EDITOR WES RAYNAL: I was impressed with this 2014 Kia Cadenza Limited until I looked at the sticker price. The exterior design is terrific (in my opinion, Kia is doing some of the best design at the moment), and the interior looks and feels well built. The controls feel more precise than I would have guessed. The car is solid and quiet on the road and the V6 and six-speed auto feel like they get along just fine. In terms of road noise, smoothness (the suspension leans toward the soft side), fit and finish, and equipment level, the Cadenza is really quite good.
Back to the price: there is not a big value argument here. There are too many competitors: the Toyota Avalon V6 Dodge Charger and Chevy Impala all cost around the same price when equipped with equivalent features. Kia must offer better value than the competition to compete, in my opinion. The Cadenza is good, but it's not a better value.
The cars mentioned above, however, jumped all over the Cadenza. Toyota sold seven times that many Avalons for example, while Chevy moved 24,000 Impalas. If Kia whacked the price a little, maybe Cadenza sales would take off.
ASSOCIATE EDITOR GRAHAM KOZAK: The first time I hopped in a Kia Cadenza, sometime last year, I was fairly impressed with the car. It does offer seemingly everything an entry-level luxury buyer could want: features galore, decent build quality (from what I can tell, at least) and understated good looks. Kia may not be a true luxury player now -- and it may never be one -- but its Cadenza does have the momentum of an ascendant brand behind it.
It's quiet and comfortable on the road as well. The 3.3-liter puts out adequate horsepower and torque, and it doesn't quarrel with the six-speed (funny how that seems increasingly archaic) much at all. It's great for cruising over so-so roads. It doesn't flop around or lean unsettlingly in corners.
What the Cadenza doesn't really have, though, is a high fun factor. It's not that there's some FWD V6 sedan curse that makes the configuration inherently boring -- the Acura TL is a good handler backed up by a superb powertrain. More than any BMW or Audi product, I think the TL set up expectations that this Kia couldn't quite live up to. And the Acura has the option of an AWD system, which Kia says it's not planning to do on the Cadenza.
Wes mentions value. At $43,250, this Cadenza Limited faces some stiff competition -- and doesn't necessarily come out of it on top. Comparing it to a de-contented BMW would be foolish; the Cadenza won't satisfy cachet-seekers, and it certainly won't entertain performance fanatics. That's fine. Different cars, different markets. But for this price, you can get a well-equipped Audi A4 quattro…or, on the flip side, a super-cushy Toyota Avalon.
It's worth noting that, with the basic “Premium” trim, you'll get most of the Cadenza's goodies (less a heated wheel, blind spot detection, lane departure warning) for $7,300 less. And a base price of $35,900 strikes me as more sensible for this car somehow. To the non-enthusiast audience, the Cadenza should stand up well against Acuras, Buicks and Lincolns and it's even a good match (on paper, at least) for the competent-but-boring Lexus ES.
With this car and the K900 (which I'm eager to try), Kia is rushing into tricky territory. I wish them the best of luck and hope they can continue to refine their product, even if I'm not entirely sure why they're aggressively exploring this part of the market in the first place.
SENIOR ROAD TEST EDITOR NATALIE NEFF: While it's hard to imagine anything with a Kia badge costing as much as one with a roundel, after driving the awkwardly named Cadenza, I can't find fault with the car's pricing. It more than stacks up against the aforementioned Avalon or Impala, in big ways and small, and given a choice, I'd likely side with the big Korean.
I think the reason so many folks (read: Wes) have balked at the Cadenza's sticker comes from our long being accustomed to Kia as bargain, a brand built on undercutting the competition feature for feature. The Cadenza may not do that to the same extent as Kias past, but I'd argue it still offers a better value than many rivals -- so long as sportiness isn't the metric by which you measure the car's performance. It's just difficult to think of anything costing 43 large as a “bargain.”
First, its powertrain combo makes for a satisfying pairing, the engine putting out good power and the tranny making easy work of accessing all that power. It's fairly quick to respond to emphatic stabs at the gas pedal and moves the big car's mass in spirited fashion, and though the car has almost no enthusiast bent, it certainly doesn't simply flop over when you turn the steering wheel. Its ride is actually fairly composed. No, you will not want to carve the corners, stoplight drag race, clip apexes or anything of the sort in the Cadenza, and both it and you will be fine for it.
But if you crave a vehicle to ferry yourself and your family to work and play in style and comfort, and that offers just as many infotainment amenities (all of which are intuitive to operate, with connectivity to your mobile phone simple to achieve), safety systems and near-luxury features as any Monroney out there, the Cadenza definitely makes a case for itself, and I'd say it does so while asking for less cash than anything else, too.
ROAD TEST EDITOR JONATHAN WONG: Nope, not a whole lot of fun is to be had in a Kia Cadenza, but it is an extremely comfortable cruiser. And you can't argue with the level of equipment packed in this Limited model that encompasses a bit more than the heated steering wheel, blind spot detection and lane departure warning that Graham mentions above.
In addition to those features, that $7,300 you plunk down to go from the standard Cadenza model to the Limited gets you a standard panoramic sunroof, adaptive headlights, fog lights, 19-inch wheels in place of 18s and hydrophobic glass for the front side windows that repel water. Moving inside, you get a power tilt and telescoping steering wheel, a supervision gauge cluster with color LCD display, adaptive cruise control, napa leather seats, cooled front seats, heated rear seats, electronic parking brake, power rear window shade, more wood and chrome interior accent trim and a suede headliner.
