2017 Kia Cadenza First Drive Review: Splitting the Hairs of Luxury
Luxuriate in the Corners but Don't Drive the Cadenza Like a Sport SedanKia Cadenza Full Overview
Splitting the difference in luxury is like splitting hairs. Does luxury maintain its appeal if it's available to nearly everyone? Kia thinks so, and with the new 2017 Cadenza, the automaker is targeting anyone who has ever wanted lots of premium features and miles of ultra-quiet interior space.
Nestled between the top-of-the-line rear-drive Kia K900 and the midsize front-drive Kia Optima is the front-drive Cadenza. Not quite as big or luxurious as the K900, the 2017 Cadenza gets updates to make it more upscale, more mature, and more refined. The revised Cadenza's styling and features-list make a fantastic argument for bridge luxury.
First, Kia tackled the looks of the Cadenza. Under the well-trained eye of the man who brought us the iconic first-generation Audi TT, Peter Schreyer, the Cadenza gets an athletic overhaul. The car is the same length as its predecessor though the wheelbase has been extended by 0.4 inches, the entire car has been lowered by 0.2 inches, and widened by nearly an inch. The extension of the character line along the body makes it look taut, and inside there's one cubic foot of extra interior space, with rear passengers benefiting from an extra 0.4 inches of leg room.
The overhaul didn't stop with just looks. The front-wheel drive, full-size sedan is powered by a revised 3.3-liter direct-injected V-6 that makes 290 hp and 253 lb-ft of torque. The engine is mated to a new eight-speed automatic transmission that was designed in-house. The outgoing model had more horsepower and torque (by 3 hp and 2 lb-ft), but the 2017 Cadenza is EPA-rated at 20/28 mpg city/highway, compared to the 2016 model's 19/28 mpg (2017 ratings are more stringent than before). That 20/28 mpg is just above the 2017 Chevrolet Impala's 18-19/28 mpg, about even with the 2017 Hyundai Azera's 19-20/28 mpg, and below the 2017 Buick LaCrosse's 21/31 mpg with front-wheel drive.
The 2017 Cadenza, which weighs around 3,600-3,800 pounds depending on the model, gets MacPherson independent struts in the front and a multilink suspension in the rear, and the suspension has been re-tuned for a smoother ride. Improvements to the suspension include amplitude damping and hydraulic rebound stoppers, which help you feel the road beneath you without launching your kidneys from your body. The result is a communicative but still soft and smooth ride, even over rough railroad crossings and on gravel roads.
To give a more luxurious feel to the 2017 Kia Cadenza, the car's torsional rigidity is increased by 35 percent, yet with a lighter body structure. A more rigid structure and retuned suspension don't mean that the Cadenza corners like a sports sedan; there is ample body roll. On twisting roads through Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, the Cadenza was wallowy in the corners and slid backseat occupants from one side of the car to the other when pushed. But this is a full-size sedan—one that takes work to drive quickly on narrow twisting roads. It's a car you luxuriate in the turns instead of push hard. To assist with that, Kia replaced the outgoing car's 16-bit ECU with a 32-bit version, and replacing the steel steering knuckles with aluminum ones. The result is a slightly better steering feel, though there is still some numbness on center.
To address some of those niggling numb steering concerns, Kia offers a drive mode select system, versions of which we've seen on other Kias and Hyundais. The driver can toggle through four different driving modes by using a button near the gear selector on the center stack. On start-up the car defaults to Comfort mode. Push the button again and you can slide into Eco, Sport, or Smart mode. In each mode, the steering weight and transmission change to adjust the driving dynamics. Smart mode monitors your driving habits and adapts the steering weight and transmission to deliver the best settings for your driving style. Changes between modes are at best subtle; in Eco and Comfort the steering is slightly lighter and subtly more desensitized, and the throttle is soft. Move up to our preferred driving setting, Sport mode, and the steering gets a little heavier and the transmission shifts sooner, maximizing the car's 290 hp.
That transmission is surprisingly good, too. The eight-speed is seamless, smooth, and almost unnoticeable, whether you use the steering-wheel-mounted paddles or let the system do the work. The company is proud that it opted to use in-house resources to develop the transmission rather than go to a supplier like ZF or Aisin, and says this is the first time an automaker has used an in-house developed, eight-speed automatic in a front-drive car. The new transmission has a greater span in ratios than the outgoing model, making for quicker down and upshifts. Though on a full-size sedan, paddle shifters are a lot like a fish with a bicycle, they're ubiquitous across the industry and here to stay. Grabbing the left paddle before a turn, it's almost impossible to tell that the car has downshifted without looking at the dash to confirm it.
