2014 Kia Cadenza review

Kia’s new Cadenza is letting it all hang out and while it's not quite yet on par with some of the established luxury brands, I still can’t help but stare.
Kia’s new Cadenza is letting it all hang out and while it's not quite yet on par with some of the established luxury brands, I still can’t help but stare.
Kia’s new Cadenza is letting it all hang out and while it's not quite yet on par with some of the established luxury brands, I still can’t help but stare.

Highs

  • Comfortable ride quality
  • Affordable advanced safety tech
  • European-influenced design

Lows

  • Numb steering feel, especially on the highway
  • Disappointing acceleration
  • Kia brand will cause some to scoff

DT Editors' Rating

In the film industry, it’s not all that uncommon for women to pose nude – often in Playboy magazine – in order to further their careers. Cindy Crawford did it, Drew Barrymore did it, Charlize Theron did it. Heck, even Sharon Stone did it. 

You might not realize it, but the auto industry has its own version of letting it all hang out in order to be taken seriously and it’s called “developing a luxury or performance-oriented car.” Hyundai did it with the Equus, Chrysler did it with the 300, and perhaps less effectively, Volkswagen tried doing it with the Phaeton back in 2003.And now, it’s Kia’s turn, with the 2014 Kia Cadenza.

A luxury car from Kia? No way! Yes, way! And before you go rolling your eyes – like every person I’ve talked to about the 2014 Kia Cadenza – griping and moaning that a $41,000 Kia is simply out of the question, I ask that you keep an open mind. Because if you’re experience with the 2014 Cadenza is anything like mine, the only thing holding this crafty car back is a lack of branding cache the Kia badge (unfortunately) holds for most consumers.

Attainable luxury 

I was pretty stoked when the 2014 Kia Cadenza rolled up to the DT offices. I’d already caught a glimpse of Kia’s slick ads for the car a few weeks prior and knew it looked like a stunner. Plus, you know, a luxury car from Kia? The same company that brought us the ghastly Spectra and coma-inducing Sephia?

… the Cadenza is a fun, stylish car that is worth the price of admission.

For the uninitiated, the 2014 Kia Cadenza is the Korean brand’s first full-on luxury sedan. It’s a four-door specimen that looks good from every angle – I know, not something you’re exactly used to hearing when talking about Kias of old, but times change and for Kia that change is a welcome one indeed. This is a very different Kia after all.

After taking a quick walk-around of the Kia Cadenza, it was time to jump in. What surprised me most was how refined the cabin felt. From the buttery White Nappa leather trim to the glossy wood flourishes, the Cadenza was unlike anything I ever experience before in a Kia. So much so that Kia’s designers deserve a lot of credit for penning an interior that is both functional and stylish, although one look at the overstocked center console and it was clear those same designers had trouble lifting their pens once they got started. Yes, it’s a bit cluttered with buttons but not enough that I felt bogged down or overwhelmed.

Of course, the Cadenza is meant to be a luxury sedan, which means it needed to satiate my deepest, darkest tech desires. And thankfully, it did. Bringing the Cadenza to life takes just a press of a button. Awakened from its slumber, I was met with a melodic chime, fitting given the car’s musical name.

2014 Kia Cadenza interior front from rear

Once roused, the Cadenza emits a warm glow from its 8-inch touchscreen. While most touchscreens can be fussy, the Cadenza’s screen was easy to use and responded well to my taps. I typically do most of my prodding while sitting in my driveway at night (my neighbors have lots of crazy theories about me I’m sure) but on this particular day the dimly-lit confines of the dreaded parking garage across the DT offices had to suffice.

At night, or at least in the dark, the Cadenza really comes to life. Kia’s designers made the interesting decision to do away with a traditional analog instrument cluster, meaning everything from the speedometer to the rev counter is digital. I’m gonna throw Kia some style points here because it’s a really slick choice and one that gives the Cadenza a certain je ne sais quoi.

Still, the digital cluster – while awesome – had a tendency to stumble out on the road due to some latency issues. Mashing the gas pedal down into the carpet gets the car going, but the digital display has trouble keeping up to speed. It’s not enough to throw the choice of a digital system under the bus, but it may annoy some purists.

