At the Northwest Automotive Press Association’s (NWAPA) Run To The Sun event last summer, the participating manufacturers pitched their vehicles to the journalists present, with a brief Q&A after each presentation. When Kia came up, I asked if, considering the success of Hyundai’s full-size Genesis sedan (Hyundai owns a major stake in Kia), Kia didn’t have a similar offering in the works. The question was met with startled silence and quizzical looks back and forth between the Kia rep and a senior official, who finally gave a curt, “No comment.” The reason was revealed when the new 2014 Kia Cadenza — the first full-size flagship sedan for the Korean automaker — was unveiled in May at a press event in California.
The front-wheel drive Cadenza, which comfortably seats five, shares its basics with the Hyundai Azera. Competitors include the new Chevy Impala, Buick LaCrosse, Ford Taurus, Nissan Maxima, Toyota Avalon and the Azera. With all its standard features, the Cadenza should also attract shoppers looking at luxury sedans such as the Lexus IS, Acura TL and Lincoln MKZ.
Model Lineup: The 2014 Kia Cadenza comes in one trim level with just two option packages. The base Cadenza ($35,100) is very well equipped and includes pushbutton start; leather upholstery with heated front seats; 10-way power adjustable driver’s seat; dual-zone climate control; tilt/telescoping steering wheel; back-up camera with rear parking sensors and warning system; navigation with an 8-inch color touchscreen; Bluetooth and a premium Infinity 12-speaker audio system with CD player, XM satellite radio, USB and auxiliary audio ports; and 18-inch alloy wheels.
The Luxury Package ($38,100) features upgraded Nappa leather, 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.
The Technology Package ($41,100) includes everything in the Luxury Package plus an electric parking brake, full-speed radar-based adaptive cruise control, blindspot and lane-departure warning systems, water-repellant front side windows and 19-inch wheels.
Safety equipment on all Cadenzas includes front airbags, front side-impact airbags, side curtain airbags, front and rear seat-mounted side airbags, electronic stability control, traction control, ABS, electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), brake assist and hill-start assist.
Walkaround: At first glance, you might mistake the Cadenza for something European. Its elegant lines are simple and clean, much like the smaller Kia Optima, minus the creases and swoops of its sibling Hyundais.
The Cadenza sports a more sophisticated, chrome-trimmed variation of Kia’s signature tiger-nose grille. Quad headlights reside in lenses smoothly wrapping around the front fascia, with foglights located in separate housings below.
A subtle character line originates in the front door, smoothly arcing up straight through both sets of door handles. Riding on a wheelbase two inches longer than the Optima and about an inch higher, the 19-inch wheels on models equipped with the top-of-the-line Technology Package complement a strong stance.
Attractive, oval-shaped dual-exhaust outlets are integrated into the lower rear bumper, while the tail lamps seemingly mimic Audi design, featuring angled edges flaring out and smoothly wrapping around the rear quarter panels.
Interior: The Cadenza’s simple but sophisticated interior design is cleverly spacious, featuring slightly concave door panels, for example, for more elbowroom. Materials are a quality mix of visually pleasing wood trim and soft-touch plastics.
On cars equipped with the Luxury and Technology packages, the instrument panel uses an electronic Thin Film Transistor (TFT) color LCD display. It’s contemporary technology that resists glare, doesn’t show fingerprints and improves image quality over previous passive LCD screens, making it easy to read in all kinds of light.
Below the touch screen — powered by Kia’s UVO infotainment system — are numerous intuitively positioned buttons and dials populating the center stack. Dead-center of the stack is an analog clock — perhaps intentionally mimicking the high-priced Infiniti luxury sedan. Below is a single in-dash CD player for the standard Infinity premium audio system, while another bank of controls beneath operate audio, phone and navigation systems.
The front seats are comfortable, although both times I drove the Cadenza — once at the launch event and again in the regular rotation — it had the Technology package, which upgrades to the 12-way adjustable power driver’s seat with lumbar and ventilation. There’s plenty of head and legroom for 6-plus-footers. Cars equipped with the Luxury and Technology packages get the panoramic sunroof.
We found the Cadenza’s UVO system easier to use than some others, like Ford’s Sync or Buick’s IntelliLink. UVO comprises the entire user interface controlled from the color touchscreen and a few basic buttons located on the center stack. It offers many features 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. Especially helpful is the road sign display showing the real-time speed limit on the navigation screen as you travel freeways and city streets.
Telematics similar to GM’s OnStar is standard with UVO. It features pre-loaded directions via Google send-to-car, automated 911 notification, scheduled vehicle maintenance alerts, on-demand car diagnostics and more. Users can access vehicle information remotely via a free smartphone app for Apple and Android, and, unlike other manufacturers that charge a subscription fee for these services, Cadenza offers emergency services free for the life of the car and everything else free for the first 10 years.
Under the Hood: A 3.3-liter direct-injection V6 that Kia shares with Hyundai powers the Cadenza. It delivers 293 horses, 255 pound-feet of torque, and is married to a smooth 6-speed automatic. EPA estimates fuel economy at 19/28 mpg city/highway.
Behind the Wheel: I found Cadenza to accelerate smoothly, with a very quiet, comfortable ride and ample power — although spirited uphill driving made the V6 work a little harder. Handling is stable and well-balanced. However, this isn’t a sports car and doesn’t masquerade as one, so there is some body roll — typical for a large, front-wheel drive sedan — when pushing it hard through corners. Braking is smooth and confidence-inspiring, with a good, solid feel.
Whines: Here and there, certain small pieces like the rocker switch for the door locks on the side armrest have a sort of parts-bin look. At highway speeds, I did notice some slight wind noise; however, I was also driving pre-production vehicles.
Bottom Line: The elegant and surprisingly refined 2014 Kia Cadenza comes loaded with upscale standard features like leather upholstery, premium sound, navigation and even free traffic and telematics that normally cost additional thousands in its competitors. It also includes three years of scheduled maintenance and Kia’s standard 10-year/100,000-mile warranty. While the brand may lack a certain cachet, at $41,100 fully loaded, it’s arguably the best value on the market. If I personally were looking to buy a full-sized sedan, the Cadenza would be on my very short list.