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2014 Kia Cadenza: Entry-level luxury home run

by: HYUNDAI MOTOR COMPANY - The all-new Kia Cadenza drives as good as it looks.The 2014 Cadenza, Kia's all-new entry-level luxury car, makes a lot of good first impressions. The exterior styling is handsome, the interior is well designed, the standard V6 engine is powerful, the six-speed automatic transmission is smooth and responsive, and the ride is quiet and supple.

And at under $42,000 for a fully-equipped version, the Cadeza is very competitive against luxury cars costing thousands more.

In fact, there are only a few shortcomings worth noting. The first is the name, which is too easily confused with a piece of furniture. Both Kia and is corporate sibling Hyundai are having a hard time coming up with good names for their larger cars. The Cadenza is mechanically similar to the Hyundai Azera. Kia's largest model is the all-new K900, while Hyundai has named theirs the Eqqus. Go figure.

And then there is the lack of optional engines. Unlike some competitors, there are no V8 or hybrid power plants available. This would be a much bigger problem if the 3.3-liter Gas Direct Injection engine wasn't so good, but it might cause some potential buyers to check out what others have to offer.

But walking away from the Cadenza for such reasons would be a big mistake. Put simply, Kia has done an excellent job with its first affordable luxury car since the Amanti went out of production in 2011.

When Kia and Hyundai decided to step up their game a few years ago, they didn't kid around. Both adopted striking exterior stylings, greatly improved the design and quality of their interiors, added advanced technologies as standard equipment, and came up with engines that offer more power and better fuel economy. All Kia cars except the youth-oriented Soul are similarly styled with aggressive front ends and sharp angles. The Cadenza looks like a beefed-up version of the Optima, the company's popular midsize sedan.

The interior is also upgraded, with similar easy-to-use controls but even better materials. The enterainment/navigation system was top-notch, with a rear view camera that provides a panoramic look at what's behind the car when the shift lever is in reverse. Our test model was equipped with a luxury package that included heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel and a panoramic roof with power sun shades. It also came with a technology package that included multiple safety warning systems. The packages pushed the price up to almost $42,000, which is very reasonable, considering the quality and extensive features.

On the road, the Cadenza was both quick and good handling. During my first drive, I assumed the car had been put into the Sport mode because the power train was so responsive. Only after failing to find a button for an Eco or Normal mode did I realize this is how the car is designed to perform out of the box. A manual shift mode provides for ever faster acceleration by allowing the driver to (of course) shift the transmission manually with either the shift lever or steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.

The ride is a little on the firm side, which should please enthusiasts. It is not so hard that speed bumps or broken pavement is a problem. That was the case even though our test car came with optional 19-inch wheels and lower-profile tires, a combination that has proven tiresome in some other cars.

Rear seat room is generous, allowing three adults to ride in comfort on moderate trips. And the trunk is enormous, rivaling those in cars that look larger. The combination should easily accommodate long family vacations, which is one of the reasons buy larger cars in the first place.

Although the Cadenza has just been introduced, Kia will soon be bringing out an even larger car as its flagship model, all-new K900. It comes standard with a more powerful 3.8-liter V6 and will offer a 5.0-liter V8 for those who demand that in their large luxury cars. Personally, we wouldn't be surprised is many potential K900 customers don't end up buying Cadenzas instead. It's that good.

Facts and figures (all models)

• Model tested: 2014 Cadenza.

• Manufacturer: Kia.

• Class: Fullsize sedan.

• Layout: Front engine, front-wheel-drive.

• Style: Four-door, five passenger car.

• Engines: 3.3-liter Gas Direct Injection V6 (293 hp, 255 ft-lbs).

• Transmission: Six-speed automatic.

• Fuel Economy: 19/28/22.

• Price: Starting at around $33,600 ($41,900 as tested).