One of the 2017 Kia Cadenza's best features is the available adaptive cruise control. We tried it out on some of the 55 mph roads that lead up to the soft shoulders of the Blue Ridge Mountains. With the system set at the speed limit, we were following along with traffic when someone two cars ahead slammed on the brakes. The system braked smoothly, taking the car down to 25 mph to adjust for the stopped traffic ahead, and as traffic moved on, it moved back up to speed all without any pedal input from us. The adaptive cruise feature is available only on the mid- and top-level Cadenza, but is well worth the investment.
Near-luxury cars need more than just a smooth driving experience, however—such cars need the right equipment, style, and comfort in the cabin. The 2017 Cadenza we drove was the loaded Limited trim with Kia's new color head-up display complete with speed limit, speed, and navigation indicators. The 2017 Cadenza Limited also gets quilted Nappa leather seats with an extended driver-side leg extension, plus heated and ventilated seats. Inside, the Cadenza is very quiet until you reach highway speeds, when you barely hear the external world whistling by. And at certain speeds, it does whistle. Wind noise is noticeable around the side view mirrors at speeds of 65 mph and up. Kia did a lot of work on the underbody pan borrowed from the higher level K900 and added air curtain intakes at the front fascia to help break up wind vortices as the car moves forward, reducing drag marginally. The automaker also added triple laminated front windows and sound insulation to the A-pillars to create an even more silent interior.
Although the Cadenza is quiet, the interior's center stack of controls is a little button-heavy, and in our tester with the upgraded eight-inch touchscreen, the updated UVO system was slow to respond to touch and clunky to use when we tried to find our hotel by inputting its name and the city it was in. Kia has also locked out navigation input once the car is moving, rendering the passenger useless if they need to change a destination. Because the Cadenza now offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, most owners will have an alternative navigation option as long as the connected phone has reception.
The 2017 Kia Cadenza makes a good argument for spending less to get more luxury. Although Kia hasn't announced pricing for the 2017 Cadenza, which will go on sale in late October, executives did say that the base level model will start below $32,000, less a delivery charge of $895. That's about $1,000 less than the 2016 Kia Cadenza. With the loaded Limited model starting below $44,000, Kia makes luxury seem a lot more attainable.
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The very idea of a Kia luxury sedan seemed utterly ridiculous as recently as 2012, just before the original Cadenza appeared, raising eyebrows as the Korean brand put what it considered a first stake in the ground in the luxury sphere. But as we took our first spin in the second-generation 2017 Cadenza and adjusted the gap distance for the radar cruise control, no one was impressed with the fact that a Kia even had radar cruise control. Rather, we simply tested its newfound stop-and-go capability—as well as lane-departure mitigation and many other electro-nannies—just as we would if it were a Lexus ES350, a Lincoln MKZ, or a Buick LaCrosse. This near-luxury-sedan segment remains fiercely competitive even as total sales slacken against the rise of plushly trimmed crossover vehicles.
So, yeah, the idea of Kia doing luxury is no longer novel. The Cadenza is not even the fanciest Kia now that the big, rear-drive K900 exists. But the 2017 Cadenza is not just a car stuffed with nice things, it’s a car that puts those nice things together in a harmonious way—you know, like luxury brands do. Whereas the first Cadenza felt a little wobbly in its fancy heels, this one has caught its stride.
Prettiest Kia Ever?
Much of the positive impression can be attributed to Kia’s exterior design language as curated by Hyundai/Kia global design chief Peter Schreyer. Few of the brand’s cars wear it as well as the new Cadenza. No longer looking like an engorged Optima, the new model takes a strong stance with tall, clean body panels (made of heavier-gauge, more dent-resistant steel, says Kia), sizable fender flares, and a high, ducktail trunk. Kia’s signature “tiger nose” grille now stretches into the headlamps, which, like the taillamps, feature Z-shaped LED accents. The steep windshield leads into a longer, more rearward-set greenhouse with new trapezoidal rear quarter-windows that recall those of the 2017 Volvo S90. Indeed, there’s enough Volvo S90 both in the linear body sides and side-window graphic, not to mention the concave slats of the elegant “Intaglio” grille of mid- and top-tier trim levels, that one wonders if Schreyer has a mole in Gothenburg.
