Perhaps you’ve already noticed this, but the traditional lines of distinction between what does and does not constitute a luxury car have blurred. Don’t worry. You don’t need an optometrist. You just need to decide whether you want a luxury car for the badge it wears, or if you want a luxury car because it is actually luxurious.
If you’re in the latter camp, allow me to direct your attention to the new 2014 Kia Cadenza. Yeah, that’s a Kia up there in that photo, a full-size sedan equipped with $6,000 in option packages and wearing a window sticker of $41,900.
Now, before you choke on that number, keep in mind that loaded versions of the Buick LaCrosse, Chevy Impala, Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger, Ford Taurus, Hyundai Azera, Nissan Maxima, and Toyota Avalon can easily cost that much, or more. And the thing is, when I get into the Kia Cadenza and drive it, those aren’t the models that I think of as key competitors. Instead, I’d peg this against an Acura TL or RL, a Cadillac XTS, a Hyundai Genesis, a Lexus ES, a Lincoln MKS, and a Volvo S60 or S80.
That, dear reader, makes the 2014 Cadenza a raging bargain of a luxury sedan, even if it wears a Kia badge.
I’ve already let the cat out of the bag regarding the Cadenza’s price tag when all the goodies are added, but let’s do a quick review.
The Cadenza’s base price is $35,900, including a destination charge of $800. To the standard equipment list, buyers can add a Luxury Package ($3,000), which includes premium leather, a power thigh bolster for the driver’s seat, a ventilated driver’s seat, heated rear seats, a heated power tilt/telescopic steering wheel, a panoramic sunroof, a power rear window shade, upgraded gauges, and HID headlights with an Adaptive Front Lighting System. A Technology Package ($3,000) is also optional, including Advanced Smart Cruise Control, Lane Departure Warning, Blind Spot Detection, 19-inch wheels, and more.
As long as both of those options are added to the car, buyers can choose a White Interior Package at no cost. Four inexpensive dealer add-ons are also available, the priciest being a cargo tray for the trunk ($80). Check every single option box, and the Cadenza rolls off the showroom floor for $42,160.
My Smokey Blue test car had all three option packages plus a cargo net, for a total of $41,950.
At a glance, the Cadenza looks upscale. From the bold “tiger nose” grille and aggressive looking lights to the artfully integrated exhaust outlets and machined-finish multi-spoke 19-inch wheels, this Kia looks like a luxury car. My test vehicle’s Luxury Package added HID headlights with an Adaptive Front Lighting System that swivels the beams to help see around dark corners, and at night the car’s signature LED lighting gives the Cadenza an eye-catching and unmistakable appearance.
Inside, the Cadenza looks and feels upscale, with a few exceptions. The hard pieces of dashboard plastic exhibit excessive gloss in sunlight, making it look like somebody at the car wash wiped Armor All on it. The unusual font used for Kia’s UVO infotainment system is appropriate for less expensive Kia models, but seems out of place in the more elegant Cadenza. I’m also not entirely sure what drove the decision to employ three separate pieces of trim for the upper door panels, when a single soft piece would reduce complexity and probably look better.
In any case, these are minor complaints about what is actually a nicely executed cabin. You may have noticed that my test car is equipped with the optional White Interior Package, which includes the white leather seats, more fake wood trim, and a simulated suede headliner. It might not be everybody’s favorite, but I like it even if it reminds me of the 1970s.
If you get the optional Luxury Package, the Kia Cadenza is equipped with soft premium leather, a driver’s seat with ventilation and an extending thigh support bolster, and a power tilt/telescopic steering wheel with a heated rim. As a result, this car offers all-day levels of comfort…for the driver.
Unfortunately, and this is something I’ve complained about in other Kia models, the front passenger’s seat doesn’t offer a height adjuster. It also does not offer ventilation, a feature for which Southern Californians are grateful in the summertime. As a result, my wife hated riding in this car, and if she hates riding in a car, there’s no way it would ever wind up in our driveway.
Get into the Cadenza’s back seat, and you’ll find plenty of leg and foot room. The seat cushion is mounted a little bit low and is a little bit reclined, but unlike in an Infiniti Q50, this approach provides a relaxing and comfortable position in the Cadenza. I think the reason is because the bottom cushion is angled to deliver excellent thigh support, and the rear seatback is positioned to let the occupant settle deep into the seat.
At the same time, though, Cadenza owners cannot expand cargo capacity beyond the standard 15.9 cu.-ft. because the rear seat doesn’t fold forward. Skis and poles can slide through into the cabin, but otherwise anything you bring or buy had better fit into the Kia’s trunk. On a positive note, the trunk’s hinges are enclosed so you won’t need to worry that you might crush cargo when slamming the lid shut.
In previous sections, we’ve discussed the options that can be added to the Kia Cadenza, but not the features that come standard for the base price of $35,900. Highlights include leather seats, heated front seats, a Smart Key passive entry system with push-button ignition, dual-zone automatic climate control, a premium Infinity surround sound system, a navigation system, and Kia’s UVO eServices infotainment technology with Bluetooth calling and music streaming.
Given the industry’s move toward high-tech interiors, the Cadenza’s more traditional approach to features and controls is rather refreshing. I’m a knobs-and-buttons kind of a guy, and it sure is nice to drive a car that limits distraction and frustration by virtue of a logical, intuitive, and clearly marked layout. As a result, a Cadenza is a car that doesn’t require regular reference to an owner’s manual or frequent distraction from driving in order to accomplish basic tasks.
When it comes to safety features, the Cadenza provides everything most people really need or want and can use, while leaving the fancy stuff off the equipment list.
