Kia is riding a wave of success that includes 18 straight years of market share increase and a record 557,599 units sold in 2012. With hundreds of thousands of new owners, rising transaction prices, and some changes in consumer behavior since the recession, Kia is testing its upper limit with the 2014 Cadenza.
Although the market for large sedans is shrinking, there are many strong new entries. The Chevrolet Impala, Hyundai Azera, and Toyota Avalon are vying for the same customers as the Cadenza. Kia is also hoping to pull in shoppers looking for a premium sedan without the premium price. That reasonable price hasn't been revealed yet, but Kia spokespeople tell us the Cadenza will stretch from the mid-$30,000 to mid-$40,000 range.Update: Kia has announced the Cadenza starts at $35,900 and stretches to $41,900.
There is no Base Model
At first glance, it seems odd for a brand that used to be known mostly for its long warranty and incredibly cheap sticker prices to offer only mid-level to fully-loaded Cadenzas. Every Cadenza comes standard with navigation and a 550-watt, 12-speaker Infinity stereo. Dual zone climate control, heated front seats, and every safety feature are also standard.
The Cadenza is a nicely equipped large sedan and it transforms to a credible near-luxury sedan with the optional premium package that includes a panoramic sunroof, Napa leather, active HID headlights, a cooled driver's seat, heated rear seats, heated steering wheel, a power rear window shade, and windshield wiper de-icer. Tech lovers will want to add the Technology package which includes 19-inch wheels, adaptive cruise control, a lane departure warning system, blind spot detection, an electronic parking brake with auto-hold, and a special coating for the front windows that makes them water repellent. That last feature is essentially a permanent coat of Rain-X applied by the factory.
If you really want to give the Cadenza's cabin a luxury look, the white package covers the seats with white Napa leather, adds more wood trim, and upgrades the headliner. Who could have imagined Kia would ever offer a white interior? Thank Peter Schreyer, chief design officer for both Hyundai and Kia.
Bland but Pleasing
When we first saw the Cadenza at the Detroit auto show earlier this year, it didn't look so hot. We thought an Optima and BMW 5-series had mated. But out in the real world, the Cadenza looks much more elegant. There's definitely a generic BMW style to the front fascia, but the car's simple lines are clean and we imagine the design will age very gracefully, much like the Optima has.
Kia has quietly upped its interior game since Peter Schreyer joined the company in 2006. Cadenza continues this trend with impressive materials and an intuitive infotainment system. UVO eServices is Kia's telematics solution that allows the Cadenza to connect to the cloud through an owner's smartphone. A free app for iPhone and Android users makes it easy to schedule your next service at a Kia dealer or help you figure out where you parked your car. The service is free for 10 years or 100,000 miles.
Beneath the Sheetmetal
There is only one powertrain for the 2014 Kia Cadenza: a 293-hp, 3.3-liter V-6 that sends power to the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. This is Kia's second-generation Lambda V-6 (the first was a 3.5-liter displacement) and it makes use of direct injection, dual continuously variable valve timing, a three-phase intake manifold that optimizes torque across a wide range of engine speeds, and a unique downpipe that helps reduce the sounds of the exhaust. All of that technology helps the big sedan return 19/28 mpg ratings on the EPA test cycle.
Kia added lots of noise insulation to keep the Cadenza quiet at highway speeds. The efforts are very noticeable and it's easy to converse with a passenger. On some road surfaces we found the tire noise from the 245/40R 19 Hankook Optimo tires to be unacceptably loud, but smooth blacktop resulted in virtually no tire noise. There was a bit more wind noise around the A-pillars than we'd like in a premium sedan. Perhaps the elegant design set our expectations for sound insulation a bit too high.
On the Road
The Cadenza drives well for a large front-wheel drive sedan. On the smooth roads between San Francisco and Napa, we were impressed by the ride quality. One of Kia's traditional downfalls was less-than stellar suspension tuning, so we were pleasantly surprised by well-controlled body motions during moderately spirited driving on the type of roads that would be a lot more fun in a Miata than a 72.8-inch wide sedan. Steering feel isn't anything special, but the electrically-assisted system is light and accurate.
Cadenza feels much more like a front-wheel drive Genesis sedan from behind the wheel than the BMW 5-series it's trying to look like and that's perfectly fine. This is a big, comfortable sedan that will happily eat up the miles on long road trips and not look out of place in a country club parking lot.
Do I Want One?
Cadenza takes everything Kia has been doing right for the last few years and does it just a little better. There's fantastic visibility thanks to the large daylight opening and the traditional sedan profile gives the back seat has great headroom. We prefer Cadenza over the Ford Taurus, Nissan Maxima, Buick LaCrosse, and Hyundai Azera (with which the Cadenza shares a platform). Before we can rank the Cadenza against the new Chevy Impala and Toyota Avalon, we'll need to put some miles behind the wheel on the broken roads around our Ann Arbor headquarters. For now, it's safe to say Cadenza exceeded our expectations and deserves serious consideration from anyone looking for a big sedan without a desire for sporty handling. Don't look for Kia's success streak to come to an end anytime soon.
2014 Kia Cadenza
On Sale: Late April
Base Price: $35,900
Engine: 3.3-liter DOHC 24-valve V-6
Horsepower: 293 hp @ 6400 rpm
Torque: 255 lb-ft @ 5200 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
L x W x H: 195.5. x 72.8 x 58.1 in
Legroom F/R: 45.5/36.8 in
Headroom F/R: 40.0/37.8 in
Headroom F/R with sunroof: 38.0/37.3 in
Cargo capacity: 15.9 cu ft
Curb Weight: TBD
EPA Rating (city/highway): 19/28 mpg