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A Review of the 2014 Kia Cadenza Premium: Kia Hits the Luxury Segment Right in the Sweet Spot

When the Kia brand was introduced to the US market back in 1994, it was hard to imagine that this super affordable economy brand could one day offer up a gorgeous, engaging large luxury sedan but with the 2014 Kia Cadenza – the smaller of the two Korean brands doing business in North America has stormed into the segment with a beautiful vehicle.


Even though the Kia brand has totally transformed their image over the past few years with a lineup of new models that are as efficient as ever with a level of technology and “fun to drive” factor that was unheard of for the segments in which the Korean brand thrives, the 2014 Kia Cadenza arrives as a gorgeous and surprising look at what the company is capable of building when they think outside of the box. While models like the Optima, Soul, Forte, Sportage and Rio are still the bread and butter of the affordable brand, the Cadenza offers devout Kia buyers a chance to stick with the brand that they love while being able to drive a much more upscale, engaging large sedan. Best of all, the Kia Cadenza has many features that you would expect from a large luxury sedan with a price starting right around $35,000.

My 2014 Kia Cadenza test vehicle was fitted with the features of the “base” Premium trimline with the $3,000 Technology Package and the $3,000 Luxury Package bringing the total price as tested to $41,900. The Technology Package adds gadgets like an intelligent cruise control system, blind spot detection, a lane departure warning system, an electronic parking brake, special water repellant glass and the 19” alloy wheels of the higher end Luxury trimline. Honestly, for the money, I wouldn’t opt for the Technology Package as I’m not all that concerned with those features but for those who are into that driver’s assist technology – Kia’s features work beautifully. On the other hand, I love the Luxury Package that adds a huge panoramic sunroof, adaptive HID headlights, Nappa leather seats, a power driver’s seat thigh extension, a cooled driver’s seat, heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel, a high tech gauge cluster with a 7” LCD screen and a rear window sunshade. I drove the Cadenza in some cold Detroit weather and the heated front and rear seats and the heated steering wheel were great. Also, I love Kia’s huge sunroof even though I didn’t get to do any open air cruising so were I to buy a Cadenza Premium today – I would most certainly opt for the Luxury Package.

The Exterior
The 2014 Kia Cadenza Premium wears a very similar exterior styling to that seen on the hot-selling Forte with a distinctively shaped grille flanked by a pair of LED-trimmed HID headlights. The combination of the LED trimming in the headlights, the dual projector headlights and chrome trim in the headlights, around the grille and along the bottom of the fog light bezels gives the Cadenza a classy, upscale look. If you arent a fan of Kia styling you might not like the face of the Cadenza but I love the direction of Kia’s styling and I think that the new Cadenza is the best application of the modern Kia look. The front end is wide, low and fairly flat with some slight bulges in the hood so in the overall design of the front half of the car, the Cadenza takes a very European approach to luxury without departing from their “look”.

Along the sides, the 2014 Kia Cadenza has a sexy silhouette with a nicely curved roofline flowing down into a rear window that almost creates a fastback shape as it meets the trunk lid. More chrome trim around the windows, on the door handles and along the bottom of the car accentuates the luxury feel while the basic lines of the car from the side are very similar to what we see on the popular European luxury sedans…and the Tesla Model S. The side lines of the Cadenza aren’t quite as sharp as those across the front end but the Cadenza has a smooth, high beltline that bolsters the luxurious look of this roomy sedan. The Cadenza that I spent 8 days driving also had the 19 inch wheels (mentioned above as part of the Technology Package) that are standard on the pricier luxury trimline and while I really like the look of these wheels, I don’t know that they are worth the $3,000 price tag of the Technology Package. They’re great looking wheels but they aren’t $3,000 great and when you aren’t concerned with the other features of the Technology Package – its hard to justify that extra 3 grand just for a set of sharp wheels.

Out back, the 2014 Kia Cadenza Premium has a powerful luxury look with a set of stunning LED taillights connected by one chrome strip while a second, larger chrome strip wraps around the entire rear end of the car. The Cadenza also sports a set of large, oval tail pipes that are tucked up into the rear fascia to complete the package but when you see the back end of this Korean sedan, it is hard to ignore those big, bright LED taillights.

The 2014 Kia Cadenza has a gorgeous exterior design from front to back with a scattering of chrome and a dose of high tech lighting working to make this the best looking Kia vehicle that the Korean automaker has ever sold here in the US. This is a car that people look at and ask what it is and when I told them that it was a Kia – they were shocked as they didn’t know that Kia made big luxury cars. The Kia styling is distinct and while not everyone loves that familial look…this car is a gorgeous option for those looking to get into an affordable luxury sedan that really looks the part.

The Interior
As much as the exterior amenities of the 2014 Kia Cadenza will wow unsuspecting passengers, the interior takes that wow factor to a whole new level. When you open the door, you are greeted by an interior setting that is plush and packed full of technology with the white leather package driving home that luxury look. The white leather of the seats extends to the door panels and this bright white contrasts nicely with the black trim found across the dash, along the center console, through the door panels and into the carpeting with a touch of wood trim on the console, the dash and the doors…all of which work together to present a cabin that is well worthy of the luxury tag.

The front seats of the 2014 Cadenza Premium are soft and very comfortable with deep side bolsters and moderate hip bolsters that help keep the driver and passenger tucked in place during stints of spirited driving. These seats offer a ton of leg, knee, hip, shoulder and head room with plenty of adjustability to accommodate both tall and small drivers alike. Also, the extendable thigh pad on the driver’s seat adds an extra level of comfort that I absolutely love as it allows the driver to customize their seating position to make it as comfortable as your living room recliner. Both front seats feature heated surfaces that heat up quickly and provide a ton of high intensity heat for frosty cold mornings with the heated steering wheel making sure that the driver’s hands are as warm as his or her buttocks when fighting through rush hour traffic on a brisk morning.

