December 30, 2013 12:45 PM | By Mark Richardson for MSN Autos

2014 Kia Cadenza road test



2014 Kia Cadenza Premium (© Photo: Mark Richardson)
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  • 2014 Kia Cadenza Premium (© Photo: Mark Richardson)
  • 2014 Kia Cadenza Premium (© Photo: Mark Richardson)
  • 2014 Kia Cadenza Premium (© Photo: Mark Richardson)
  • 2014 Kia Cadenza Premium (© Photo: Mark Richardson)
  • 2014 Kia Cadenza Premium (© Photo: Mark Richardson)
  • 2014 Kia Cadenza Premium (© Photo: Mark Richardson)
  • 2014 Kia Cadenza Premium (© Photo: Mark Richardson)
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2014 Kia Cadenza Premium

Is Kia ready to tackle the luxury-car segment?

2014 Kia Cadenza (© Photo: Mark Richardson)

It’s not difficult these days to build a luxury car. Just buy a Mercedes or a BMW, take it apart and figure out how it all works, then replicate it as best you can with a bit of your own style.

That’s how Kia got into the game 10 years ago when it created the Amanti. The full-size sedan was loaded with luxurious standard features, like thick leather powered seats and electric everything. But it was heavy and anonymous and died a miserable death in 2009.

This time, Kia’s been careful with its new Cadenza to not just stuff in as many features as possible and hope something appeals. Unlike the Amanti, the Cadenza is a cohesive package that looks smart and drives well, and which cossets its passengers with everything that $37,795 can buy. Which is a surprising amount: automatic headights, eight-way power driver’s seat, leather-wrapped steering wheel with paddle shifters, the list goes on and on.

I drove the Premium version of the Cadenza, the only other trim level, which retails for $44,995. For that, you get a panoramic sunroof, HID headlamps, heated steering wheel and heated rear seats with ventilation to cool the front seats, blind spot detection and lane departure warning – that sort of thing.

I assume Kia looked at the brochure for the E-Class and the 5 Series and figured out how many of their options could be shoveled into the Cadenza and still bring it in under $45,000.

Affordable, but not cheap

2014 Kia Cadenza (© Photo: Mark Richardson)

That’s a remarkable price, but Kia’s reputation is for “affordable” vehicles and it can’t charge the premium that’s enjoyed by the fancy Germans, or even Cadillac and Lexus. Worse, most people equate it with “cheap” vehicles, and no luxury purchaser wants to be seen driving a cheap car, whatever its price. So Kia has to work doubly hard to reach buyers – and then keep them satisfied.

Does the new Cadenza succeed? Well, just forget the nameplate for a moment (I know, it’s a challenge) and look at the car in the photos. Its sheet metal is smooth and sleek, curves and creases in the right places and with flared wheel arches to suggest power and ability. It looks the business of a full-size sedan. As do, however, the slightly cheaper Buick LaCrosse and Lincoln MKZ competition.

Sit inside the Cadenza and it’s simpler to forget the Kia name, despite the proud badge on the steering wheel. There’s leather and high-end, soft-touch plastic everywhere, with faux-wood-grain around the dash buttons and the central analogue clock. There’s a nice eight-inch screen for the standard navigation, and if you’ve splashed out for the Premium edition, the driver’s seat has memory settings and an extender to support your thighs. Looking good!

Then you turn the key and pull away and that’s when everything becomes ordinary again.

An unexciting ride

2014 Kia Cadenza (© Photo: Mark Richardson)

There’s nothing really wrong with the Cadenza. It’s just that there’s nothing really special about it, either. The 3.3-litre V6 GDI engine – shared with the Hyundai Azera but tweaked a little differently – makes 293 horsepower and 255 lb.-ft. of torque, and it cruises very comfortably at 120 km/h, but it doesn’t feel all that strong getting there. Its torque curve shows it’s not particularly strong at low rpms, and both fifth and sixth gear are set fairly high. As such, you have to work it a bit to build up to speed.

Perhaps I was so comfortable in the driver’s seat that its performance was lost on me. Maybe it’s because it was so quiet, with wind and road noise almost completely muffled and only the 550W 12-speaker sound system to offer any stimulation. And there were no complaining passengers – there’s plenty of legroom in the back, although tall people will be a bit hunched if they’re in the Premium edition with its panoramic sunroof that fits right over the rear seat.

(Continued): Steering needs work
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