Kia reportedly has high aspirations — luxury car aspirations. So for 2014, the Korean automaker has rolled out a full-size sedan, the Cadenza, whose name erroneously brings to mind furniture, but really is a musical term for a solo flourish that heralds an important passage. Is Kia sending us a message?
Appearance: The Cadenza is handsome, with a design that tends toward the familiar and has plenty of chrome trim. We see cues from other cars — a touch of the Nissan Altima and Suzuki Kizashi — in its look. Maybe its conservative approach is more for an older buyer? Even Kia's "tiger-nose" grille is toned down: The growl is less fierce, and its mesh is surrounded by a slender chrome trim. The upswept headlights feature LED running lights that have a futuristic glow at night. Especially sharp: our tester's 19-inch multispoke alloy wheels, which are part of the technology package ($3,000), and its rich exterior color: Smoky Blue.
Performance: The front-wheel-drive Cadenza's 293-horsepower V-6 is the same as the one under the hood of its corporate cousin, the Hyundai Azera. The 3.3-liter direct-injection engine has robust acceleration that is more than adequate in both city driving and highway cruising. The V-6 is paired with a six-speed automatic transmission and has paddle shifters that most drivers will find unnecessary. The estimated mpg is a respectable 19 city, 28 highway. The Cadenza's ride is well-balanced and doesn't feel overly floaty for a full-size sedan; it comfortably glides over ruts and bumps. A lot of safety features are standard: ABS, traction control, vehicle stability management, backup warning, rearview camera. The technology package adds adaptive smart cruise control, blind-spot detection, lane-departure warning and electronic parking brake. Peter appreciated the cruise control on a trip to Tallahassee, where the state highway has plenty of speed-limit changes. When the car in front of him slowed to obey the new speed, so did the Cadenza while maintaining a safe distance. When you change lanes, the cruise returns to its set speed gradually.
Interior: It's quiet — very little road or engine noise intrudes on the attractive cabin. Our tester had burnished wood accents with white Nappa leather upholstery. Kia even outfitted the roof liner in available suede, a nice detail that many carmakers ignore. The fit and finish are first-rate. Nothing felt cheap. The rear seats have plenty of legroom, even for adults, but some passengers found the seat-belt position uncomfortable. Peter's lone complaint: His forward visibility — looking up at traffic lights — was somewhat compromised by the roof line. Kia's UVO infotainment system is one of our favorites. The voice recognition is among the best we've used and is integrated with your smartphone via Bluetooth. The car's console controls are simple and laid out well — there are even dials for volume and radio tuning.
Our 3 favorites
Crease: A bold body detail runs from the front door to the taillights.
Cruise: You'll never want anything but an adaptive control after using it.
Comfort: It felt more expensive than its sticker price.
Panoramic sunroof: Extends over most of the roof surface.
Silence: Hardly any road or mechanical noise.
White package: No-charge upgrade for beautiful, all-white upholstery. Sharp.
The bottom line: If this is what we can expect from a Kia luxury car, then the Cadenza is an impressive step. It should not only draw the attention of those looking at its full-size competitors, but those looking at entry-level luxury sedans.