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First Drive: 2014 Kia Cadenza
Is the world ready for a Kia fit for a King?

2014 Kia Cadenza lead

Kia believes there is an emerging space between the standard road-going machines and the premium and luxury vehicles available. This emerging space has opened up because people are far more careful where and how they spend their money. Gone, supposedly, are the days of flashing your cash by way of your ride. Folks still do this of course, but far fewer want to do so. Still, there’s a desire for a certain level of refinement and luxury that car shoppers are looking for in a full-size sedan.

Enter the 2014 Kia Cadenza.

This is the Kia designed to attract Kings (and Queens… I’m not being sexist, the wording just flows better thanks to alliteration.) The question is, however, if folks really and truly are ready to pony up $40,000 for a car wearing a badge their snobby friends might reject upon a first impression? I spent a day trekking back and forth across some of Southern California’s great roads to find the answer.

The first thing you notice about the Cadenza is that it’s a rather handsome machine. It should be. The man in charge of Kia Motors America is design demi-god Peter Schreyer. His hand had a (*ahem*) hand in creating the new more sophisticated style found on every new vehicle in the Kia lineup. From the now-signature grille to the sharply sculpted face and on back through the swept shoulder line, there’s no mistaking that you’re looking at a new Kia.

Or is there?

The Cadenza borrows heavily from a few notable European machines. This is a smart move as the Cadenza is positioned to try and evoke the feeling that a German sedan might. Up front the nose reminds me of the current BMW 5-Series while the profile and rear end have my mind thinking Audi, especially when the car is viewed from a distance. It’s a truly good looking car, especially when paired with the optional 19-inch multi-spoke wheels that really fill out the wheel openings.

Inside it’s more of the same. The design is used to create a sense of premium or luxurious surroundings, and it works. By having the instrument panel and dash material stretch onto the doors, an upscale cabin space is created. The materials themselves are nice to look at and feel good to the touch. Kia has a bit further to go in its seat development though, as the front thrones are merely adequate. The automaker could’ve borrowed a page from Hyundai here and followed the seat design of the Azera. The Cadenza units aren’t bad… they’re just not great in the support department. Still, they do come heated and the driver can opt for a bit of cooling as well.

 The real star of the Cadenza interior, however takes center stage. Kia has fitted this full-size four door with the UVO system, which is the name for the automaker’s telematics setup. It’s like OnStar and Sync, expect it’s better than both and, unlike OnStar, it’s free. The entire system is called UVO eServices and it pairs with your smartphone to really expand on what’s possible in this space at this time. The standard set of features you’d expect can all be found, such as traffic monitoring and Pandora connections, but other items make UVO even better. There’s a parking minder system so you know exactly where your Cadenza is waiting for you. Some basic real-time diagnostic information can be pulled up. Maintenance can be scheduled. It’s a great well-rounded system that doesn’t require a subscription and comes standard on cars equipped with navigation.

The tech and the styling are all find and dandy, but the Cadenza needs a heart if it’s going to play ball with the big boys in this space. Thankfully, it does. Under the hood sits a 3.3-liter V6 that produces 293 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque. It’ a direct-injection unit, which is paired with a six-speed automatic gearbox and is good for an EPA-estimated 28 miles per gall on the highway. This mill pulls nicely and gets the Cadenza rolling down the road fairly effortlessly. Additionally, the shifts from the transmission are rather smooth and help the car feel quite refined.

What isn’t quite as nice, however, is the handling and steering feel. This is a continual theme it seems for the Korean automakers. Everything feels far too artificial and light. I’m not looking for M3-grade sensations here, I just want a more realistic sense of steering feel. What I wind up with is the sensation that I’m using a Logitec wheel to play a video game instead of driving an actual car. The ride itself though is well sorted from a comfort standpoint. Sitting in the front or the rear leads to happy passengers thanks to the size of the vehicle and the smoothness it exudes as it rolls down the road.

The Cadenza doesn’t come cheap, of course. That’s part of the story behind the car really, because this the most expensive Kia ever sold here in the United States. It’s also the most technologically sophisticated car that the automaker has ever produced. The base price is $35,000 for the Premium trim. From there you can climb to the $38,100 Luxury or all the way up to the fully-loaded $41,100 Technology variant. Each comes packed with a lengthy list of standard goodies, but the higher specs offer just a bit more than the other. On top of what you might expect from the Cadenza, Kia is throwing in something you won’t; complimentary scheduled maintenance for the first three years of ownership. That value proposition is looking sweeter by the minute.

Despite the style, interior room, rolling smoothness, great standard and optional features, and overall bang for the buck, you’re still left staring at an automotive crossroads. Are you shopping for value, or do you want something more? What if you’re getting both though… you’re now ditching the choices at the crossroads and blazing you’re own trail. You’ve moved into that emerging space. What exactly are you getting for doing so?

You get the 2014 Kia Cadenza; a full-size segment-defying sedan that’s really worth its $40,000 price tag. 

