First drive: Kia Cadenza 2011 across the UAE

First drive: Kia Cadenza 2011 across the UAE

Kia is putting a lot of faith into their all-new flagship model, the 2011 Cadenza. In fact, they are going all out to promote the full-size sedan. While even large outfits like Ford and VW cheap out at media driving events, Kia lined up close to 30 brand-new cars for the day in March. In fact, the fleet of Cadenzas was so big that most of the gathered GCC media scribes ended up one-person-per-car. I certainly enjoyed my privacy when pushing the limits of the car, instead of worrying about any aging passengers vomiting in the passenger seat.

The test cars on offer were fully loaded, with ventilated leather seats, touchscreen navigation, panoramic glass roof, HID headlights with glowing eyebrows, LED tail lamps, 17-inch alloys, push-button start and a power-adjustable steering wheel.

Once I started banging around the premium-looking cabin panels, I wasn’t sure what Kia was trying to do here. Sections of the dash and doors are truly soft to the touch, with added leather padding that oozes luxury. And then on the other hand, parts of the dash and door panels even on the upper parts are hard plastic. And while the instrument cluster gets some stitched leatherette lining, the steering wheel is a plasticky one-colour affair. As is, the Cadenza firmly competes with the Toyota Avalon, although it could’ve easily reached for Lexus with some further effort. However, given pricing that competes with midsize sedans, it is hard to argue really.

Surprisingly, the navigation/multimedia system is easy enough to figure out, probably due to my years of experience fiddling with various other systems, but it turned out to be easier to use than some others I’ve used before. The automatic a/c takes a while to cool, but does well eventually, while the Bluetooth phone also took a while to pair, but worked fine.

Another surprise came when we set off from the creekside part of the Intercontinental Festival City hotel. The initial take-off was quick, with a bit of tyre squeal even. I’d attribute this to a short first gear rather than any abundance of power.

I unintentionally ended up breaking away from the convoy as soon as we left Festival City and headed towards Hatta. The navigation was only of use if we got lost, because the provided “route book” charted a course through hundreds of rural roads that took me halfway to Fujairah and Al-Ain before doubling back to Hatta, and nicely avoiding the ridiculous Omani checkpoints that are now on the direct Dubai-Hatta road.

Along the way, I found myself hitting 240 kph, braking for speed humps, dodging camels, rolling down steep mountain roads and doing extra circles of empty roundabouts just for the heck of it. I also saw my first real donkey in a decade, standing alone on the side of the road, which was ironic because I had just watched Shrek the day before.

The Cadenza is not a sports sedan. It is not even a sporty sedan, so if anyone thought of this car as a front-wheel-drive BMW, it isn’t. However, it is a phenomenal luxury car, and driving it made me think of the Lexus reference again.

It rides softly over everything from potholes to camel dung. Even speed humps and gravel were reduced to a minor inconvenience. It is also at least as quiet as a Lexus ES, if not more so, while having better ride comfort than any BMW with run-flat tyres. Gliding around in a spacious leather-lined car with vented seats and hands-free phone, I spent my time making numerous business calls and cutting advertising deals (finally), and I could picture any CEO doing the same behind the wheel of this car.

Funnily enough, after the free lunch at Hatta Fort Hotel, the route back was through some insanely-twisty mountain roads that few probably know about, with steep ear-popping drops and blind single-lane corners. Doing the run at only moderate speeds, the Cadenza felt out of its element, with body roll and tyre squeal making a regular appearance. There wasn’t much feedback from the controls, and I kept wishing I had a sportier car to tackle those turns.

The 3.5-litre V6 engine was suitably muffled and had enough power for regular highway use, such as overtaking trucks and jumping into junctions. The 6-speed automatic gearbox was also smooth enough, though not always the quickest in responding to sudden throttle inputs. The manual-shift capability works well via the stubby shifter, but with a minor delay in responses.

