2014 Kia Cadenza HD Video Review

There are a lot of ways to become wealthy, the easiest is to simply not spend much money.  Give up that daily Starbucks latte for home brewed joe and you can save over $1,200 in a year. Even more if you’re a poor tipper.

KiaCadenza_43Thrift has been a good business model for Kia.  They’ve become the eighth most popular automotive brand in the US by offering a double whammy of value pricing and expressive Peter Schreyer design (who’s last job was at Audi). The 2014 Cadenza pushes Kia’s more-for-less strategy to a whole new income bracket.  Load one up with both option packages and it’s a C-note away from 42 grand.  This car will not be sold using dancing hamsters.

You Asked For It- Apparently, the lousy US economy has created a breed of frugal consumers that will give up their luxury branded cars for value and features.  Kia claims Optima customers choose the high-end trim models at a higher rate than any other mid-sided sedan.  Research told Kia that buyers driving off in top-line Optima EX-Ls wanted a more luxurious car but it wasn’t in the showroom. Cadenza, which has been sold as the K7 in Korea for years, was a natural choice for Kia loyalists to graduate into.

KiaCadenza_74Base Cadenzas start at just under 36 grand with destination. That includes a 550- watt Infinity sound system and satellite navigation. Fully optioned at $41,900 gets you intelligent cruise control, adaptive HID lighting, cooled driver’s chair, panoramic glass roof, powered rear sunshade and all the other whiz bang stuff you’d expect in this class. The front side windows get a hydrophobic coating that repels water, like a semi-permanent Rain-X.

The Competition- Buyers will be cross-shop 300, Avalon, the new Impala, LaCrosse, Taurus, Maxima and Azera (which Cadenza shares its architecture with).  At the press event in San Diego, CA, the Kia folks say Cadenza even has a shot at Acura TL, Lexus ES, and Lincoln MKZ shoppers.

Like all but the 300, Cadenza is front-wheel drive. It has no all-wheel drive option. The only engine is a 3.3-liter direct-injected V6 that makes 293 horsepower.  The automatic transmission is a smooth shifting six-speed with manual control on the console and steering wheel paddles.  The EPA rated fuel economy is 19 city, 28 highway, 22 combined.  Sorry, a single day of driving three different cars means I can’t offer a real world figure.

KiaCadenza_72Grading On A Curve- Floor it and Cadenza moves out smartly with little torque steer.  I’ll guestimate 0-60 at around 6.5 seconds.  60 percent of the structure is made from high tensile steel and it feels like it too.  Very solid.  This brand isn’t known for overly quiet interiors.  Cadenza is though.  The ride quality is very smooth and without float.  With a suspension tuned towards sport, there’s not much body roll in hard cornering.

Sharp impacts are nicely softened and normal bumps are tamed without any secondary bounces.  In short, Kia engineers nailed it.  Can’t say there’s a lot of feedback from the steering wheel though, a common trait of electric power assist.  Visibility shouldn’t be a problem and if it is, the $3,000 Technology package includes blind spot warning.  It also features lane departure warning and adaptive cruise control that matches the speed of traffic right down to a complete stop.

KiaCadenza_28Cadenza is refined and polished without the “double Teflon coated” feel of the Lexus ES350. The Kia feels more willing to romp, more like Maxima.  At idle I find myself looking at the tach to make sure the V6 is still running. Hold the throttle to the carpet and the engine looses some of it’s refined sound in the high rev range but it’s doubtful many owners will explore that range often.

Looking Inward- Fans of trendy cut and sewn instrument panels should know that Cadenza only offers up a little stitching on the gauge shroud.  Overall, it’s a nicely defined space with soft touch materials throughout and the details, smooth operation and alert tones you’d expect in a $40,000 sedan.  There’s heat and power operation for adusting the steering wheel.

KiaCadenza_57Wood trim comes from plastic trees but you’d never know.  A high def screen in the gauge cluster gives drivers their choice of information such as trip computer and navigation prompts.  The Infinity surround sound audio system with HD Radio tuner and 12 speakers will spoil you.

Nicely bolstered leather seating is standard.  Go with the $3,000 Luxury package and it’s upgraded to Napa hides with extendable cushions and ventilation for the driver only.  Explain that to your spouse on a hot day.  As long as I’m griping the door releases don’t feel very rich.  Know that that you have to order the Luxury package to get the Technology pack.

Talk To Me- Kia’s user interface is called Uvo.  Much of it is voice activated and overall it works well (though none of these systems match Siri).  The navi system can be operated by passengers when the car is moving.  Kudos for Kia’s lawyers!  Using the 8-inch touch screen and well thought out function buttons below it, everything is easy to figure out.  I pared my iPhone in 20 seconds without cracking the manual.  Ah, the luxury of simplicity.

KiaCadenza_70There’s also Uvo E-Services that offers more than just Pandora when you hook up a smartphone.  There are 13 services, including 911 assist and a “send to phone” feature that fires off Google Maps directions straight to your car from your computer.  UVO E-Services is much like OnStar but with one significant difference- It mooches off your smartphone’s data plan so there’s no monthly charge.

