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South Korean automakers have made value a principal part of their appeal. But what happens when prices go up and those brands venture into luxury territory? The 2014 Kia Cadenza will be the first test of the automaker's growing reputation, and its ability to draw buyers at the $40,000 price level.Yes, even before the Cadenza's introduction, the 2014 Kia Sorento could already stretch over the $40k mark, fully loaded; but it's the Cadenza that reaches beyond that, and really tests the brand's boundaries by expanding into a new part of the market: big sedans that some call 'near luxury'—cars that might not have a luxury badge, but be for all intents and purposes luxury cars.
Kia couldn't have picked a better name, either, we think. In music, it's the colorful, skilled solo that usually helps bookend a concerto. Likewise, Kia sure has had a run the past several years, pushing beyond the bland-basic, car-of-last-resort flavor of cars like the Sephia and Spectra and onto models fashion-forward, truly desirable models like the latest Optima and Forte. And—ahem--there was a predecessor to the Cadenza, just a few years ago: the arthritis-inducing Amanti.
Simply a great-looking large sedan, the Cadenza looks like a performance-focused model from some angles even though it isn't. As with all those newer Kia products designed under Peter Schreyer, the Cadenza hints throughout that it's European-influenced, but whether you take the design a piece as a time or as a whole, it's definitely not derivative.
The Cadenza is closely related to the Hyundai Azera, but you'll never know it from the outside—or from the inside. To the point, they're completely different designs, and the Azera's smooth, flowing design and deeply sculpted sheetmetal stand in contrast to the Cadenza's taut, more athletic look.
Overall, the Cadenza feels quick and responsive; but it's all relative and you really can't compare the Cadenza to any true sport sedan. Power is provided by a 3.3-liter V-6, making 293 horsepower and 255 pound-feet. The V-6 doesn't make all that much torque at the low end of the rev band, which means that stepping away from a standing start, or up a steep hill, feel a bit more sluggish than you'd guess from its power output—until the revs build, and then you rocket ahead. Steering lacks road feel and requires a lot of small movements to stay on course on the highway. When driven at anything but a sport-sedan pace, this is a car that feels confident on the back roads yet maneuverable in town.
Choose a big sedan like the 2014 Kia Cadenza, that's not overtly a sport sedan, and you might expect the ride quality to be pillowy, almost queasy. As with many of the latest entries in this class, that's no longer the case; the Cadenza has top-notch interior comfort, without those boat-like old-fashioned big-car motions. It's also luxury-car quiet inside. Get the Luxury Package and you'll have ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, and even a driver's thigh extension—something rare in this class of cars and something that will be appreciated by tall drivers. In back, the available panoramic roof really limits headroom, though.
Once you're in, this is a sedan, that won't let you down on the subtle details. The Cadenza is a very quiet-riding sedan, with almost no wind noise, and very little road noise, at highway speeds. Materials, and the leather upholstery, are very impressive throughout the cabin.
The Cadenza is one of the first models from Kia to get the new UVO eServices system, which provides integrated roadside assistance, diagnostics, and other services, through a paired smartphone (no separate subscription is required). It also has Kia's top eight-inch touch-screen system that responds well to natural voice commands and includes plenty of traditional physical buttons to back things up. Navigation is included as a standard feature, and it's one of the best systems on the market, with clear, colorful displays, live traffic, and easy-to-intuit split-screen views.
Kia isn't actually calling the Cadenza a luxury sedan--just a 'premium' one. And it's in an in-between market niche that some shoppers might find just right. At $35,100, the 2014 Cadenza includes lots of standard equipment and is quite the value considering it's about the same price as a well-optioned Optima (SX Limited), Accord, or Camry. With the Luxury Package and the Technology Package added to that, you get things like a panoramic sunroof, power retractable sunshade, Nappa ventilated seats, a heated steering wheel, 19-inch alloys, smart cruise control, blind-spot detection, and lane departure warning—all for about $42k.
Luxury badge or not, that's going to seem like a deal to a great many families and comfort-minded folks.
- Pleasant ride
- Very quiet interior
- Affordable active-safety features
- Excellent infotainment system
- Spacious trunk
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- Rear headroom
- Too-light steering
- The Kia badge?