Somewhere along the way, I briefly lost my way and spent a bit of time figuring out where the book wanted me to go, eventually coming across the convoy that many others chose to stick to. It was funny seeing so many Cadenzas in a line, and I started noticing things like the Lexus-inspired exhaust tips, the Audi-inspired tail lamps, and the Lincoln-inspired chrome rear-bumper strip. Some would say these are copies, but I actually felt that Kia did well to make the car look like a luxury car. The actual car also looked much better in darker colours than the lighter colours used in all the manufacturer photos.

At the end of the day, I came back convinced that Kia deserves the accolades they are getting. Even if I didn’t approve of some of the material choices, the build quality was insanely flawless. I did not notice any glaring quality issues like I usually do in Ford, GM, Nissan and even Toyota products nowadays. Their initial press conference even bragged about a 20% sales increase in 2009, at a time when all other manufacturers were making losses or going bankrupt.

While the Kia Cadenza is not for everyone and certainly not a technological innovator, it will likely satisfy the majority of luxury car buyers who wouldn’t care for the ratio between hard and soft plastics, and who would never intentionally burn rubber around turns. This car would easily appeal to casual drivers if they could overlook any pre-existing brand bias.

For prices and specs, visit the Kia Cadenza buyer guide.

What do you think?



  1. Well written…so I missed a cool drive…dammit!!! 😐

  2. Author

    You can always come to the Renault Logan drive on the 13th…..”LOL!”

  3. It does look a lot better in dark colors. I had seen one on the road today.
    And about the 8 airbags: besides the regular 2 x front; 2 x curtain and 2 x front-side airbags, there are also 2 x rear side side airbags.

  4. @ MAsh.. on ur way back from Hatta u mentioned twisty mountain roads where are they i don’t know there is only straight way back can u let me some info about that….

  5. and how did u reach Hatta Avoiding Checkposts

  6. Author

    I have no idea. The “route book” did not give a full map. It just gave directions, such as “drive 20 km and turn left.” From what I could figure out, I ended up on the road from Dubai to Fujairah and then turned off somewhere to head to Hatta. I guess you could dig through Google Earth to figure it out the roads between Hatta and Fujairah and plan a trip.

  7. Renault Logan….err..I’ll think about it….

  8. Do you have the route book with you??

  9. Author

    Nope. They always take it back.

  10. when are u going to test drive TYPE R I cant waittttt:(

  11. Author

    Type-R overlaps with the Renault Logan driving event. Logan aka Wolverine. YEAH!

  12. @ Mash.. Logan? drove it 3 years back, but i would like to come and do it again! where is this?

  13. Author

    ^ Naah, the launch is press only.

  14. Are you guys talking about logan?
    the funny looking dacia budged renault!

    Seems like logan isnt as bad as u always thought:S

  15. @Mayer
    Yup!! The Dacia… funny ugly car, but fun-to-drive. wouldn’t advise anybody to do sudden steer moves after 100kph though

  16. Can youpls post some interior photos

  17. Author
  18. Hey Faisal…I guess the road he is talking about, is when you take the first left turn frm main road after u go straight from hatta fort hotel roundabout towards omani checkpoint…that road goes and joins the Sharjah – Kalba road (Maleha road)…from there, towards Sharjah there is an exit where if you take right u reach Dhaid and if you take a left you can end up in Madam roundabout on dxb-hatta road…

  19. Front Altima Styling, BMW 5 series tail lights and lx 460 tail pipes… That’s it could have done better.

  20. Any expected pricing guys??

  21. should be around the price of a camry.

  22. Author

    It’s all in the buyer guide. Link is in the article.

  23. if you say no to rasizm , could feel better,
    made in korea.can any one tell me when they are going to lunch the kia optima 2011 2.0T,that is my dream car!!!
    by the way almost all the chevy cars in gcc made korea and uzbekistan(chevy cruze).
    and one more thing why all the guy driving bmw,merc, vw,audi are ‘proud’in the public
    but crying at ‘home’ saying about an expencive services,and over missuse of gas…
    made in korea-K I A;power to surprise!

  24. hi when this car is gona come to bahrain because i cant wait and u have the car in uae but in bahrain when they gona bring it ?????

