Kia's Second Effort At Luxury Finds More Love Than The Amanti
The same recent global economic crises that have led luxury automakers to invade the small car market are also somewhat responsible for the influx of near-luxury sedans from mainstream automakers. As the likes of Mercedes-Benz and Audi are reaching down for new customers, automakers like Hyundai, Chevrolet and Toyota are reaching up to bridge the gap and fill in the white space between the industry's typical high-volume large sedans and established luxury sedans. Joining this emerging market, the 2014 Kia Cadenza is the latest sedan to blur the line between value and luxury. One of Kia's core focuses has been offering value to customers, and even with a starting price of $35,100, the Cadenza still represents plenty of that kind of thinking.
Despite what might first come to mind, the Cadenza is not named after a piece of furniture. Instead, Kia notes the name for its new front-wheel-drive flagship comes from the Italian musical term that translates as 'cadence'. The name thus fits in nicely with the brand's other musically inspired model name, Forte. Much like the Hyundai Genesis, the Cadenza will serve as a test of sorts to see how much customers are willing to pay for a Kia, and despite recent reports indicating that Kia has confirmed the Quoris for next year, the reality is that the availability of the bigger rear-wheel-drive flagship will be determined in part by how well the Cadenza strikes a chord with buyers.
This isn't Kia's first crack at mid-level luxury. That distinction goes to the bug-eyed, Amanti, which was killed off in 2009. The same basic recipe is still in place – V6 power, roomy interior and a lengthy list of standard features, yet this car seems altogether better outfitted to appeal to modern consumers than the baroque Amanti. We headed out to the great weather and even better roads near San Diego to test the 2014 Kia Cadenza to see for ourselves if it has the inner harmony and cadence to keep step with full-size luxury sedans or if it's just here to make a bunch of noise.
Like all current Kia models, the Cadenza was designed by Peter Schreyer – also known as the father of the Audi TT. From where we sit, the Cadenza is flashy enough to stand on its own among luxury sedans while still being recognizable as a Kia. Perhaps one of the more impressive elements of the Cadenza's design is that it looks nothing like its sister car, the Hyundai Azera, while also managing to create enough distinction from other Kia models that customers shouldn't have a hard time cross-shopping brands like Lincoln, Acura and Lexus.
The Cadenza was designed by Peter Schreyer – also known as the father of the Audi TT.
Sure, the Cadenza's look has a lot of BMW 5 Series influence stretching from its blunt, squared-off nose to its pronounced rear decklid, but this is no knock-off. The strong face is anchored by Kia's signature Tiger Nose grille and aggressively shaped headlights, while the rear gets wide LED taillights and Audi-esque oval exhaust outlets. The Cadenza's best attribute might just be its profile. While many competitors are going with lower, sleeker rooflines, the Cadenza has a tall roof to go with its wide haunches and attractive body creases. Speaking of, the best line on the Cadenza is its front door crease – it starts off with a sharp rise that seems to parallel the A-pillar, adding to the design's depth and detail. Tasteful amounts of chrome accents finish off the exterior while 19-inch, multi-spoke wheels hint at the car's European sport sedan aspirations.
Kia knew that if it was seriously going to take on the luxury sedan market, it would need an interior that looked and felt the part. From a styling perspective, this is where the Cadenza shares the most with its showroom counterparts, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. The same styling that makes the Forte and Optima look upmarket in their segments is even more pronounced and works well inside this big sedan. Sprucing up the Cadenza's interior, just about all surfaces are covered in soft-touch material, convincing wood trim or soft leather, and Kia even focused on minor details when creating its lavish cabin, right down to the Cadenza's key fob, which uses a piano black case with what appears to be brushed aluminum buttons. The one big disappointment we noted about its interior was that the buttons on the instrument panel and center stack look and feel identical to pretty much every Hyundai and Kia product currently available.
No, you cannot fit a credenza in the Cadenza.
Comfort is another strong point, regardless of which seat your butt is parked in. The driver gets a 10-way power adjustable seat (including adjustable thigh support) with heating and ventilation, while rear occupants get heated outboard seats and 36.8 inches of legroom. That's a few inches short of competitors like the Chevrolet Impala and Toyota Avalon, felt like it ought to be enough to accommodate all but the tallest of passengers. Also down slightly from its rivals are rear headroom at 37.3 inches and cargo space. The trunk is far from undersized at 15.9 cubic feet, but no, you cannot fit a credenza in the Cadenza.
All Cadenza models will get navigation and leather, but the only models available for us to test were fully loaded with the Luxury and Technology packages. While we weren't able to see what the Cadenza offered in base form, we can say that fully loaded Cadenzas boast equal shares of comfort and high-tech goodies, and our tester increased the luxury quotient even more with the no-cost-option White Package that consists of white perforated Nappa leather seats, dark wood accents and a suede-like material used on the pillar trim and headliner. As-tested, this Cadenza comes in at $41,900, which is about $2,000 more than a loaded Impala, but $8,000 less than a comparably equipped Volvo S80. As an added value bonus, Kia is offering the Cadenza with a three-year, 37,500-mile complimentary maintenance program.
It comes in about $2,000 more than a loaded Impala, but $8,000 less than a comparably equipped Volvo S80.
