The new 2014 Kia Cadenza is the first full-size flagship for the Korean automaker. Cadenza seats five comfortably and looks like an Audi.
The Kia Cadenza is front-wheel drive and shares its basic structure with the Hyundai Azera. Compared with the midsize Kia Optima, Cadenza rides on a wheelbase that's two inches longer, and has a body that's five inches longer overall. It's also about an inch higher.
A 3.3-liter V6 engine with direct injection powers Cadenza, good for 293 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque. The V6 is paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission, with EPA estimated fuel economy at 19/28 mpg City/Highway. Kia shares this V6 with Hyundai. We found Cadenza accelerates smoothly and has ample power but has to work hard when charging up mountains.
Inside the cabin, design and materials are surprisingly refined. Controls are well laid out and intuitive, and the color touchscreen is easy to use and read. Upgraded Nappa leather upholstery is soft, and the headliner has a suede-like feel. An analog clock in the middle of the center stack is reminiscent of luxury brands like Infiniti, although certain small pieces here and there have a parts-bin look, like the rocker switch for the door locks that sit on the side arm rests.
Competitors to the 2014 Kia Cadenza include other full-size sedans such as the Buick LaCrosse, the all-new Chevrolet Impala, the Ford Taurus, the Hyundai Azera, the Nissan Maxima, and the Toyota Avalon. Kia hopes that with all its included bells and whistles, the Cadenza will squeeze into a sweet spot for shoppers looking for something between a standard family car, and a luxury sedan such as the Acura TL, Lexus IS, or Lincoln MKZ.
Cadenza comes loaded with standard features that normally rack up thousands of dollars in options, including leather upholstery, pushbutton start, a premium sound system and even navigation with free traffic and telematics features. The Cadenza also comes with three years of included scheduled maintenance and a 10-year/100,000-mile basic warranty.
Audio, information and entertainment are provided via Kia's UVO system, powered by Microsoft. Originally launched as a voice recognition system, UVO has been expanded and comprises the entire user interface, controlled from an 8-inch color touch screen. UVO has many features that are now common on most manufacturers' user interfaces, like Pandora streaming Internet radio and Zagat restaurant guides. Complimentary software updates can be downloaded by the user and uploaded to the car by SD card.
A telematics system similar to GM's OnStar and Hyundai's Blue Link comes standard with UVO, with automated 911 notification, scheduled vehicle maintenance alerts, on-demand car diagnostics, pre-loaded directions via Google send-to-car, and other features. But unlike most manufacturers that charge a subscription fee for these services, Kia offers Cadenza owners all the emergency features free for the life of the car, and everything else free for 10 years. Users can access vehicle information remotely via a free companion smartphone app for Apple and Android operating systems.
The Kia Cadenza looks better in person than in photos. At first glance, one might mistake the Cadenza for an Audi. Lines are clean and elegant, without the overabundance of swoops and creases found on sister company Hyundai's cars.
Up front, the Cadenza uses a variation of Kia's signature tiger nose grille. Distinctly shaped, the grille communicates right away that this is a Kia. It's more sophisticated looking than others in the Kia lineup, surrounded by bright chrome trim. It gives the car an approachable and friendly grin. Quad headlights are housed in lenses that gently wrap around the front fascia. Foglights sit in separate housings below.
From the side, there's a subtle character line that begins in the front door, arcing up sharply and running straight through both sets of door handles. A straight, sculpted rocker panel keeps the Cadenza looking firm and planted. On cars equipped with the top-of-the-line Technology Package, 19-inch wheels give the Cadenza a show-car quality.
In the rear, tail lamps perhaps most closely evoke Audi design, with angled edges that flare out wider as they wrap around the rear quarter panels. Attractive, oval-shaped dual exhaust pipes are integrated into lower rear bumper.
Cadenza's simple, sophisticated design continues inside the cabin. It's modern, without looking like some marketing committee was trying too hard. It feels spacious but not cavernous. Doors are slightly concave, allowing for more elbow room, but not overly so like in some newer sedans. Materials are soft and are pleasing to the eye, with a mix of plastics and wood trim.
On cars equipped with the Luxury and Technology packages, the instrument panel uses an electronic TFT display (we didn't get to see a base model with its standard gauge cluster). It's contemporary and easy to read, without looking too quasi-futuristic.
The buttons and dials in the center stack are numerous, but are arranged attractively and intuitively so it doesn't seem overwhelming. Up top is the color touch screen, powered by Kia's UVO infotainment system. The screen is easy to read in nearly all types of light, resists glare and does not show fingerprints. It's flanked by two air vents, all of which are made of thick plastic and feel quite sturdy.
Dead-center is an analog clock, perhaps deliberately evoking those found in high-priced luxury sedans like Infiniti. On either side are rows of buttons that operate the climate control, rear defroster, hazard lights and airbag sensor indicator. Below that is a single in-dash CD player for the standard Infinity premium audio system. Another bank of controls underneath operate audio, phone and navigation systems.
