We're behind the wheel of the 2014 Kia Cadenza and it's crawling through Beverly Hills traffic like a seasoned pro. Adaptive cruise is set to 95 mph, but we're averaging something like 6. Her side of the dual-zone climate control is set to 80. Ours is set to 65.
The roughly idling bus next to us is muted by the Kia's acoustics. We're beeped by the lane departure warning system before merging. The streaming Bluetooth audio is tuning out everything else. If not for this whole steering thing, we'd just be along for the ride.
But then a crinkle brings us back into the real world. It's our Chinese takeout in the backseat and it's listing hard off the port bow. A delicate arm is stretched to its maximum, but the crinkle of plastic is getting louder. The smell of garlic is getting stronger. We're one brake application away from an order of Kung Pao carpet. A strained voice says, "I can't reach it. The backseat's too far away."
And with that one line, everything clicks and it dawns that the 2014 Cadenza is a different and altogether special full-size sedan...from Kia.
In contrast to the myriad trim, package and powertrain options available in other large, front-wheel-drive sedans, the 2014 Kia Cadenza is only available in one flavor, and with few available toppings.
The only powertrain is a 3.3-liter V6 bolted to a six-speed automatic. Armed with direct injection, this engine makes 293 horsepower at 6,400 rpm and 255 pound-feet of torque at 5,200 rpm. Fuel economy numbers haven't been released, but we averaged 20.6 mpg with a best tank of 28.1 mpg in mixed driving.
As for trim levels, there's one. Kia's eschewed the tactic of offering a base car with few options and a seductive low price, for a fully loaded ride that pulls out nearly all the stops. Standard features on this Kia include a back-up camera, navigation system with high-res 8-inch touchscreen, 550-watt Infinity 12-speaker stereo, heated leather seats, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry with push-button start and Bluetooth audio and phone pairing. Standard. On this Kia.
But Wait, There's More!
Should you still feel that you're not thoroughly whooping the Joneses, Kia will happily sell you one, or both, of the available option packs (prices TBD). Our test car had both.
The Premium package adds a split panoramic sunroof, adaptive HID headlights, Napa leather seating surfaces, cooled driver seat, heated outboard rear seats, heated steering wheel, power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, extendable thigh support and a 7-inch TFT LCD that replaces the traditional speedometer.
Go all big-dog on the Kia and step up to the Technology package (Premium pack required) and the 2014 Cadenza gets even more impressive and slightly autonomous. Adaptive cruise control, blind spot detection, lane departure warning, hydrophobic front door window glass (blame this water-repelling feature's absence on the windshield on the sloths at NHTSA) and an electronic parking brake. The 18-inch wheels are replaced by 19s as well.
And, finally, there's a White package that blanches the Napa leather and adds wood grain trim and premium textile to the headliner, pillar trim, rear parcel shelf and sun visors.
Our 2014 Kia Cadenza is an early production prototype and represents a slight amalgamation of the options listed above. We've got most of the White pack and most of the Technology pack, but we have 18-inch wheels instead of the 19s. Half of the trim here is wood, while half is a brushed metal look. Even if they don't visually match, the interior is immaculately prepared, with tight gaps and a quality feel to all of the buttons and actions.
While we'd prefer that the trim had matched, one "not production correct" feature of this tester we'd hate to give up is the 18-inch wheels.
Kia says that this prototype's suspension and steering are "95 percent production" with some minor tweaks to be done to combat some bump steer. We're advising them here and now, in the open, to be careful with any additional tweaks, as the Cadenza we drove is exemplary in the field.
Pavement seams are dispatched with a thunk-thunk that borders on Germanic. Bigger dips are damped away in a single stroke with none of the high-seas yachting often found in this class. Again, think German. Kia clearly did.
One area where Kia was thinking American (and maybe just a hint of Chinese) was the backseat. Not only is there a phenomenal amount of shoulder and legroom (56.3 and 36.8 inches, respectively) but the outboard seats are heated and there's audio controls located in the rear center armrest. The actual measurement numbers are only on par with the 2013 Toyota Avalon (55/40), but the Cadenza feels airier and the seat comfort is great. For all of this rear-seat comfort, you give up the ability to fold the seats. Thankfully, there's a ski pass-through and plenty of space in the trunk. Still, if an Ikea trip is on the menu, the Cadenza won't be the first pick.
The 2014 Kia Cadenza is closely related to the current Hyundai Azera, which we've had on our shores since 2012. But it doesn't take a professionally trained butt to notice the differences straight away. The Hyundai is tuned to win over the Buick/Toyota crowd. It's soft and isolated and coddling. The Cadenza's ride and steering, however, give the driver a sense of communication and occasion more in line with Acura and Infiniti.
If you needed proof that Kia and Hyundai are separate organizations doing separate things, look no further than the Cadenza. The platform is the same, but the missions are worlds apart.
Kia's new president, Peter Schreyer may have had his way with the way the car looks ("classy" and "expensive" come to mind) and how it drives, but he didn't have much say in the way it goes. The 3.3-liter V6 is the same one found in the Azera and we'd expect it to do the same 0-60 time of 6.7 seconds and about the same 15.0 seconds at 94.8-mph quarter-mile time.
The Price Debate
Despite going on sale in April, official pricing for the 2014 Kia Cadenza has not been announced. That said, we think we can take a fair guess. The 2013 Toyota Avalon Limited starts at $39,650, while the 2013 Hyundai Azera starts at $33,145. While this fully loaded tester will likely tickle $40,000, a base price of $35,000 feels right.
Ultimately, the greatest threat to the Kia Cadenza's success won't be from outside forces. Unlike Lexus, Acura and Infiniti before it, Kia has decided that its budget name and reputation will not be a hindrance to selling a car for luxury level money.
The 2014 Kia Cadenza surprised us with an elegant combination of driving dynamics, build quality and easy-to-use tech features. But it won't do that for anyone who can't see beyond the badge.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.