Rating: 9.0
Bottom Line:
The 2014 Kia Cadenza is an impressive new entry into the premium sedan segment, and with its sharp styling and ample amenities it even pushes into entry-luxury territory. The arrival of the 2014 Kia Cadenza should cause concern among competitors such as Honda and Toyota, and also give car buyers shopping for a reasonably priced full-size sedan more for their money.
  • Sleek, standout styling
  • Tons of tech features
  • Quiet interior
  • Mistimed upshifting
  • Unsettled on the roughest roads
  • Lack of rear headroom

View Pictures:  2014 Kia Cadenza

Competing automakers — particularly Honda and Toyota — have been watching sibling brands Hyundai and Kia gain ground the past few years. The South Korean companies have consistently produced stylish cars while maintaining value pricing along with their 10-year/100,000-mile warranty strategy. Now Kia's rivals have another vehicle to watch out for in their rearview mirror: the all-new 2014 Cadenza.

The Kia Cadenza's sleek sheet metal and abundant bells and whistles show just how far Kia has come from its modest beginnings, when it first entered the U.S. auto market in 1994 with the compact Sephia. In 2012, the brand achieved its 18th consecutive year of market gains in the U.S. and also its best-ever annual sales total, thanks in part to the popular Optima.

With the Cadenza, Kia set its sights on the premium sedan segment to challenge top-of-the-line (but not quite luxury) 4-doors such as the Toyota Avalon and Chevrolet Impala. And with an eye-catching exterior, luxurious interior and technology that rivals cars costing twice as much, the 2014 Kia Cadenza should have competitors worried — and car buyers in the segment giving the sedan serious consideration.

Model lineup
The Cadenza comes in one well-equipped trim level with a base price of $35,100. This gets the buyer a V6 engine, 6-speed automatic transmission, leather power seats, keyless entry with push-button start, a back-up camera, Bluetooth connectivity, a 12-speaker Infinity stereo and a navigation system with SiriusXM Traffic.

Two option packages are offered on the Cadenza. The Luxury package bumps the price up to $38,100 and adds a full-length panoramic sunroof with power retractable sunshade, HID headlamps with adaptive front lighting, a 7-inch LCD instrument cluster and a power tilt-and-telescoping steering column with a heated steering wheel. The package also includes Nappa leather seats, a memory-enabled 12-way ventilated driver's seat, heated rear seats and a power rear sunshade.

Pop for the Technology package at $41,100 and you get everything from the Luxury package, plus lane-departure warning, advanced cruise control that maintains a specified distance from the vehicle ahead, and blind-spot detection with lane-change assist to alert drivers to vehicles in their blind spots as well as fast-approaching vehicles. The package also comes with 19-inch alloy wheels, an electronic parking brake and water-repellant "hydrophobic" front side windows.

Under the hood
Kia equips the front-wheel-drive Cadenza with the most powerful V6 engine the company has ever produced. It produces 293 horsepower at 6400 rpm and 255 lb-ft of torque at 5200 rpm. The 3.3-liter, 24-valve dual-overhead-camshaft engine uses gasoline direct-injection technology that Kia says improves performance while reducing emissions.

The engine is paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission that features a Sportmatic manual shift mode as well as paddle shifters on the steering column that allow the driver control of upshifts and downshifts. Estimated Environmental Protection Agency fuel economy is 19 mpg city/28 mpg highway/22 mpg combined.

Inner space
Kia makes a big deal out of the "European design" of the Cadenza's exterior, and that it was penned by Peter Schreyer, Kia's chief of design, whom the company poached from Audi. And the interior exudes a tangible luxury that's a cut above other vehicles in this segment.

Elegant wood and chrome trim accent the Cadenza's soft leather upholstery without screaming "bling." The center console is angled toward the driver for improved access and ergonomics, while buttons for the cruise control, infotainment and Bluetooth hands-free are integrated into the steering wheel to enhance ease of operation. And, as in other Kia vehicles, the Cadenza's voice-activation system is one of the most accurate available.

Likewise, the Infinity audio system, which includes 12 speakers powered by 550 watts, performs better than many "premium" stereo options. The infotainment system provides music from almost every source available — AM, FM, CD/MP3, SiriusXM satellite radio, Bluetooth streaming and a USB port and auxiliary input jack for portables — and also includes a navigation system with SiriusXM Traffic.

This is all controlled through an 8-inch touch-screen display in the center of the dash that's intuitive and easy to use. And while Kia's UVO eServices provides features such as automatic crash notification and vehicle diagnostics, it doesn't have the range of connected services compared to other cutting-edge systems from competitors. (And not even one single app.) But you can't beat the price: free throughout the warranty period.

Something drivers may not notice at first because it's not present inside the Cadenza is noise. The car's hushed interior is due in part to the use of high-tensile steel for 60 percent of the body structure, which reduces overall vehicle weight and enhances safety since it's stronger than traditional steel. Kia also employs noise-reducing technologies ranging from triple door seals to specially designed wheels with multiple fins that help lessen wind noise at highway speeds for an interior that achieves luxury-class quiet. Our only real knock against the interior is a lack of rear headroom.

On the road
While you'll never mistake the Kia Cadenza for an entry-level luxury car such as the BMW 3-Series or an Infiniti G, it can more than hold its own among competitors in its class. Whether on winding canyon roads or at full speed on the freeway, the Cadenza rarely feels underpowered for the task at hand.

The 6-speed automatic transmission feels fine on downshifts but misses a beat on upshifts more often than we'd like. But that's what the Sportmatic manual shift mode and paddle shifters are for. Overall, the engine and transmission combo lead to a smooth if not exactly spirited driving experience. Although on rough roads the Cadenza feels a bit more unsettled than the segment-leading Toyota Avalon, in terms of ride quality the car feels much smaller than it is, and handles appreciably better than most sedans this size.

Right for you?
The 2014 Cadenza marks a new segment for Kia, and one that's crowded with recently redesigned quality vehicles such as the Toyota Avalon, Honda Accord and Chevrolet Impala. If you're shopping these vehicles and looking for more luxury and technology, the 2014 Kia Cadenza is definitely a contender. And that long warranty may help you feel better about a new, unproven model.

(As part of a sponsored press event, the automaker provided MSN with travel and accommodations to facilitate this report.)

Doug Newcomb has been covering car technology for more than 20 years for outlets ranging from Rolling Stone to Edmunds.com. In 2008, he published his first book, "Car Audio for Dummies" (Wiley). He lives and drives in Hood River, Ore., with his wife and two kids, who share his passion for cars and car technology, especially driving and listening to music.