Included with the 2014 Cadenza is Kia’s new UVO eServices system, which provides roadside assistance and vehicle diagnostics free of charge through a paired smartphone. Pairing my Windows 8 Phone was a snap, and once paired getting my internet music apps to run was quick and painless. Navigation is a standard feature and it’s one of the better systems on the road today. In addition to being responsive, the 8-inch LCD display is vivid and makes viewing useful features such as live traffic reports a breeze. 

Given it was a warm June day, I wasn’t about to fuss with the heated steering or seat controls but my eye, followed by my sweaty palms, quickly darted to the Cadenza’s ventilated seating button. I’m not sure why, but Kia and corporate cousins Hyundai have a habit of offering ventilated seating to drivers only, and the Cadenza does nothing to buck that trend. Still, it’s a lovely addition and a small touch that helps distinguish the 2014 Cadenza as a more illustrious offering.

Other touches including a gorgeous panoramic sunroof and illuminated side sills that glow red, all of which help spice up the cabin even further, while an electronic rear cabin shade adds to the high-end vibe.

Placing my hands on the leather wrapped shifter and moving into reverse brings up the Cadenza’s rear-view camera display and back up warning system. While it’s not as full-bodied as ones you would find in a number of luxury brand sedans, the Cadenza’s does the trick thanks to its large display, warning cues, and trajectory lines.

A tech crescendo 

Escaping the garage and out into the streets of the Rose City allows me to test out the Cadenza’s bevy of drivers aids.

Driving down Burnside and passing by the camped Corolla in the left lane triggered the Cadenza’s Blind Spot Detection (BSD), which gets relayed to the car’s onboard computer via a series of rear-facing sensors. These sensors sweep the rear and blindspots of the car and illuminate a little icon on the driver and passenger side mirror.

2014 Kia Cadenza exterior driver side mirror macro

The Cadenza also packs Kia’s first-ever Lane Departure Warning System (LDWS), which uses similar sensors to warn against dangerous lane changes while a car is drifting in your blind spot. When this occurs, a beeping audible and visual cue is emitted.

But what will really turn tech heads about the 2014 Cadenza is the car’s Advanced Smart Cruise Control (ASCC). ASCC is fed by front facing radar and ultrasonic sensors that sweep the area immediately in front of the car, these sensors relay information to the car’s onboard computer, telling it to automatically keep its distance without any driver intervention. ASC will even bring the Cadenza to a full stop.

Overtaking our friend the Corolla gave me the opportunity to truly test it out as I hunkered down behind a propped up F150. Enabling ASCC is accomplished by simply hitting the ‘cruise’ button located on the steering wheel.

2014 Kia Cadenza interior steering wheel controls right macro

When engaged, the Cadenza automatically set the cruise speed at the speed I was traveling. The only caveat here is that the car needs to be traveling faster than 5 mph to kick in. Another button with a car icon and multiple lines beneath it allowed me to set how much distance I wanted to keep between myself and the F150, and the small dial located near that let me manually increase and decrease my speed threshold. From here, I was able to sit back, close my eyes, and take a nap while the Cadenza conducted its automotive orchestra sans driver. Well, not really – but almost!

While the Cadenza can bring itself to a full stop, it will only do so when its sensors detect a physical object in front of it, meaning stop signs and red lights are the sole responsibility of the driver. And while ACC can be used in multiple driving scenarios, it’s naturally best suited to city and highway driving where there is almost always a car in front of you. We’re not at the point where consumer cars can totally drive themselves, but if the Cadenza is any indication, it’s that we’re chugging along to meet that goal ever so briskly.

Rock yo’ body

Style and flair count for a lot in the automotive world. We like to think we make decisions based on pure, rational thought (and maybe some of us do) but the majority of cars are winners because they make an emotional call to a driver and that call is typically made in the form of a car’s … well… form.

If you’ve seen the Cadenza on ad spots or even in the pictures above, you know that it’s a great looking car. What you may not know is that – just like me – the Cadenza looks even better in person. Sort of a cross between an Audi and the new Kodo design language featured on the newest Mazdas,  though less derivative than the Hyundai Genesis and the statelier Equus. Think we wouldn’t notice, Hyundai?

It’s plush, drives relatively well despite its front wheel drive design, and can even operate semi autonomously.

