2014 Kia Cadenza Stylishly Conquers the Pacific Coast

The 2014 Kia Cadenza

The 2014 Kia Cadenza

Last week I was invited to test drive the 2014 Kia Cadenza along with a small group of other bloggers and auto journalists. The location Kia chose couldn’t have been more beautiful; we arrived in San Diego on Wednesday afternoon and took a short ride 20 miles north to Del Mar, an oceanside resort town. We stayed at the L’Auberge Del Mar, a 120 room boutique hotel on a hill overlooking the ocean. Our views were spectacular.

I heard repeated apologies from Southern Californians for the “May Gray” (overcast skies) we were experiencing, which made me laugh; I was steps from the ocean — close enough to hear it! Coming from dry, dusty West Texas, what did I have to complain about?

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It was in front of the L’Auberge where I was first introduced to the 2014 Cadenza, Kia’s new luxury sedan. The funny thing is that the Cadenza had been parked right there when I first arrived — a little to the side of the valet stand and on the left of the drive-through circle — where the valet might put one of the hotel’s guest’s nicer cars. Good thing it wasn’t a snake, or it might have bit me, because I didn’t even give it a second glance; the car fit in well with its surroundings.  It was only later, when I came down for dinner, that I realized I had completely overlooked the star of this week’s show. This oversight would actually help me form my opinion about the Cadenza as the event went on.

2014 White Kia Cadenza

2014 White Kia Cadenza

After an excellent dinner that evening, complete with music by local surf soul jazz group, The Red Fox Tails, we called it a night.

The Red Tail Foxes

The Red Tail Foxes

The next morning, we met downstairs to hear m0re about the 2014 Kia Cadenza before taking our test drives. That is where I learned that, due to the success of their Optima, Kia has been attracting a “more affluent and style conscious consumer”; 40% of their shoppers come from the large, near-luxury, and the luxury segments.

So think about this: According to Kia, prior to the recession, consumers had no problem with conspicuous consumption. Now they still consume, but no one wants to be ” that guy” or ” that girl”. According to Michael Sprague, Kia’s Executive Vice President of Marketing & Communications, the Cadenza is meant to fill the emerging space between mainstream and luxury automobiles. “Smart is the new Rich”, and “Value is the new cool” were two phrases mentioned. Sprague said that before the recession, the percentage of buyers moving up from the non-luxury brands to the luxury market was 22%; the percentage of car buyers who move up to luxury cars from non-luxury brands today is now only 8%. Kia is taking advantage of this opportunity created by the space between the luxury and mainstream markets.

“There is this changing definition of wealth here in the US, driven by the recession; it used to be an ostentatious display of wealth, it used to be very success-oriented, we had to show everybody that we had arrived, [and] that we had made it. We wanted to show our achievements with all of these trophy properties and these trophy brands. But the recession really kind of levels out everybody. Consumers started to say, “you know maybe, it’s not so important. Maybe a richer life instead of a life of riches is what it’s all about.” And so that’s why we feel this is a great opportunity to introduce this vehicle. The 2014 Kia Cadenza is our most technologically advanced vehicle ever. It continues to advance value to new levels of sophistication.”

Orth Hendrick, Kia’s Director of Product Planning, pointed out some of the features on the new Kia. He mentioned that Peter Schreyer, Kia’s Chief Design Officer, has the design philosophy of “Simple. Powerful. Sophisticated.” Hendrick said that all three of those elements came together when Schreyer worked on this car, and that “this is Kia’s design DNA taken to a whole new level.” On the inside, the idea was to give a premium business class experience. Leather is standard on all of the vehicles, as is the navigation system and a backup camera.

The Cadenza sits on a modified front wheel drive platform that it shares with the Optima; its wheelbase is about 2″ longer, and it is 4.8″ longer in overall length, relative to the Optima. “Most of that extension of the wheelbases is for the benefit of the rear seat passengers; it is quite a bit roomier than the Optima.”

Hendrick also said that the Optima will be more of a sporty sedan with a slightly lower profile, and lower sitting seats; the Cadenza has a larger back seat, it sits up a little taller, and it is a lot more refined and sophisticated. The consumer will notice that there is more headroom, more leg room; it has a very roomy interior. The Cadenza will have a more advanced platform and a sophisticated suspension to give balance between ride comfort, but also sportiness and a top handling experience. The Cadenza has 293 horsepower, a six-speed automatic transmission, a newly designed exhaust system with managed resonance, and a lot of work has gone into reducing and isolating vibrations and road noise. 

The Cadenza is rated at 19 mpg in the city, and 28 mpg on the highway.

This is the first Kia with advanced smart cruise control, the latest technology that allows you to set the distance between you and the car in front, and it has the capability to bring the car to a complete stop without any intervention from the driver. Hendrick said, “You can set the cruise control on your way to work, and not touch the brake or gas pedal all the way in.” They are expecting five-star ratings on safety.