Room For Friends- Cadenza has just about everything three average sized adults would want in a back seat, starting with good head, knee and foot room for the outboard positions.  Heated seats too.  Move to the middle though and headroom gets tight.  The floor helps out by being nice and flat.  There’s the expected door storage, folding armrest and seatback pockets but no power port for phone charging.

I’m a little surprised that fully optioned Cadenzas don’t have powered decklids.  Truth be told, I find them a little annoying at times.  The seats do not split and fold, there’s only a small pass through.  A well-trimmed trunk means luggage won’t be crushed by hinge arms. The cargo space is about average sized, I’d say it would score a seven in the TP trunk test if I could find a Costco here in San Diego.

KiaCadenza_75Cadenza comes with a space saver tire and the security that it provides has never been more piercing.  My drive partner Alan Driver managed to cleanly install a motorcycle clutch lever into the rear back tire and there’s no way an inflation kit would have helped us.  Yes, Kia offers roadside assistance but this being a press event, they simply delivered a new Cadenza to us.   That’s a service AAA just doesn’t offer…

Value at 42K?  Kia has been knocking ‘em out of the park lately, a big reason why they’re so popular.  Compared to Optima (among my fav sedan designs regardless of price), Cadenza is drawn with a more conservative pen with just a hint of Maserati sedan in it’s tailoring.  The tiger nose grill looks rich and the LED trim of the head and taillights is gorgeous.  Cadenza is five inches longer and an inch higher than Optima. Higher-end models often get their design aggression softened. With Cadenza I miss the reach and edginess found in other Kia models.

Comparably equipped, Cadenza is priced close to LaCrosse and Azera.  It’s some $3,000 less than Avalon, and seven grand lower than Lexus ES.  Maxima comes in at a couple thousand dollars less but doesn’t offer tech like adaptive cruise.

KiaCadenza_46Throw in complimentary scheduled maintenance program for 36 months or 37,500 miles and Kia’s 10-year 100,000-mile warrantee and Cadenza comes up as a competitive choice for frugal luxury buyers.  The only thing Cadenza doesn’t’ have is a premium badge.  If you’re only trying to impress yourself, you don’t really need one of those.  And with all that extra cash you can buy premium coffee.  But you’ll still brew it at home, right?


  1. BrunoT says:

    Another great presentation, Tom. Can you tell me why “steering feel” has become so hard to find? After three BMW’s we tired of the image BS and high cost, but very few cars today handle and even those with decent performance have numb steering. Is there a downside (besides fractional mpg differences) to feeling the tires on the road?

    • TV says:

      It’s electric power steering. The good thing is it helps fuel economy and performance since there’s no parasitic drag from the hydraulic pump. Unfortunately, seems like it’s tough to get good feel from it. Cadenza actually represents an improvement by Kia, my wife’s 2012 Soul is pretty numb. Porsche does a good job. The vehicle that I’m posting tomorrow also handles it quite well (though it’s embargoed so I can’t mention it and it’s driving impressions yet).

  2. Jack in Jax says:

    We Americans tend to look for short-term logic when seeing an existing car manufacturer break into a new-for-them segment. Korean ‘hard goods’ manufacturing is at the heart of their domestic economy and and their positive trade balance, so my bet is that they are viewing this particular product from a more strategic and long-term perspective than the U.S. distributor might have been emphasizing at the press event. Hyundai’s Genesis product line (two products, each going in a new direction for them at the time) illustrates the same dynamic. These companies know they can’t depend on growing their businesses long term solely on being the low-cost producer. Consider e.g. their view of their future competition in the world when China is right next door. This is just a bit before your time, Tom, but in a slightly different way this is exactly what Honda, Nissan (nee Datsun) and Toyota all did once they established their USA distribution systems and their quality & value bonafides. They moved up market (Acura, Infiniti, Lexus) because their goal was much broader than just being producers of ‘best value’ products at the low end of the market. There’s no reason to expect Korean’s car builders to have lower aspirations.

    Perhaps it’s just me but, as we shop for our next car, I keep bumping into an absence of identity that would distinguish one of these Korean builders from the other…and from the other major brands in the marketplace as well, for that matter. Other than ‘value’, what would it mean – to me, to others – if I chose a Kia Cadenza? Perhaps just a non sequitur: I paid a high price for a low-priced brand.

    Tom, does Kia stand out to you as a unique product among the many brands you are exposed to, including many these days who offer competitive value? If so, how would you describe it?


    • TV says:

      I don’t think it’s a uniquely American trait. People all over the world are swayed by branding and marketing. It’s possible for brands to move upmarket but it’s a delicate process that requires luck and black magic. Lexus was a huge success, Mazda’s Amati brand never got off the ground.

      Brands can be fluid. Audi didn’t play in the BMW/Mercedes segment 10 years ago. Cadillac was once at the top of the heap (and let’s not even mention Lincoln). Kia and Hyundai are doing it differently, going with a wide spectrum of products rather than creating new premium brands that would take time and money to establish (for now at least). The Koreans have moved all of their cars upmarket in the last three years. It can be argued that cars like Genesis and Cadenza have put a halo on the Elantra and Forte and maybe, just maybe, that’s even more valuable than a premium brand that distances high end cars from low end cars.

