MacPherson strut front, multilink rear suspension is tuned in the Euro-luxury manner, compliant for comfort but stiff enough for maneuverability and an enjoyable driving experience. Shock damping is very good, no corner-cutting there. The electrically-assisted steering is, alas, a bit numb, but is far from the worst in that respect. It is a luxury car before it's a performance car, after all.

PERFORMANCE: There is only one powertrain, and while Kia has replaced the V6 option in the smaller Optima with a turbo four, power here is from a 3.3-liter V6 through a six-speed automatic transmission to the front wheels. It's more relaxed than a turbo, so more appropriate for a luxury car. With aluminum alloy block and heads, dual overhead camshafts with continuously-variable cam phasing for optimum efficiency, and direct fuel injection to allow a high 12:1 compression ratio for further improved efficiency in both (increased) power production and (decreased) fuel consumption, it makes 293 horsepower at 6400 rpm, with torque peaking at 255 lb-ft at 5200 rpm. With plenty more down almost to idle. This makes the six-speed automatic's job easier. D works well for everyday driving, and, like most automatics, the transmission is programmed for fuel efficiency over performance. So occasionally the car will be in too high a gear for spirited driving. No worries, just use the paddles behind the steering wheel to downshift, or snick the shift lever into Sport mode and use it or the paddles to shift. The transmission usually keeps the engine far from its power, or even torque, peaks. Revving it does remind the driver that there is almost 300 horsepower available. Even then torque steer is well-controlled. EPA fuel economy is listed as 19 mpg city, 28 highway, and 22 overall. With mostly city and secondary road driving and some use of manual shifting, I average 21 mpg. More highway driving should improve that.

CONCLUSIONS: Kia is moving into interesting territory with its Cadenza entry-luxury sedan.


2014 Kia Cadenza

Base Price $ 35,100

Price As Tested $ 41,900

Engine Type aluminum alloy DOHC 24-valve V6 with continuously-variable cam phasing and direct fuel injection

Engine Size 3.3 liters / 204 cu. in.

Horsepower 293 @ 6400 rpm

Torque (lb-ft) 255 @ 5200 rpm

Transmission 6-speed automatic

Wheelbase / Length 112.0 in. / 195.5 in.

Curb Weight 3792 lbs.

Pounds Per Horsepower 12.9

Fuel Capacity 18.5 gal.

Fuel Requirement unleaded premium gasoline recommended

Tires P245/40 R19 94V Hankook Optimo H426

Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS standard

Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent multilink

Drivetrain transverse front engine, front-wheel drive