2014 Kia Cadenza review: The Cadenza proves Kia can do luxury

When it came to route guidance, this system really shone. Graphics for upcoming turns were vibrant and on freeways showed a good representation of junctions and off-ramps. The system showed lane guidance whenever it was needed, and asked me if I wanted to reroute when traffic problems arose on the route. Traffic coverage was also much more extensive than I had seen previously, thanks to broader coverage from Sirius/XM, which beams the data to the car.

A few of the destination entry screens could have been streamlined, as I was forced to push more buttons than should really have been needed.

The Cadenza includes HD Radio, with the option to tag songs for later purchase on iTunes. It also made selecting multicast stations easy. A USB port in the console supported both iOS devices and USB drives. However, while it showed a full music library for iOS devices, USB drives got merely a file and folder display.

Voice command didn't support playing music by name, although it did let me place phone calls by a contact name. For entering destinations in navigation, it worked very well, letting me speak an entire address string at once rather than taking street, number, and city as separate entries.

Not an Optima
With its exterior style, the Cadenza could easily be mistaken for an Optima. The body lines are similar, but the Cadenza shows off a new look for the Kia Tiger Nose grille design. The Cadenza is only about half an inch longer in overall length, but the wheelbase is a full 2 inches longer than that of the Optima. In the cabin, I felt like the Cadenza was a full-size sedan.

2014 Kia Cadenza
The Cadenza shows a less obtrusive style of Kia's signature Tiger Nose grille. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

Benefiting from Kia's latest drivetrain advances, the Cadenza gets a direct-injection 3.3-liter V-6, generating 293 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque, good numbers that accelerate the Cadenza with authority. I pounded the gas pedal a couple of times to slip into a traffic gap or just for the heck of it, and was rewarded with immediate pull and only a little chirp from the front tires.

The engine made a satisfying growl as the six-speed automatic transmission let the tach needle brush redline before each upshift.

In most circumstances, the engine sound was very muted, as Kia used a lot of sound-deadening material to insulate the cabin. When stopped and idling, I couldn't hear the engine at all.

Kia put paddles on the steering wheel for manually shifting the transmission. The gear changes were a little snappier than I would expect from a typical automatic. There is no Sport mode for this transmission. The base-level Cadenza can be had with a six-speed manual, which would be an odd choice for this car.

Kia says the fuel economy tests came in at 19 mpg city and 28 mpg highway, not stellar numbers but what I would expect from the drivetrain.

2014 Kia Cadenza
As in many recent Kia models, the Cadenza's engine uses direct injection for increased efficiency. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

Because Kia positions the Cadenza as a premium car, the ride quality is paramount. However, the suspension is not soft. It delivers a solid, competent ride. I could feel the bumps the car traversed, but it damped them out quickly and kept them from affecting the handling adversely.

More impressively, when I tossed the Cadenza through some turns, the suspension minimized body roll, keeping the car flat. The handling was surprisingly good, showing decent rotation and no understeer. The electric power steering proved precise and tuned for effortless turning, with more luxury than sports feel.

Most important for everyday driving, the Cadenza proved an easy, uncomplicated car. Whether anticipating a drive through city traffic or a run into the hills, I knew I could jump in the Cadenza and go. The roomy cabin permitted comfortable passenger seating in the rear seat, while the trunk could swallow up a lot of luggage; 15.9 cubic feet, according to Kia.

Pricey, for Kia
Like many current Kia models, the 2014 Cadenza does not set out to change the world, just our perception of the Kia brand. Direct injection for the engine leads to a good amount of power, without a big fuel economy sacrifice. I liked the feel of the transmission, but an extra gear or three might have increased the fuel economy. Kia has no plans for a hybrid version of the Cadenza, so an average fuel economy in the low 20s is all you can expect.

The driver-assistance technologies, an area where Kia has not trodden before, are nice to see in this car and give it a leg up against other big sedans. The combination of adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning with the LCD speedometer works particularly well, as the driver can see the settings of these features on the LCD.

The head unit in the Cadenza contains many good, solid features, all available through the responsive touch screen and capable voice command. The Uvo eServices feature is a nice, no-cost addition to the cabin electronics. However, with this model Kia does not integrate popular apps, such as Pandora or Google search. That type of functionality is due in the next generation of Kia's head unit, an Android-based unit we will see in the upcoming Kia Soul . The Cadenza will probably not get that new head unit until Kia gives it an update, which will not occur for a few years.

The car I reviewed was preproduction, and Kia had not announced pricing at the time of this review. However, a spokesperson for the company gave CNET a ballpark figure of mid-30s for the base model, and low 40s for the fully loaded Tech-trim Cadenza.

Tech specs
Model 2014 Kia Cadenza
Trim Tech
Power train Direct-injection 3.3-liter V-6 engine, 6-speed automatic transmission
EPA fuel economy 19 mpg city/28 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy Not recorded
Navigation Standard flash memory-based system with traffic data
Bluetooth phone support Standard with contact list integration
Digital audio sources Bluetooth audio streaming, iOS integration, USB drive, satellite radio, HD Radio, auxiliary input
Audio system Infinity 550-watt 12-speaker system
Driver aids Adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, blind-spot monitor, rearview camera
Base price Not available
Price as tested Not available

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    2014 Kia Cadenza

    Part Number: 101286108

    Please visit Kia for additional makes and models.

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    • Body style Sedan
    About The Author

    Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET. Prior to the Car Tech beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine. He's also the author of "Vaporware," a novel that's available as a Nook e-book.