No, what we have here is a great looking car that continues to push the envelope for Kia. It’s far from eccentric, but it’s a far cry from the old econo-boxes Kia was producing as recently as six years ago. Truth be told it doesn’t really look like a Kia, and you’d be hard pressed to tell without the badging. This is where Kia chief Peter Schreyer deserves a lot of credit for instilling a European elegance to the car’s shape.

Up front we find some snazzy, Audi-esque HID headlamps. From an angled viewpoint the Audi’s,err … I mean the Kia’s, shoulders give it an imposing stance while the chrome brightwork around the fog lamps add even more character.

The Cadenza’s silhouette is just as striking. The beltline rise slightly and hugs the chromes accent that outline the car’s greenhouse, while a nicely penned character “t” line running almost the entire length of the car links up with the rear LED taillamps.

Speaking of LEDs, around back lives a vibrant, brilliant set; these bad boys are bright and shine through regardless of the time of day.

Comfortably numb

The city is an oppressive place for a car, which is why breaking free of its shackles should always be a top priority for any driver. Having experienced the Cadenza’s semi-autonomous tech, it was time to evaluate the car’s manners on the open road.

Pumping life into the 2014 Cadenza is a solitary 3.3-liter V6 GDI engine, which is Kia speak for direct injection. Power is sent to the front wheels via a six-speed automatic, although the Cadenza does sport paddle shifters and manual shifting from the shifter itself.

While the Cadenza’s V6 can churn out a healthy 293 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque, it’s fairly lackluster from a standstill or when asked to tackled steep inclines and not very strong at the lower end of the rev band. Climbing hills required a little more patience as stepping on the throttle doesn’t distribute the kind of power you’d want, but with a little coaxing from the shifter (read: a bit higher up the rev line), the Cadenza dishes out a fair bit of speed and acceleration. Is it comparable to a true sports sedan? Well, no. But it does enough to deliver some thrilling mechanics.

On disheveled city roads and highways, the Cadenza does a good job of soaking up imperfections. What’s more, the cabin remains pleasantly quiet. There isn’t that endless droning of the engine mixed with the grating gnarl of the road often experienced in other Kia models, which should please buyers looking for a more sophisticated ride. My only gripe here is that the electric power steering employed feels too numb, with frequent adjustments to the steering wheel needed during highway driving. It’s not a deal breaker by any means – but it could be better.

Point the Cadenza in the direction of a tricky turn while mashing down the throttle and its 18-inch alloy wheels grip the road admirably, bestowing minimal body roll and spirited acceleration out of an apex. While the Cadenza isn’t exactly a marvel of modern engineering, a host of electronics are busy computing and calculating during more spirited driving scenarios. Specifically the car’s Vehicle Stability Management (VSM) system , which controls brake force, engine torque and steering torque to provide improved vehicle stability during tight corners or slippery road surfaces, and the Cadenza’s Traction Control System (TCS), which can detect unwanted wheel spin during acceleration and mitigate its negative effects by using engine power and brake force to transfer power to the wheels with the most traction. All of which is to say TCS detects whether you’re wheels are spinning optimally and can reroute power accordingly.

Conclusion

The 2014 Kia Cadenza is an excellent car: It’s plush, drives relatively well despite its front-wheel drive design, and can even operate semi-autonomously. To be honest, there isn’t much wrong with Cadenza … except that badge resting on its nose. At $41,000, this is an expensive car for a Kia, but its not as much as your veritable Benzes and Bimmers.

Unfortunately, the Kia brand doesn’t have the same prestige, though that is rapidly changing. My biggest concern with the Cadenza is people seeing the car, seeing the price, and then dismissing it because of the brand. But speaking with Kia reps about the car it’s something they acknowledge and know the car will have to overcome. In the meantime, the Cadenza is a fun, stylish car that is worth the price of admission.

Kia’s new Cadenza is letting it all hang out and while it’s not quite yet on par with some of the established luxury brands, I still can’t help but stare.

Highs

  • Comfortable ride quality
  • Affordable advanced safety tech
  • European-influenced design

Lows

  • Numb steering feel, especially on the highway
  • Disappointing acceleration
  • Kia brand will cause some to scoff
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