  25. The Cadenza buyers guide mentions Dhs 90k to 110k which translates to similar pricing in Saudi as well, which is pretty expensive consideing Kia’s previous Opirus which was in the same range of Accord and Camry GLX prices.

  26. ^ the cadenza is a class above opirus

  27. kia and hyundai r competeting fr tomorrows car future and going to batch the tittle

  28. Its a basic luxury car for people that dont think too much about getting a brandname or pointless super space age technology…

  29. The Cadenza is a landmark vehicle for KIA, and as far a Hyundai- Kia are concerned, they have come up with winners in the Sonata and Cadenza.
    they are backed with 5year/100k w, and starting at AED 79k base in UAE, very soon the camrys and accords are gona have to face real fierce competition from the Koreans. Samsung and LG have done it, its not long before these guys follow suit.

  30. During test drive and comparing with other cars in this price band (90-110AED)I found CADENZA a lovely car with so many features in this price range. I have decided to go with full option CADENZA.

  31. ^ well made decision… kudos…

  32. Its been a while since there’s been a post but anyway.
    Dinesh, did you buy the full options cadenza?
    How much is a full tank and how many km’s do you get on city / highway driving?
    Any regrets / recommendations?

    Anyone know how it is compared with the 2.4 top line sonata?

    • I just got the Cadenza full options in Saudi Arabia… Actually went to buy the Sonata full options but instantly like the Cadenza better… I don’t know about other GCC countries, but in Saudia, even the full options Sonata has limited features (the biggest turn off being lack of bluetooth even with full options)… Cadenza on the other hand gives excellent value for money… From what I have read of Drivearabia’s review, there are some additional features in the full options here… To name a few, the full options comes here with 18 inch alloys instead of 17 inches, and the driver’s side seat has a back massager in it… Also, instead of JBL sound system, it has a Infinity 12 channel sound system which is capable of playing DVDs and divx… Rest of it is pretty much same… I m loving the car up till now! Might upload some pics in the rider forum if i get the time…

  33. Cadenza starting at 79k with 3 years service contract and 5 years 100k mileage

  34. ^ thats an excellent bargain..

  35. My K7 or Kia Cadenza arrived yesterday! What a beautiful car! I didn’t go with all the options, but I have to say that I am very pleased! And for about $34,000 you can’t beat that price for what you get!!

    Thanks for the review I read this over a few times before I decided to buy the Cadenza!!

    See you all on the road!

  36. more than the cars, I realy like the way you write!very witty!

  37. kia cadenza now starts at AED 73,000

  38. Boooo at the ends its Korean car i give it 1/100

  39. ^ T70… dont speak about things you know nothing about… just stick to the things you know…

    Im a very pleased and happy owner of a 2010 cadenza, i bought it seven-eight months ago, and its just perfect to me…
    i like it more than, ford 500, toyota avalon, volvo S60, Nissan maxima, Lexus ES 350, Lincoln MKZ, even the entry level of the 3-series BMW…. i’m not saying that the cadenza competes will all of these from performance point of view, but from quality, luxury, refiness, and ride quality it does for sure…

  40. Hi there,
    I have a Hyundai Santa Fe from 2007 and ever since that time I’m a huge fan of Korean Cars.

    Japanese cars have all sorts of problems and with so any recalls recently things are looking bleak.

    I think the KIA line up of cars, and the Cadenza in particular will beat expectations.

  41. im thinking of buying one, full specs.. what do u guys suggest, how are the sales there in dubai or other places.. cuz i dont see many on the roads in riyadh

    i need to keep the resale factor in my mind as well, so need your feedback on it..


  42. Hi I’m wondering if any one has long term reviews about the car.?
    I’m thinking of getting a black basic one so any feedback on this model? I saw the silver but didn’t like the look of the car in that color… any thoughts?.

  43. Just got my much awaited Cadenza in Riyadh. I had to wait for the color of my choice “Cherry red”. Well its no way near red in a lay man’s language you can call it dark Maroon.