Every 2014 Cadenza with eight airbags, a reversing camera, rear parking assist sensors, and rain-sensing wipers. Choose the optional Luxury Package, and the car includes HID headlights with an Adaptive Front Lighting System that helps the driver to see around dark corners at night. The optional Technology Package includes a lane departure warning system, a blind spot information system, and an adaptive cruise control system with the ability to bring the Cadenza to a complete stop and then resume the pre-set speed.
Of the features listed above, it’s that last one that I could totally do without.
In crash tests performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the Kia Cadenza received a “Top Safety Pick” designation. However, the IIHS had not evaluated the car in the new small overlap frontal impact test as this review was published. Likewise, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) had not performed crash tests on the new Cadenza as this review was written.
A refined 293-horsepower 3.3-liter V-6 engine is standard for the 2014 Cadenza. This is a lusty motor, bolted to a 6-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift gate and paddle shifters. The Cadenza is front-wheel drive, but, as we’ll discuss later, that doesn’t detract from the car’s surprisingly fun-to-drive nature.
If there’s a criticism that can be leveled at this engine, it’s that it’s a thirsty beast. The EPA says you should get 22 mpg in combined driving, but I averaged 18.5 mpg. Granted, a greater percentage of my total driving was conducted in the city, but that’s still lower than the car’s official city rating of 19 mpg.
Let’s put it this way. Don’t expect to get mileage that matches what’s on the window sticker.
At first, you might ask yourself: “Who would pay this much for a Kia?” Then, if the styling sufficiently piques your interest, you might take it for a quick ride on streets near the local dealership, and decide that the ride is too stiff, that the fuel economy isn’t anything to brag about, and that the Cadenza otherwise drives like any other model in its class. But this car, like many of the finer things in life, requires a period of acclimation to be properly appreciated.
It doesn’t take long to get used to the Cadenza’s taut suspension tuning, which reveals itself primarily when traveling over sharp bumps, such as the joints dividing slabs of concrete on my local Southern California freeways. The rest of the time, the Cadenza demonstrates utter composure, regularly impressing its driver with nuanced, effortless dynamic talents that add up to a thoroughly enjoyable driving experience.
Around town, the Cadenza is quiet, powerful, and unexpectedly nimble, the steering calibrated in such a way as to remind me of Jaguars of the past. The transmission shifts unobtrusively, the brake pedal is easy and pleasing to modulate, and this Kia informs its driver and occupants about what’s happening at the road surface in a hushed and subtle fashion.
The car exhibits a similar buttoned-down demeanor when tearing down a twisty road. Sure, a significant portion of a fully-optioned Cadenza’s 3,782 pounds sits over the front wheels, and the car defaults to understeer if you dive into a corner with too much speed, but given how flawlessly the brakes perform, there’s little reason for that.
The Cadenza’s steering is sublime, accurate, but not particularly quick, which can make using the paddle shifters a little more difficult if you shuffle-steer through S-curves. The transmission selector offers a manual shift gate, but it is snug against the driver’s leg, too close for comfortable use. It makes no difference, though, as I found the automatic quite capable of selecting the right gears while threading the car across the top of the Santa Monica Mountains.
Suspension roll, dive, and squat are evident when pushing the car on Mulholland Highway, but the actions are gentle rather than sudden, and none of these traits upsets the car’s balance. Plus, the available 19-inch P245/40 Hankook Optimo tires provide excellent grip, and they don’t squeal even when subjected to duress. Is this a sport sedan? Not quite. But it sure is a sporty sedan, and an unexpected one at that.
After reaching the beach and turning right on Pacific Coast Highway, the Kia and I headed into a stiff headwind enjoyed by multiple kite surfers pounding across the ocean’s whitecaps. Despite the wind, the Cadenza remained almost silent inside, displaying just a hint of noise from around the top of the windshield at 60 mph.
It was here that I tested the car’s adaptive cruise control system. On the gentle curves of PCH, the Cadenza would speed up when a slower car ahead “disappeared” from the radar unit’s view, and then the car would brake when the Kia rounded the same curve and the radar unit “saw” traffic ahead again. This was seriously aggravating, for me and for people following behind the Cadenza, so I turned it off. After awhile, I also shut off the vigilant lane departure warning system after awhile. But the Kia’s Blind Spot Detection system, in my opinion one of the greatest modern safety features available to drivers, remained engaged.
Crossing the flat, open farm fields of Camarillo, Calif., on less than perfect blacktop, the Cadenza continued our journey in utter silence, demonstrating resolute on-center steering feel despite crosswinds. Then, I merged onto the freeway and drove up a steep grade that rises from near sea level to about 1,000 feet of elevation in a matter of miles. The Cadenza maintained its speed without any trouble.
At the top of the hill, traffic came to a near standstill. The Cadenza’s excellent brake pedal modulation and exceptionally comfortable driver’s seat made it much easier to contend with rush-hour traffic, and the navigation system’s real-time traffic reporting indicated that it would be best to get off the freeway. While nearby surface streets didn’t prove a much better option, the Cadenza’s impressive audio system and variety of entertainment options kept me calm, cool, and collected until I arrived home.
Photo by Kia
The 2014 Kia Cadenza is a legitimate luxury car in every respect except for its Kia badge. Line this new Kia up with a BMW or Mercedes wearing the same price tag, and the Cadenza is clearly the more luxurious and refined vehicle. But that’s not how consumers think, and that’s the challenge for Kia.
Personally, I like this car’s look, I like the way it drives, and I like how unexpectedly refined it is. The worst thing about the Cadenza is that the V-6 isn’t much more fuel-efficient than a V-8, followed closely by the fact that Kia doesn’t seem to have much regard for front passenger comfort. Otherwise, the 2014 Cadenza delivers outstanding style, driving dynamics, and value no matter how you choose to define it.
Kia supplied the vehicle for this review
2014 Kia Cadenza photos by Christian Wardlaw