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

Kia, an automaker associated with economy cars, breaks into new brand territory with a large, premium sedan chock-full of tech.

Wayne Cunningham
Wayne Cunningham Managing Editor / Roadshow

Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET's Roadshow. Prior to the automotive 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.

7 min read

Update: Kia released pricing and new details about trim levels on April 19, 2013. The Cadenza wil be available for a base price of $35,100. The Luxury package, referred to in this review as Premium, raises the price to $38,100. Kia set the price of the Technology package Cadenza at $41,100.

2014 Kia Cadenza

2014 Kia Cadenza

The Good

With an LCD speedometer, a responsive user interface, and many driver-assistance features, the <b>2014 Kia Cadenza</b> is a tech juggernaut. Solid dynamics and luxury cabin appointments make the Cadenza a pleasure to drive.

The Bad

Although Uvo eServices gives it some telematics features, there is no integration with popular apps. There is no perspective view for the navigation system.

The Bottom Line

The large, premium 2014 Kia Cadenza sedan might seem pricey by Kia standards but compares well feature-by-feature with other premium makes.

Driving the 2014 Kia Cadenza, I contemplated the older-model Mercedes-Benz E320 sitting in front of me, and realized that the Kia had a much better cabin.

The thought of comparing Kia favorably with Mercedes-Benz was unheard of 10 years ago.

Issues of used versus new aside, this Cadenza's leather-wrapped steering wheel felt excellent in my hands, while wood trim around the cabin had the substantial look of furniture. And I don't usually like glossy wood trim. Soft-touch materials covered the dashboard, and the plastic parts had a nice finish that was decidedly un-plasticky.

If you thought Kia was punching above its weight with the new Optima, the Cadenza takes the brand into an even higher class.

Kia Cadenza goes upwardly mobile (pictures)

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The Cadenza has actually been sold in Korea for a couple of years as the K7, but it will take the Cadenza name in most other markets. With its design and cabin appointments and technology, the Cadenza fits into the premium market, going up against brands such as Volvo and Lexus. Its front-wheel-drive architecture is the only thing holding it back from full-blown competition against the German luxury class.

Standard tech
Although the Cadenza will come in three trims -- a base level, Premium, and Tech -- all make navigation, Bluetooth, and an Infinity audio system standard. The seats, covered in leather as standard, feature power adjustment both for driver and passenger. The preproduction Tech trim car I was driving had heated seats, but Kia says it will also include a cooling function.

Making the Tech-trim Cadenza more of a CNET-style car were an electronic parking brake, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, and a blind-spot monitor. The Cadenza included a back-up camera, but it had only distance lines, with no trajectory guide.

2014 Kia Cadenza

The speedometer looks analog but is really virtual.

Wayne Cunningham/CNET

Both the Premium and Tech trim Cadenzas come with one of my favorite features, an LCD speedometer. The graphics of the speedometer needle look so realistic that it took me a moment to figure out that it was all virtual. And while the startup animation for the speedometer looks cool, the real functionality comes in the graphical flexibility. The center of the speedometer can show trip data, audio, phone, or turn-by-turn route guidance -- driver's choice.

The LCD speedometer includes graphics for some of the driver-assistance functions as well. With adaptive cruise control active, a yellow line wraps around the speedometer dial to show the car's set speed. A small graphic in the upper right indicates the Cadenza's set following distance, and whether its radar is locked on another car ahead.

The speedometer display includes loads of functionality and also looks really good.

Kia also includes its new Uvo eServices feature in the Cadenza, at all trim levels. Uvo eServices came out earlier this year in the new Sorento and Forte models. This new telematics feature integrates a smartphone app with the car, and includes automated emergency assistance, roadside assistance, car diagnostics and service scheduling, and remote destination programming for the navigation system. Kia Chief Technology Strategist Henry Bzeih demonstrated some of Uvo eServices for me.

On a PC, Bzeih loaded up Google maps, found a destination, then chose Google's Send to Car function. The destination appeared in the smartphone app's points-of-interest list. Taking the phone to the car, Bzeih wirelessly ported the POI list to the navigation system. The app, which runs on iOS or Android, also includes a feature for finding destinations. However, there is no option to look up a location on the phone's Google Maps app and port it to the Uvo eServices app, a fault Bzeih attributed to the way Google programmed its mobile Maps app.

Bzeih also made the car generate a diagnostics report using the head unit, then sent it to the phone. Because Uvo eServices does not rely on a call center, automating most of its functions, there is no monthly fee for users.

Graphic guidance
Although the standard navigation system lacks perspective-view maps, I still came away very impressed. The map design looks good and proved easy to read. In downtown San Francisco, it even showed some landmark buildings as small graphical renderings.

2014 Kia Cadenza

The Cadenza's maps only show in this flat view, but look much better than most.

Wayne Cunningham/CNET

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
Model2014 Kia Cadenza
Power trainDirect-injection 3.3-liter V-6 engine, 6-speed automatic transmission
EPA fuel economy19 mpg city/28 mpg highway
Observed fuel economyNot recorded
NavigationStandard flash memory-based system with traffic data
Bluetooth phone supportStandard with contact list integration
Digital audio sourcesBluetooth audio streaming, iOS integration, USB drive, satellite radio, HD Radio, auxiliary input
Audio systemInfinity 550-watt 12-speaker system
Driver aidsAdaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, blind-spot monitor, rearview camera
Base priceNot available
Price as testedNot available
2014 Kia Cadenza

2014 Kia Cadenza

Score Breakdown

Cabin tech 8Performance tech 7Design 8


Body style Sedan