[Disclosure: Kia invited me down to Del Mar, California to drive the new 2014 Cadenza. The automaker put me up in a swank hotel on the beach, fed me tasty treats, and allowed me to sample some delicious drinks. Additionally, there was a photo contest and I won a prize (The new JBL Charge portable speaker). It wasn’t for any of the photos here but instead for one I took with my phone and posted to Instagram… booyah]

[Images Copyright 2013 Redusernab/Jeff Glucker]

  • When I first heard the name of this car, I thought they were joking. Is it a place to store your plates and glasses? Almost as bad as calling a town "Placentia."

    Didn't the designer of this car formerly work for Audi? That would account for much of the Teutonic styling.

    Your assessment of the seats and handling vs. Hyundais seems to echo that of other Kia vs. Hyundai comparisons. It's a shame, because I really like the styling of the latest Kias, and I really dislike the Hyundais, but it seems the Hyundais are nicer to drive.

    • Sjalabais

      I know it's supposed to be related to music, but my association with "Cadenza" goes straight to "decadence". Which is wasteful, ignorant and egoistic luxury. So it should have been an Audi…!?

    • Hyundai and Kia products drive fairly similarly actually. Numb steering. If they get that sorted out it will help a lot because the rest of the car(s) is(are) fantastic.

  • New from Kia

    <img src=";

    • Kia? Aye, Kia!

      • Aye, Kia Credenza!

  • dukeisduke

    I'd like to see a review by Jim Yu, him being a former Phaeton owner.

    • We are actually talking about getting Jim into a press car soon

      • dukeisduke

        Awesome!

        • It will be entertaining. Talk about your warped perspectives!

          This Kia has 20 less HVAC motors than the Phaeton. Single pane windows are for chumps! You can't change the wipers by using the Infotainment system.

          But seriously, it should be fun, and I hope, informative.

          ETA: I am a Zipcar (car sharing service) member and have driven a few cool new cars. Plus, I've been going to the Buggy Bank every other week and those test drives have been interesting as well.

  • Have you seen my Moss covered, three handled, family Cadenza?

  • CEMaine

    This name is just too much. Why not the Kia 330S or something? Anything but Cadenza! WTF is that?

    • Actually, I prefer it to the jumbled sea of alphanumeric blah naming that's out there…

      • Sjalabais

        But if they really want to emulate the European top of the cake producers…Audi, BMW, MB, Volvo, Jaguar – alphanumeric blah it is.

      • CEMaine

        I quite agree that, almost, any name is better than just another STP086 blah blah that is out there now.

        After doing a bit of the Google, I larned this is an actual word. Per Wikidikipedia:

        "In music, a cadenza (from Italian: cadenza, meaning cadence; plural, cadenze) is, generically, an improvised or written-out ornamental passage played or sung by a soloist or soloists, usually in a "free" rhythmic style, and often allowing for virtuosic display."

        In the words of the immortal Emily Litella
        "Never Mind"

    • Irishzombieman☆

      I like that Asian cars tend to get names instead of numbers (screw you Infiniti).

      What I don't like is the lameness of some of them. As much as I like the Koreans' offerings lately, I'd be a hundred times more likely to buy this car if it were the Kia Asskicker. Especially if the car backed that name up.

      • Dacket84

        I actually like the Infiniti's the most out of the Asian cars. The naming doesn't bother me as much.

  • My neighbour who had an Opirus (real ugly) got him now a Cadenza, I can say that's a big step up.

  • Van_Sarockin

    The good news is that Kia continues to improve. The bad news is that it does not belong in the big leagues. Forty grand isn't chump change. and piling on the gizmos won't make a mediocre car a contender. And it's wrong to consider the styling tolerable because its largely photocopied from luxury European brands.

  • Kogashiwa

    To me the Optima looks way better. At least it's instantly recognizable.

  • mseoul

    This is a KDM and USA market car, more or less, although it may end up in China too of course. In Korea, where there are a zillion speed cameras and huge traffic jams where there are no cameras, the cossetted lux feel may pay off, but I wonder about 40G in the US where some speed, handling and braking can be used…then again, I don't know what a Lexus-Camry costs or whatever they call the bottom end model these days, but I'd wager its around 40. Then, I'd say the Kia is probably better equipped for the price, has a better warranty and drives as well or better, so, winning value in the segment! Just not for me…

  • HTWHLS

    I do like the looks of the Optima..which, when I priced one last year, was about 35K. The Cadenza looks to be a really nice car and I can't deny the looks, but I'm on the fence too. Would I pay 40 large for a Korean car? Maybe..just maybe..

  • Roger

    I'm surprised no one shares my first impression: Looks like a Ford Fusion with a Kia grill.

  • topdeadcentre

    For 40k, I can get a helluva nice Volvo. I can also get a helluva nice Challenger. Kia isn't even in the running.

    And enough with the ugly grills! Oy! What were they THINKING with that design.

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