Front seats are comfortable, although more so for the driver on cars with the Luxury or Technology packages because they upgrade to a 12-way adjustable power driver's seat with lumbar and ventilation. The 10-way adjustable passenger seat was fine for shorter distances, but those who prefer more back support may get weary after a few hours.
Most will find the Cadenza plentiful on head and legroom. Cars equipped with the Luxury and Technology packages get a panoramic sunroof, which eats two inches of headroom in front, for 38 total inches, compared to 40 inches without it. In back, the sunroof only reduces headroom by about a half inch.
Rear legroom in the Cadenza measures 36.8 inches. While this is plenty for most shapes and sizes, other large sedans offer slightly more space. The Chevrolet Impala, for example, measures 39.8 inches, the Ford Taurus has 38.1 inches and the Toyota Avalon has 40 inches. The Nissan Maxima has the least amount of space out of these, with 34.6 inches.
Cargo space in the Cadenza is moderate for the class, measuring 15.9 cubic feet. That's on par with Toyota Avalon's 16 cubic feet, but short of the Chevrolet Impala's 18.8 cubic feet and the Ford Taurus's cavernous 20.1 cubes. But the Cadenza bests the Nissan Maxima's relatively meager 14.2 cubes.
We found the Cadenza's UVO easier to use than some other carmakers' systems, like Ford's Sync or Buick's IntelliLink. Originally launched as a voice recognition system, the UVO name now comprises the entire user interface, controlled from the color touch screen and a few basic buttons located lower on the center stack. UVO has many features that are now common on most manufacturers' user interfaces, like Pandora streaming Internet radio and Zagat restaurant guides. Complimentary software updates can be downloaded by the user and uploaded to the car by SD card. We especially liked the road sign updates, which displayed the speed limit real-time on the nav screen as we traversed a variety of freeways and city streets.
A telematics system (similar to GM's OnStar and Hyundai's Blue Link) also comes standard with UVO, with features like automated 911 notification, scheduled vehicle maintenance alerts, on-demand car diagnostics, pre-loaded directions via Google send-to-car, and more. But unlike most manufacturers that charge a subscription fee for these services, Cadenza owners get emergency services free for the life of the car, and everything else free for the first ten years. Users can access vehicle information remotely via a free companion smartphone app for Apple and Android operating systems.
A large sedan should first and foremost strive to be smooth, and the Cadenza accomplishes this goal. Acceleration from the 3.3-liter direct-injected V6 is ample, with shifts from the 6-speed automatic nearly imperceptible. Passing on two-lane roads was no problem, but we did feel those 293 horses working hard when climbing a few steep hills at a brisk pace.
Steering is also smooth and comfortable. The wheel is easy to maneuver without feeling overly light, yet also without the artificially heavy feeling that some manufacturers are incorporating these days to give the driver a false feeling of sportiness.
Suspension is a MacPherson strut setup in front and a multi-link system in the rear, which is commonly found on most new sedans. On the Cadenza, a new two-channel damper is used in the rear. Tuning is on the firm side, but as long as the road is relatively smooth, the Cadenza will eat up the little bumps nicely and still feel composed. If, however, you're driving down a road filled with manholes as we were on part of our test drive, tempers and backsides may begin to flare after about the tenth ker-thump.
Around corners, the nearly 3800-pound Cadenza feels stable and well balanced enough. When pushing hard, there is some body roll, as is typical for a large, front-wheel sedan. This isn't a sports car, and the Cadenza does not purport to be one. Braking is smooth and confidence-inspiring, and felt just right, not mushy or grabby.
Our test car was equipped with the Technology Package, and we relied on the included blind spot alert system quite often as we followed our drive route. In addition to a visual cue in the side-view mirror, the Cadenza makes a pleasant alert sound when a car is in your blind spot. The tone wasn't annoying like those found on some other cars, which kept us from turning it off.
Visibility is fine from all angles while driving the Cadenza, and the car has relatively little road or tire noise. On a highway portion of our drive, however, we did notice a fair amount of wind noise coming from the front side windows.
Fuel economy estimates for the Cadenza come up slightly short compared to some rivals at 18/28 mpg City/Highway. By comparison, the Chevrolet Impala is rated at 18/29 mpg City/Highway; the Ford Taurus earns 19/20 mpg and the Toyota Avalon gets an impressive 21/31 mpg. But the Cadenza beats Maxima's 19/26 mpg City/Highway and the Buick LaCrosse equipped with GM's 3.6-liter V6 at 17/27 mpg.
The 2014 Kia Cadenza is surprisingly elegant and refined. Fitted with a plethora of standard features, the Cadenza is also an excellent value for the money. Still, Kia's lack of brand cachet and slightly lower fuel economy compared to rivals may hamper its success.
Laura Burstein filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report after her test drive of the Kia Cadenza near San Diego, California.