    When all my friends and family came to know that I was going to buy a Kia there were like Kia? Out of all cars? But when they saw the cadenza they couldn’t believe wht Kia is up to. It is really a value for money..

  44. am planning to buy a KIA CADENZA… so am lookin to knw more abt the vehicle… so can u pl provided me with yo comments… i want to knw abt the mileage , power, engine life, cost … to b frank over all details!!!!!

  45. What was your 0-100?

  46. Did you take any interior pics?

    Do you believe that by changing the tyres to a better performance brand that the car will handle/steer as you’d have hoped from the start?

  47. Kia Cadenza Long term review:

    I am sure a lot of people must be waiting for the long term review of cadenza, because I was also one among them last year. I bought my cadenza last year in feb 2011, almost a year and thought it will be a good time to post my comments. Why i chose drive arabia because this is one of the best sites in the gulf region and has been very helpful to me. The intial review by Mash should say was quite accurate and I agree with each of his comment after driving for almost one year.

    Ok lets get started!! I will categorize each aspect and give rating of 1-10 for each of them

    Looks—–> 10/10
    One of the best looking sedans in this category I always turn around heads while driving in Riyadh.

    Space/comfort—-> 10/10
    Quite big both from Inside and outside. Amazing boot space. On my way to Bahrain I carried 3 suit cases and 2 hand bags and lot of other stuff. The boot is also capable of carrying long objects like Golf sticks.

    Every one can see this in the specification so I don’t need to reiteriate. All I want to say is that all options are same as full options LS E350 or may be more. The ambience of the car especially during night is amazing with beautiful mood lighting all over the cabin

    Sound system—>9/10
    One of the best sound systems I have heard. though I am not driving the full options, the dimension system I have comes with amazing bass and surround effect. The system is simple to use with options of USB, Ipod, Iphone and 6 CDs.

    Things like Hydrophobic wind shield, rain sensors, automatic folding of side mirror, rear view curtain, drivers seat automatic adjustment with entry and exit, trip computer, rear view mirror and so on.. most of the mentioned above are not ther even on Honda accord and the competitors of similar category. Even if they are it is twice as expensive.

    Power—-> 10/10
    The only car which can beat candenza in this segment is Nissan Maxima, which is 310 BHP. I have beaten Charger (v6), Toyota avalon/aurion, Honda accord and many more..

    Kia has done justice to the Power of the car by not giving good handling. I think the root cause is cheap nexen tyres, which tend to loose the grip too easily. However, Kia has rectified this in 2012 by fitting them with hankook ventus V12 (Ultra High performance tire). I hope the handling and braking improves.

    The over all rating of Car is 8/10 and for the amount of money you pay for all these options will compensate the missing two points.

  48. Hi Every one
    I had A 2011 Cadenza want start,I checked out the system and its ok, I put the smart key in its place and the same, I went under the steering wheel checked out the brake pedal after a few seconds i push the button and it starts. if any one have this issue please contact me.

  49. avalon vs cadenza please mash …

  50. Im a owner of cadenza. as i saw it at south korea, it was really fantastic and value for money.
    But i would like to say yours about truth of cadenza, if you buy hyundai or kia cars at korea, you r gona be dissapointed by its minor options and increased price than middle east; 10% more.

  51. Hi Mashfique,

    What would be the depreciation value of this car for the 1st year ?

  52. Mashfique,

    What do you think about the new Cadenza (2014-15 model) ??

    Any intentions of doing its review soon?

  53. Dear Mashfique,

    Once again… what is your opinion about the new 2015 cadenza. I would love to see your review on that.

    At 110K for full options… is it a good deal. Your thoughts please.


  54. I just checked the specs for the full option 2015 model for which Kia has reduced the price to AED109,900 till the end of Sept.

    Well…. they have taken out alot of options that are available world wide like Adaptive cruise control, Blind Spot monitoring, Lane Departure Warning OR lane assist. Above all, they are only offering in one interior colour that is beige only. No more black offered for interior colour.

    Lets see if this attracts more people for Cadenza in UAE showrooms. I liked the features that they have taken out though !!!

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