That's all fancy stuff to make the Cadenza a little sharper looking and more luxurious to spend time in. On the expressway after a long day in the office, it was nice to settle into the cushy seats with the soft suspension soaking up the shocks from bumps along the way as I listened to tunes on the Infinity surround sound system. It's an easy car to drive, with light steering and generous pull from the V6 to make easy work of merging and passing.
I'm not the target demographic that Kia is going for with the Cadenza, but there are a decent number of people out there who are. With simple sheetmetal lines, it doesn't standout in the crowd, but the tiger grille does make it instantly recognizable as a Kia. The interior design is bland with a center stack that's just sort of there with many rows of hard buttons for climate and infotainment functions that a large and clearly marked.
One area where the Koreans still need to do some work is with their suspensions. While the Cadenza is real comfortable on good conditioned roads, it doesn't do so well when the roads get bumpy. Impacts from medium to larger ruts and potholes translate into the cabin to make the ride jumpy. They've gotten better over the years, but they aren't there yet with the suspension tuning.
And then there were the brakes that felt like they were working hard to get the 3,800-pound Cadenza slowed. Stopping takes a firm press of the left pedal. Maybe our test car needing a bleed or maybe it just needs beefier brakes. I'll certainly be paying attention to this when I get into another Cadenza in the future.
WEST COAST EDITOR MARK VAUGHN: In my opinion, Kia is not so much moving upscale with the Cadenza as it is simply taking advantage of all those Hyundai platforms that were just laying around back. In this case, it's the Hyundai Azera, which itself is sort of a stretched and pulled Optima/Sonata platform. Cadenza itself was created in the image of and made to go after the same buyers as the Toyota Avalon. And all of those cars are distant relatives of Buicks.
That's my take on it all, anyway. If you consider the class to be the Cadenza, Azera, Avalon, TL and LaCrosse, those only sold about 164,000 or so last year, with the Avalon leading the pack by a good margin with 70,990 in 2013.
These cars are aimed at more mature buyers seeking comfortable transportation now that the Grand Marquis and Crown Vic have been put to sleep. As I gracefully enter that stage of life where I am less tolerant of discomfort, I think I might have genuinely enjoyed my brief respite in the Cadenza. You can't hang the tail out at 4/10ths all day, after all. At some point you have to drive home and at that point you might find that the Cadenza is a comfortable conveyance in which to do so.
The first time I drove a Cadenza was on the way home from the Kia Soul intro in San Diego. I drove an old Soul down to San Diego and a new Cadenza home. I was surprised by how comfortable it felt. Standard features on the Cadenza include everything from automatic rain-sensing wipers to UVO eServices telematics, the latter of which seems to get better and more inclusive with every passing CES. If you move upscale from the Cadenza Premium trim level to the Limited, you'll get standard features you might consider “luxurious,” like advanced smart cruise control, lane-departure warning, blind-spot detection, ventilated driver's seat and heated steering wheel. Those are just some of them. Still, cynics could claim that the Cadenza is just a loaded Azera with unique body panels. You have to really scrutinize the options to decide whether you think it's worth the increase in price over the Azera. Prices start at around $36K. That's less than the price of an Acura TL and Buick LaCrosse, but more than a base Avalon and Hyundai Azera. Again, some more research will tell you if it's a good deal for you, depending on how much stuff you want on your Cadenza.
I had a lot on mine and enjoyed it. The seats were nice and inviting. The 3.3-liter V6 offered good horsepower by the standards of the class and the six-speed automatic was smooth and unobtrusive. My experience might have even hinted at luxury, a little. While ultimately I can't imagine myself in this market segment (yet), it's nice to know that it exists. When I'm ready, I will go peacefully, maybe in a Cadenza.
ASSOCIATE WEST COAST EDITOR BLAKE Z. RONG: “The first time I saw this suede was in a Bentley 20 years ago,” said Mark Vaughn, running a finger through the headliner, “and back then I thought it was absurd. Now it's in a friggin' Kia.”
Well, he's got a point, and it's not exactly surprising. All hail the Korean Buick! This Cadenza is incredibly comfortable where it counts. The leather across the doors is soft and pleasingly squishy. Meanwhile, the leather on the big center armrest is baby's-bottom smooth. The seats -- cooled upfront, heated all around -- are fantastic. The gauges and navigation screen look familiar to anyone coming from a Soul or Forte. The blind-spot monitor chirps a little too enthusiastically. The A-pillars are wide, but tucked out of the way of an expansive windshield. The ride is smooth and muted and thoroughly justifies the Cadenza's floaty responses. The Cadenza isn't an all-out luxoboat like the K900 or the Hyundai Equus -- it's not a limousine, but it's not a German fighter, either.
It's hard to say anything keen about the Cadenza, but it's hard to lambaste it, too. It presents itself well, drives with dignity, and goes about with little pretension. For many, a Cadenza will be an introductory taste of luxury: soft-touch nearly everything and electronic aids and leather and a bit of chrome on the exterior. It's like buying an Alfani suit from Macy's instead of a $99 Buy Two Get One Free Men's Wearhouse outfit. As a man who has owned both, I can appreciate the fact that for some, it's all the comfort they need.
And, yes, that headliner feels like a million bucks.
2014 Kia Cadenza Limited
Base Price: $43,200
As-Tested Price: $43,250
Drivetrain: 3.3-liter V6; FWD, six-speed automatic
Output: 293 hp @ 6,400 rpm, 255 lb-ft @ 5,200 rpm
Curb Weight: 3,792 lb
Fuel Economy (EPA City/Highway/Combined): 19/28/22 mpg
AW Observed Fuel Economy: 24.9 mpg
Options: Cargo net ($50)
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