The Cadenza will have UVO eServices, which I covered in-depth in the Kia Sorento writeup. But just in case you missed it: Most drivers want telematics, or the ability to communicate with their car, in order to know when services are needed or to call for help when the airbags have deployed. However, they don’t want to pay for another subscription.

In 2014, Kia projects that 80% of the customers out there will have a smartphone, and that 90% of that market is dominated by Android and iPhone. By using a smartphone with Kia’s UVO app, consumers can connect directly to their vehicle; there is no contract, there is no fee.

UVO will automatically call 911 on the driver’s behalf when an airbag is deployed; it will give the exact location so that help can be sent. The Google ‘Send to Car’ feature will allow drivers to send a destination to their car from their home computer or mobile phone. When the driver gets in the car, the destination will automatically be entered in the head unit. If someone loses their car (it happens!), UVO will allow them to save the location of their car on their iOS or Android smartphone, and if needed it will help guide them back.

UVO has many standard infotainment features, including advanced Bluetooth; you can stream Pandora, you can tag music, and it has easy software updates so you can keep your system fresh. UVO is free for 10 years and 100,000 miles.

According to Henry Bzeih, Kia’s Chief Technology Strategist, “[Kia] feels that we have the leading system out there in the auto industry, from a telematics perspective.” Kia plans to add the UVO eServices to all of the vehicles in their lineup. “58% of the vehicles Kia has sold since January to today have [UVO], but the most important part of this, is that of the vehicles we’ve sold that have this system, 94% of those customers activated it, and that tells you the interest in this. And since then, we have collected ZERO from any customer, and we plan to collect ZERO from those customers for the next 10 years or 100,000 miles.” The 2014 models will be Siri-friendly.

The Cadenza has an Infinity 550 watt stereo sound system, and a lot of premium available features, including lane departure warning system (which is new for Kia), the aforementioned adaptive speed control, blind-spot detection and lane change assist. The adaptive front lighting system watches the steering wheel angle, and will move the headlights and aim them as you go around a corner to the same direction that you are turning. Napa leather is also an upgrade, and a panoramic sunroof is available on the top model.

Kia sees the Cadenza’s primary competitors being amongst some Asian brands and some near luxury brands. The premium Cadenza will retail for $35,100; the luxury package will retail for $38,100, and a fully loaded Cadenza will sell for $41,100; Each Cadenza level will include standard leather, standard navigation, standard backup camera, and a list of other things as well. Kia is offering more for less; there are no compromises.

This is the most-powerful and technologically advanced Kia ever offered in the US; it has a best in class warranty of 10 years / 100,000 miles, but it also has Kia’s first ever complimentary scheduled maintenance program, which includes all scheduled maintenance for the vehicle during its first three years of use.

The Cadenza will be built in South Korea, at the Hwasung Assembly Plant. The Cadenza has sold in Korea for the last couple of years as the K7; UVO, the engine tuning, the emissions package, and the Cadenza’s durability are designed for US drivers who are driving over larger distances. Adjustments have been made to the trim packages and handling to make this a driver’s car for the US market.

And just in case you were wondering, a Cadenza is defined as, “a virtuoso solo passage inserted into a movement in a concerto or other work, typically near the end.”

With that … it was time for us to drive. A short walk down the path behind the L’Auberge Hotel led us to a depot-style building, which had been transformed into a new Kia Cadenza lot. We were told to pick a car to spend the rest of the day in; my partner was Ashley Morton from Surf & Sunshine.

A gathering of 2014 Kia Cadenzas waiting for their drivers

A gathering of 2014 Kia Cadenzas waiting for their drivers

I really wanted a white Cadenza, but they were all spoken for, so Ashley and I chose a dark blue. 

2014 Kia Cadenza

We’ll take this one!

The interior is quite nice — smooth leather seats, push-button start, the panoramic sunroof, and something I had never seen before — an LED dash cluster. It looks incredible in person; I hope my pictures can halfway convey how sharp and cool it was.

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Kia had plotted out a course for us that went down the coast for a bit, cutting into a major highway, then we got off and went through hilly residential areas, and we ultimately ended up in Temecula wine country.

While in areas with traffic, we got to experience the blind spot detection that would go off when a car came speeding up on our right; perhaps we were a little close to the edge of the lane, I don’t know! Lights would flash on the passenger side mirror, and a beep would sound as the other car approached. It was definitely handy to know that someone was coming up on us like that, and if we had been about to change lanes, I think the warning system would have stopped us.

Behind another 2014 Kia Cadenza in traffic

Behind another 2014 Kia Cadenza in traffic

Ashley and I took turns driving, and we both agreed that the Cadenza handled exceptionally well. When we were passing through some of the hairpin turns on Sandia Creek Drive road, I might have been going a little too fast when I misjudged one of them … tires squealed, but the car went exactly where I needed it to go, and there was never a feeling of loss of control.

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One of the things that most impressed me about the Cadenza was that on the outside, it just looked like a “nice car”. There was nothing too fancy about it (although it definitely looked good), but it definitely wasn’t ostentatious or overly showy. When driving the Cadenza, and when sitting inside … that’s where the car became amazing.