The back seats of the 2014 Cadenza have surprisingly deep side bolsters (as rear bench style seats go) and while the heated outboard positions offer tons of leg room for rear riders even when the front seats are adjusted for a 6 foot tall driver and passenger. The center seating position is pretty insignificant and I wouldn’t make anyone but a small child sit there for very long but the outboard seats offer comparable comforts to the front seats so missing out on riding shotgun isn’t a big deal in the Cadenza. Also, the Cadenza rear seats have a reclined position that make sitting in the rear more comfortable than some other large sedans that make you feel like you are wedged in the back seat of a police car. The Cadenza invites you to climb into the back seat, lean back and stretch out your legs for a long, comfortable ride.

In terms of technology, the 2014 Kia Cadenza Premium packs a surprising number of modern goodies including the 7 inch LCD speedometer display, push button start, a ton of steering wheel controls and a big and bright touch screen that controls the navigation system, the sound system, the hands free phone setup and the climate control. Best of all, those Cadenza buyers who don’t love the functionality of the touch screen (or the steering wheel or voice controls) can rely on the row of buttons that sits in the middle of the center stack with the dual zone climate controls or the lower row of buttons and knobs for the stereo and navigation system. This combination of steering wheel controls, touch screen controls and traditional buttons and knobs should satisfy every driver whether they want an old school feel or the cutting edge of gadget technology.

The Drive
the 2014 Kia Cadenza is only available with one drivetrain configuration which is a 3.3L V6 sending the power to the front wheels by means of a 6-speed automatic transmission with 293 horsepower and 255lb-ft of torque on tap. That powerful front wheel drive setup has actually become fairly unusual in the large luxury sedan segment with most other brands including BMW, Mercedes Benz and Lexus relying on rear wheel drive – or expensive all wheel drive. For those buyers who want a front wheel drive luxury car of this size, the Cadenza really is the best choice for the money. The 3.3L V6 isnt the most powerful engine in the segment but it provides plenty of power to allow the Cadenza to accelerate quickly away from a stop or to pick up speed through the midrange as when passing slower moving traffic on the highway. The 6-speed automatic transmission is controllable via a set of steering wheel mounted paddle shifters and while they aren’t a necessity, they do add an extra element of fun to this plush sedan. Some people might find shifting an automatic transmission to be fruitless but I enjoy selecting my gears when driving a car hard and for a car in this class, the Cadenza can be driven hard.

Mind you, the suspension system of the 2014 Kia Cadenza is on the softer end of the spectrum with an obvious emphasis on a super smooth ride quality but it still handles well enough that you can push it through turns with some confidence. This car may not go toe to toe on a road course with something like the Lexus GS350 but considering the high end ride quality, the handling is sufficient for most drivers. When you really get to throwing it into turns hard, there is more body roll but that is the trade off for the comfy ride that I will gladly accept. I should emphasize that the Cadenza isnt a floater like an old school Caddy or Lincoln but in the world of luxury sedans, the Cadenza leans more towards the luxury end of the spectrum where some pricier models have gone to more of a sport sedan feel with an expensive adjustable suspension system that allows the driver to pick between comfort and handling. The Cadenza is in the range of 75% ride quality and 25% handling so with this sedan – comfort is king. That smooth ride also comes with an impressive level of interior silence so very little wind noise or road vibration makes it into the cabin of this roomy Korean sedan.

Finally, the 2014 Kia Cadenza promises fuel economy of 19 around town, 28 on the highway and 22mpg combined. I was easily able to achieve those numbers with an overall average over 8 days of 23.7 miles per gallon with a mix of roughly 65% highway and 35% local traffic but even my local traffic is easier on fuel mileage than many more congested areas. That being said, drivers who spend more time in traffic should still be able to hit that combined figure of 22mpg but those who do a great deal of highway driving with no traffic could easily blow away the 22mpg mark.

The 2014 Kia Cadenza Premium is a luxury sedan that I really enjoyed driving. In the world of large luxury sedans, many companies have gone more for the sport sedan driving experience and that is not true of the Cadenza. This range topping Kia (until the K900 arrives) offers a super smooth, super quiet ride in any driving situation with a cabin that would make for a great setting of a cross country drive with the family while still getting great fuel economy and packing enough power to easily merge into fast moving traffic. This is, in my humble opinion, one of the best driving front wheel drive large sedans on today’s market so while it may not kill the competition on a road course – it will offer just as much comfort on your daily drive or on a long trip.

The Final Word
There is a good chance that even Kia Motors wouldn’t want to classify the Cadenza is a modern luxury sedan because then it would be compared with substantially more expensive models from the likes of Lexus, Acura and even BMW but at the end of the day – the Cadenza has the look, the style and all of the amenities that a modern luxury sedan buyer expects. Best of all, this moderately equipped (yet beautifully optioned) Kia Cadenza starts under $36,000 with a price as test under $42,000…while this car offers the look and feel of cars that easily cost $10,000 to $20,000 more.

Sure, the 2014 Kia Cadenza doesn’t come with the clout of the BMW 5 Series or the Lexus GS lineup but if you want the luxury experience from those European or Japanese models with a price that wont empty your bank account – the Cadenza is most definitely one of the cars that should be on your short list when shopping for your next new car. If appearance is your key concern in buying a new luxury car, the Kia might come up short but if you are more concerned with the quality and number of amenities than the name on the nose – the Kia Cadenza is the best new option on the market today. The 2014 Kia Cadenza shows that Kia is way more than just a company that builds efficient, affordable compacts as this large sedan can and will steal attention from far more expensive options on today’s market.