Play that Cadenza again
Kia’s big sedan outclasses its rivals, costs you less
THE all-new 2014 Cadenza is a great example of the difference between a brand’s reality and its perception.
For most new car buyers, the Kia badge on the Cadenza screams mainstream — as in Chevrolet or Toyota. But in truth, and based on its styling, performance, level of technology and Kia’s stated upmarket ambitions, the large luxury sedan is a direct rival to more established models such as the Acura TL and Lexus ES 350.
So after a week behind the big Korean four-door, what’s the truth?
Just as the ES 350 uses a stretched version of the Toyota Camry, the Cadenza is essentially a lengthened Kia Optima. And until the full-size, rearwheel-drive 2015 Kia K900 luxury sedan arrives later this year, the frontwheel-drive Cadenza is ostensibly the brand’s flagship sedan, and it’s priced accordingly. The base $39,280 (all prices include freight and pre-delivery inspection fees) Cadenza is $3,800 more than the topline Optima SX.
While Kia has targeted the more established Japanese luxury brands, feature for feature, my topline $45,795 Cadenza Premium tester still won the value race.
The Premium trim makes the Cadenza like an all-inclusive luxury resort. On top of the generously equipped base model, it adds high-end safety and luxury features that include adaptive cruise control and lighting, blind-spot detection, lane-departure warning, a huge sunroof, heated and vented driver’s seat, power rear curtain and much more. And much of the Cadenza Premium’s standard kit can’t be found on a $45,585 Acura TL Tech and will cost you $53,845 on a comparably equipped Lexus ES 350.
Much of the value of these bigger four-doors lies in their ability to offer a luxurious and comfortable cabin we’d normally associate with a full-size luxury car. In that regard, the Cadenza does not feel mainstream. Compared to the Acura and Lexus, the Kia’s audio, HVAC and driver controls are more logically laid out. Every item you touch feels upscale and premium, with the Kia’s soft-touch plastics, leather and wood trim easily equal to the Acura and Lexus in overall fit and feel.
A particular interior highlight is the Cadenza’s large, UVO touch-screen infotainment system. Not only is the quality of the screen graphics highresolution, the voice-activated system is one of the most responsive and easiest to use I’ve encountered.
The Cadenza’s stretched wheelbase over the Optima results in more rear legroom, but it still falls a few inches short of the ES 350. Yet, with 451 litres of trunk space, the Kia offers more storage room than the Acura and Lexus competition.
Four-cylinder engines power the smaller Optima, but the Cadenza comes exclusively with a 3.3-litre six-cylinder gas engine mated to a six-speed automatic gearbox. Rated at 293 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque, the Kia V-6 outmuscles its Japanese rivals on the spec sheet.
With a 1,575-kilogram curb weight, the Cadenza weighs considerably less than the 1,610-kg ES 350 and 1,701-kg TL. So it’s no surprise the Kia’s 6.4 seconds to go from zero to 100 kilometres per hour is 0.1 second quicker than the Acura, and a substantial 1.5 second faster than the Lexus.
Alas, with estimates of 11.2 litres per 100 kms in the city and 7.4 on the highway, the more powerful Kia is also the thirstiest near-luxury sedan here. At 9.9 L/100 kms city, 6.4 highway, the less-powerful Lexus is the most efficient.
In use, the Cadenza’s powertrain is as smooth as the Japanese V-6s. So you can check that off your list of concerns. The Cadenza’s direct-injected V-6 feels strong right up to its 6,400 r.p.m. redline. There are steeringwheel-mounted paddle shifters, but I suspect most buyers in this class will leave the console-mounted gear selector in D and let the quick-shifting autobox do its thing.
Here’s another bit of clarity for this class of car: A comfortable ride is a priority, not out-and-out handling. In that regard, the big Kia delivers. Even with the low-profile 19-inch rubber, the Cadenza absorbs bad pavement well. Yet its suspension doesn’t get too floaty over large undulations as the softer Lexus does.
The Cadenza’s only driving debit is an electrical steering system that is a little over-boosted and without feel.
If you’re the type of buyer who’s not bothered by the badge on your luxury sedan’s grille, the new 2014 Kia Cadenza is a suddenly serious contender. Its packaging, refined driving demeanour and phalanx of standard features match or better the more expensive Acura TL and Lexus ES 350.
And if you feel secure enough in your driving skills, feel free to skip all the safety features on the topline Premium model and amp up the Kia’s value proposition even higher by opting for the under-$40k base version.
The neighbours will never know the difference.
The 2014 Kia Cadenza offers a nice balance of ride and handling.