The way the Cadenza handled, the comfortable leather seats, the shades that covered the panoramic sunroof when the sun got to be a bit much, the LCD dashboard, the 8″ navigation display, the way music from my iPhone just started playing the minute I plugged into the USB cable … I could go on and on.

Our Cadenza was loaded with the top of the line Technology package, and everything about the driving experience left me satisfied … wishing that my car had at least a few of the same features. There’s the downside of driving nice cars that don’t belong to you!

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Something happened on our drive that was out of the ordinary. We wanted to take pictures of the Cadenza that didn’t look like anything any of the other drivers might take. We found an amazing driveway entry with tall junipers on either side. We started taking a ton of photos, and then I looked up … and saw the security camera. Right about then, a man in a UTV pulled up, and the driver asked if we needed help and was everything okay? He seemed nice enough, but there was an underlying “What are you doing on my property? Please move along!” vibe.

Half embarrassed, we explained that we were in the area for a Kia press event, and that we were taking pictures there because he had an amazing driveway. He said, “Well, if you like my driveway, then you should come see the pond!” Ashley and I looked at each other, shrugged, and said that would be great.

The 2014 Kia Cadenza in front of the most amazing driveway

The 2014 Kia Cadenza in front of the most amazing driveway

Les, our new friend, was right; his pond was lovely! Bordered by towering eucalyptus trees and palms, it was a lush oasis. That’s when I decided to be a bit forward; I explained that we were looking for an amazing home to park the car in front of, because we were both convinced that it could fit in anywhere. Les said, well then, you should come up and see the house! Ashley and I got back in the car, and yes — for half a minute we joked about Les being a serial killer (it didn’t help that neither of us had a cell phone signal down in the valley), but we obviously weren’t that worried.

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We drove up the side of the hill, and sure enough … there was an absolutely fabulous house with a gorgeous view, and yes, the Cadenza looked right at home. Les’s wife and dog came out to meet us, and we were amazed to learn that their house was only five years old. Les said that he and his wife had lived in a trailer on top of the hill while doing all of the other work on their place, and then they had finally built their casa; I don’t think that they could have found a prettier location.

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The thing that I want you to take from this, and the thing that most impressed me, was that the Kia Cadenza fit right in.

Everywhere we went that day, from the L’Auberge, to the Julian Pie Company where we made a pit stop for apple pie topped with cinnamon ice cream, to Les’s estate, to the Miramonte Vineyard & Winery where we had a light lunch, to cruising along Highway 101 and checking out the classic cars gathered in Encenitas, and back to the L’Auberge … the Cadenza fit right in.

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What Kia has managed to do is produce a sedan that just about anyone would be proud to own. The 2014 Kia Cadenza’s exterior style looks great, but it’s not some flashy luxury car brand that will raise eyebrows when you pull up in it the first time. As I said, it’s not pretentious … it’s just a really good-looking car. The Cadenza handles and drives like a dream, and it is loaded with enough luxury features and tech eye-candy to satisfy even the most demanding gadget hound.

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Disclosure: Kia paid for my travel, room, and meals; there were no conditions or expectations made regarding what I chose to write about with regard to my experience.

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About the Author

Judie Lipsett Stanford
Judie is the co-owner and Editor-in-Chief of Gear Diary, which she founded in September 2006. She started in 1999 writing software reviews at the now-defunct smaller.com; from mid-2000 through 2006, she wrote hardware reviews for and co-edited at The Gadgeteer. A recipient of the Sigma Kappa Colby Award for Technology, Judie is best known for her device-agnostic approach, deep-dive reviews, and enjoyment of exploring the latest tech, gadgets, and gear.

4 Comments on "2014 Kia Cadenza Stylishly Conquers the Pacific Coast"

  1. I LOVE this review on so many levels! The positioning I think is key and I am glad you detaied that! I also love all the stories – having just been in that area for Hyundai I can appreciate how you get weird responses and how fun it is just going with the flow. And I really love how these car makers are seeing opportunities to bring amazing technologies to lower-priced vehicles than ever before. Cool!

    • Thanks, Mike! Meeting Les and touring his place was definitely a trip highlight!

      Kia has really upped their game, and as I mentioned to you in the back channel, this is a car that I would be proud to own!

  2. One clarification (I think) on the Uvo system: You mentioned that it was free for 10 years. I don’t believe that’s quite the case. There are actually 3 levels of the Uvo System – the base Uvo System (on most Kias), the Uvo with eServices, and the Uvo with eServices and Navigation. This last one is the one found on the Cadenza. The eServices is what expires, I believe, not the actual Uvo system. Again, funny thing is that the Uvo system is built on MS software but it is incompatible with Windows Phones!

    • Chris, if I am not mistaken,I believe that there were three iterations of UVO, and this is the latest. I don’t think they are necessarily levels, though. I think what was available before is no longer available, and UVO eServices are now all that’s available in current models. This is the same iteration that is available in the 2014 Sorento, too.

      I’ll shoot Henry an email and see if he would mind clarifying. =)

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