2014 Kia Cadenza First Drive

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

3.3-liter DOHC 24-valve V-6
Horsepower: 293 hp @ 6400 rpm
Torque: 255 lb-ft @ 5200 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: Front-wheel

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

Mark Justus
Only the Korean brands have sufficient legroom for tall individuals.  The new full size caddy has the most legroom in over a 20 year period. Problem is you feel like you are tilting forward when driving.  The Hyundai genesis has great left foot room but the accelerator is about three inches closer than the left foot rest.I drive a jag xk that has more front legroom than any car I have owned in a while. Even more than the Lexus 460 which I sold to buy the Jag.  The equus is great in the legroom department.  The comments I see here mostly ignore that this is a large sedan ala Lexus 460L. Not a camry or accord. If  you are looking at a large highway cruiser with lots of room, that is what this car is about. Of course it is not a sporty euro sedan, but, its not $ 90k or higher either. The Lexus is not a sporty euro ride and it was never intended to be. Lots of bang for the buck for a large car.  I like it much better than the Avalon and its larger up front than the avalon. I will buy either this or the equus shortly. I would buy a buick but not enough legroom.   I cannot understand why car builders have not recognized that people are getting taller and bigger. It took the shoe companies 20 years to catch up. You would think that the car makers other than the Korean brands would do the same.
Mark Justus
Finally a car with legroom
BMW guy from SMF
It is a nice styled car, but for me just copying attributes of a Ford, BMW, Honda, etc. does not make such a great car ... good looks aside, I cannot stand copy-cat cheating, it just seems to dumb it down for me.  You make judgement on this car vs. Buick, Honda, Ford, Hyundai and praise Chevy and Toyota against it - without even driving the car?  Come on - keep the editorial down to earth and real ...BTW - I travel almost every week and sit in rental cars from Hertz and Avis (so I have driven many that you mention and review).  The Buicks, Chryslers and Fords are for the most part - really great cars!  They seem to handle well, drive nice, get good mileage and seem to be built very well - I mean some of them have 20K rental car miles but still are pretty fresh as far as ride, build, etc.BUT I can tell you some are real dogs - Dodge's (yuck), Mitsibushi's, Chevy's, Toyota's (yes Toyota) and some of the Kia's - I mean I cringe when I get assigned to some of their models.  The WORST for what it is supposed to be - the Hyundai Genesis - what a plastic, bad ride, poor handling pile of yuck!
I was somewhat amused with the statement in the article concerning no base model, since nearly every Optima sedan sold to a private party at least in my area is the mid level EX model or the top of the line SX. Kia is concentrating their production where the majority of their market seems to be.
@Phil Floraday:  Those things are irrelevant to me.  How much money do you want to throw into a car?  Buy the Kia if you wish, but it certainly won't have the residual of an Accord, and the leathered up Accord V6 is quite luxurious, in my opinion-- actaully more luxurious than I need.
I like the look of the car from the side and the rear. But not the front. This is more like an Avalon rather than an Accord competitor. The Optima will give the Accord a fair run on the market. But like what the other posters mentioned, I think the new Accord has put Honda back at the head of the pack.
WRT "over the Ford Taurus, Nissan Maxima, Buick LaCrosse, and Hyundai Azera"  Whaty about the Chysler 300 or Dodge Charger?  
Well, 19/28 mpg WAS OK, but NOW the 2013 Accord V6 gets 21/34.  The V6 with NAVI is about $32,000.  I would get the Accord.  Neither the Cadenza or the Hyundai Genesis sedans are really considered to be luxury cars.  So why not get the less expensive Accord?  Oh, I forgot, a lot of people don't like to have cars that everyone else has.  I am not one of those people, thank goodness.
Phil Floraday moderator
@BMW guy from SMF I drove the car for four full days. I just haven't driven it on my usual loops around our office yet. We'll be doing that soon.
@ed124c Germans are notoriously horrendous on residual value but people still love spending money on them. Not only this Kia is a class above the Accord. If Accord satisfy your needs, than it is.. this is for people look for more.
Phil Floraday moderator
@mravil Depends on your personal preferences. The rwd Chryslers are more fun to drive, but the Cadenza has better visibility and feels a bit more upscale inside than the Charger. It'll also help to know exactly where the Cadenza pricing stands. We'll be doing a comparison in the future to find out.
Phil Floraday moderator
@ed124c The Accord is a slightly smaller car and it's not nearly as luxurious inside as the Cadenza. 
@ed124c Agreed, and you would think, that a company with such impressive increases in market share would have new product with more dynamic styling, and a more developed drivetrain that this! 
@ed124cI agree, especially with cylinder deactivation the Accord V6 is the better choice.

New Car Research

our instagram

get Automobile Magazine

Subscribe to the magazine and save up to 84% off the newsstand price


new cars

Read Related Articles