There are plenty of highlights for tech lovers as well, including the standard navigation system with excellent graphics and voice commands as well as the complimentary UVO eServices that offers automatic 911 dialing, Google Maps send-to-car and a function to help you remember where you parked. Optional tech features include Kia's first-ever adaptive cruise control that comes with the Technology Package and the Thin Film Transistor display that is part of the Luxury Package. Unfortunately, while Jaguar, Cadillac and even Dodge use large reconfigurable LCD gauge cluster displays, the Cadenza has what is essentially just a virtual speedometer with a smaller, configurable center display – not unlike the 4.2-inch displays found on many modern cars. While the rest of the interior seems well thought out and executed, this gauge cluster is a case of using technology just for the sake thereof.
Like the Azera, the 2014 Cadenza is powered by a direct-injected 3.3-liter V6 producing 293 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque – enough to make the Cadenza Kia's most powerful model ever. The sole transmission is a six-speed automatic, which also offers manual shifts using either the shift lever or steering-wheel-mounted paddles. While nice to have, we found that manual shift mode isn't often required thanks to plenty of power from the engine and shift points that don't seem geared toward max fuel economy at all costs. The Cadenza still gets average fuel economy for the segment with EPA ratings of 19 miles per gallon city and 28 mpg highway, and it runs on regular-grade gas.
The best thing about driving the Cadenza is its refinement.
With almost 300 horses at its disposal, the 2014 Cadenza does a great job of motivating its 3,792-pound curb weight, but more than its power, the best thing about driving the Cadenza is its refinement. On just about any road surface, the Cadenza's cabin is extremely quiet, allowing for easy conversations with rear-seat occupants even at highway speeds. Kia says its new flagship has a sport-tuned suspension, and we found the overall ride quality landed somewhere between a cushy luxo sedan and a firmer European sport sedan. The compromise makes for a perfect long-distance driving car; during this first drive, we put about 200 miles on the odometer. Our drive route consisted mainly of tight and twisty roads, which are usually better suited for testing sportier cars than the Cadenza, but at least it packed a lot of steering and brake inputs into a relatively short trip. The Cadenza's electric power steering outperforms many of its rivals in terms of feedback and overall lack of numbness, while the brakes are strong and responsive. Again, this isn't a sports sedan, but we're happy to report that it didn't feel out of place along some of the best roads Southern California has to offer.
Another benefit of driving the twisties was the opportunity to put features like the adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning systems to the test. Lane departure uses a camera mounted near the rearview mirror, and it releases a rather annoying audible tone when you get close to (even if you don't actually cross) road lines. Kia's adaptive cruise control is one of the smoothest systems we've tested – especially in stop-and-go traffic – and it uses a radar built into the lower air intake of the front fascia. While some adaptive cruise control systems can lose the car they're following during turns, the Cadenza was never beset by this problem, even when facing sharp corners.
If buyers can get past the badge, the Cadenza has the potential to steal customers away from Lexus, Acura and Volvo.
The Cadenza's list of obvious competitors include the Avalon, Impala, Ford Taurus and Buick LaCrosse, but if buyers can get past the badge, the Cadenza has the potential to steal customers away from Lexus, Acura and Volvo, and maybe even higher up the ladder to Mercedes-Benz. While it's hard to think of a $42,000 Kia as being a value, the equipment stuffed into a fully loaded Cadenza should make the car hard to overlook for anyone desiring a smooth, comfortable and luxurious sedan.
During the launch presentation, Kia representatives kept commenting about how the Cadenza should be a surprising car, playing on its "Power to Surprise" tagline. After looking at Kia's current portfolio and spending a day with the Cadenza, it might want to consider changing its slogan to "Power to Frighten"... rival automakers. Of course, at this point, anyone who is surprised by Kia just isn't paying attention.
New Car Test Drive
New full-size flagship big on roominess, features.
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 2014 Kia Cadenza comes in one trim level with two option packages: The base Cadenza Premium ($35,100) includes leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, 10-way power adjustable driver's seat, pushbutton start, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, rear parking sensors with camera and back-up warning system, navigation with 8-inch color touchscreen, Bluetooth, and a premium Infinity 12-speaker audio system with CD player, XM satellite radio capability, USB port and auxiliary audio jack. It rides on 18-inch alloy wheels.
Cadenzas equipped with the Luxury Package ($38,100) get upgraded Nappa leather upholstery, a 12-way power driver's seat with cushion extension and ventilation, heated steering wheel, power tilt-and-telescoping steering column, 7-inch TFT LCD instrument cluster, heated rear seats, a full-length panoramic power sunroof, power rear sunshade, and adaptive HID headlights.
Cadenzas equipped with the Technology Package ($41,100) include everything in the Luxury Package plus an electric parking brake, lane departure warning, full-speed radar-based adaptive cruise control (which can slow or stop the car automatically), blind-spot detection system, lane departure warning, water-repellant front side windows and 19-inch wheels.
Safety features on all models include front airbags, front side-impact airbags, side curtain airbags, front and rear seat-mounted side air bags, electronic stability control, traction control, ABS, electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), brake assist and hill-start assist. A rearview camera is also standard.
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.
Kia Cadenza Premium ($35,100); Premium with Luxury Package ($38,100); Premium with Technology Package ($41,100).
Hwasung, South Korea.
Options As Tested
Kia Cadenza Premium Technology Package ($41,100).
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