      Remember, Lexus was established as a value-for-the-money brand when it hit with just the E-Class clone LS and a re-skinned Camry called ES. They steadily parlayed their dealer service and reliability into the brand it is today. People who bought those first Lexus cars established the brand sorta the way Kia looks at Cadenza- give owners bang for the buck and they then spread the word.

      Yes, premium brands are important, there will always be buyers that want shorthand for “I’m a success story”. But we all know a leased BMW doesn’t mean the driver makes loads of money. In the end, a buyer has to be comfortable with their purchase. Some need the badge, others don’t. The fact is, the line is blurring in the aspect of quality and luxury. Smart shoppers will look at cars, not badges and then buy the one that works for them and their budget.

      Kia stands out to me because they’ve used a one-two punch of value and high-end design. Hyundai has placed more of an emphasis on value (though their cars are good looking too). We’ll see how it all works out. That’s what I like about this industry.

  3. Facepalm says:

    Nice, the Cadenza was probably the last vehicle I was expecting to see you review at the moment. Pleasant surprise.

    Tom, have you driven Hyundai’s Azera? Do you have a preference between them (Azera and Cadenza)? Visually? In terms of driving dynamics? It looks like another situation of Optima & Sonata, and while I’d pick the Optima any day, I’m somewhat torn between the Azera and the Cadenza. Both look good inside and out, in my opinion, but I don’t know how they drive. The Azera has a pretty sweet panoramic glass roof, though…

    Odd how the Cadenza gets Mitsubishi Lancer-ish headlights, yet the K7, which is the Cadenza’s Korean market version, gets a different front fascia altogether. The K7′s rump looks more Audi-like, too. It’s on Wikipedia, if anyone’s interested in seeing the differences:
    If anything, the K7 looks LESS Kia-like, in my opinion.

    I’m personally hoping they bring the K9/Quoris over here. It looks really good, especially in black. Almost BMW-ish, though.

    Also, Tom, I checked Costco’s website and there are actually quite a few warehouses in San Diego, haha. And I know you’re in Austin quite a bit for press events and I checked there as well and found that there are two in Austin. Don’t know if you were serious about not finding Costco in the review, but there you go, if you want.
    I’m sure if you just show them the article featuring your experiences at your local warehouse, any Costco in the country will let you borrow some TP bundles, lol.

    • TV says:

      Have not driven Azera but prefer the Cadenza look.

      While I was told at the Cadenza event that they are still studying the Quoris for the US market, Automotive.com says Kia has green-lighted it. We’ll see…

      Thanks for checking Costco locations for me. It’s pretty tough to break away from press events to do the test though. They are choreographed pretty tightly and I’m generally the last car in at the end of the day.

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  5. motorstreet says:

    The Cadenza seems like a very nice car. The features it offers would impress S-Class drivers and I like its conservative, but elegant styling. Personally, I like the new Impala more, but this might be nicer to drive and this has a few more features. If I were buying a $35-40k luxury sedan I would get a RWD Chrylser 300 or Hyundai Genesis though.

    • BrunoT says:

      Motorstreet makes a great point. At this price why would anyone choose the Kia over the Genesis, other than styling and snowy-road performance?

      • TV says:

        If you drove the Genesis and Cadenza back to back you might come to a different conclusion. The rear drive is nice but the Genesis is five years older. The Cadenza (and probably the Azera which I haven’t seen) has a decidedly better interior than Genesis. Just depends on how much you value rear drive I suppose.

  6. fatbaldandhappy says:

    Nice enough car. I’ll be very surprised if it has similar success as the Optima though. Yes- it’s a different class of car, but that brings a different class of buyer. A buyer looking at cars in the upper 30′s to low 40′s likely is trying to impress more than himself and even though the KIA brand is on more solid ground today than it was a few years ago- I’m not sure my friends would be impressed if I told them I just bought a KIA Credenza. (doesn’t matter if I say Cadenza, they’ll hear cradenza).

    Optima was a segment breaker. Extreme good looks, enough variation in engine/performance choices to fit just about any need, and a nearly unbeatable value. This car fits in with its crowd, but I’m not sure it stands out.

    Tom- if you happen to have any contact info for the marketing folks who came up with the name “Cadenza” do a quick check and see if it’s the same people who came up with “La Ferrari”. I’m guessing it is.

    • TV says:

      There have been plenty of musical names- Prelude, Stanza, Forte, a chord (okay, that’s pretty bad). I hear you, I had to fight from writing “credenza” a number of times. But LaFerrari? Worst. Name. Ever.

      FYI, the Kia folks are well aware that this car isn’t going to sell like Optima, Soul or Sorento. And the large sedan market seems to be shrinking. But they felt like they had to protect the high end of the market that would simply go elsewhere. In talking with them over dinner, it seems like they did a tremendous amount of research to see if Cadenza would work in the US. We will see…