HIGHS: Regal presence, quiet ride, impressive interior, huge trunk.
The sense of elegance continues inside. Our test car arrived with the “White package,” one of four available décor themes. The package includes ivory-colored, diamond-quilted leather seats that feel as supple as those in a Mercedes-Benz S550, set dramatically within an all-black backdrop of carpets, dash and door panels, and even black pearlescent wood grain. The pillars and roof are lined in a bone-colored faux suede. Comfort: Check. Sense of occasion: Double check.
If you happen to get in back, prepare to enjoy some real spread-out room—seriously, it’s huge—and a great view up through the panoramic sunroof that’s standard issue on Technology and SXL models. Kia knows what this segment wants and made the rear seat a big priority, giving it 0.4 inch more legroom than before, sculpted seatbacks, USB and 12-volt power ports, and, on SXL models, outboard seat heaters and power sunshades for the side glass and rear window. It lacks only rear-seat climate controls to tick all the boxes in a feature comparison with the segment stalwarts.
The Cadenza’s confines deserve praise; its interior design and execution are nicer than that in the Cadillac CT6, a much pricier car that is let down a little by its interior. The Kia’s gorgeous leather, well-laid-out controls, and easy-to-learn button arrangement all earn high marks. The 8.0-inch center screen seemed small to some, although it’s the same size as the frameless one that takes center stage in the latest Buick LaCrosse, a key competitor. Nothing seems cheap except for the piano-black finish on the center console, which showed some scratches on a car with just 1800 miles or so on its odometer, scars that don’t bode well for its long-term durability.
Driving: More of the Same
Driving the Cadenza generates less enthusiasm. It is powered by the same direct-injected 3.3-liter V-6 as the outgoing model, although now it’s down slightly from 293 horsepower and 255 lb-ft of torque to 290 horses and 253 lb-ft. It pairs with Kia’s new eight-speed automatic transmission. The engine is powerful enough and not noisy, but it’s not quiet enough to be remarkable in this segment.
On the road, the 2017 model behaves much like the original Cadenza, with the new, in-house-developed eight-speed transmission adding little discernible sharpness to the shifts but taking nothing away from its overall tranquility. The available drive-mode selector did elicit a few “Now what’s that doing here?” responses and barely livened up the car’s reflexes in Sport mode. If the new transmission was a fuel-economy play, it didn’t do much; the EPA city rating rises from 19 mpg to 20 mpg year-over-year, while the 28-mpg highway rating stays the same.
More central to this car than quick acceleration are its heavenly ride and hushed interior, so we were pleased to find that lumpy rural two-lanes were ironed into gentle ribbons by a suspension that absorbs pretty much everything. If there’s a dynamic benchmark Kia was after here, it may be the Lexus ES350, which is not anyone’s idea of a serious driver’s car. The Kia is silky smooth, while the well-isolated steering is vague and overboosted but better than that of the previous Cadenza. Handling limits are easy to find by listening for the squealing protestations of the tires, which occur early and often on a twisty road, even with the SXL’s large, dark-satin 19-inch wheels and attendant low-profile rubber. The brakes proved adequate, with excellent pedal feel for those perfect chauffeur stops.
LOWS: Lacks character, ho-hum V-6, unremarkable dynamics.
The 2017 Cadenza hits dealerships in late October or early November. Final pricing will be announced just before that, but we know the base Cadenza will start right around $33,000, with the mid-grade Technology package available for about $40,000 and the loaded SXL—also called Limited—coming in at less than $45,000. Beyond the price, this is a car that never could have emerged in Kia’s early years: a bona fide near-luxury sedan that can hold its own next to the admittedly benign competitors. If the original Cadenza was a stake in the ground, the new car proves that it was planted in fertile soil.
2017 Kia Cadenza
front-engine, front-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door sedan
ESTIMATED BASE PRICES
DOHC 24-valve V-6, aluminum block and heads, direct fuel injection
204 in3, 3342 cm3
290 hp @ 6400 rpm
253 lb-ft @ 5200 rpm
8-speed automatic with manual shifting mode
Wheelbase: 112.4 in
Length: 195.7 in
Width: 73.6 in
Height: 57.9 in
Passenger volume: 106-109 ft3
Cargo volume: 16 ft3
Curb weight (C/D est): 3650-3800 lb
PERFORMANCE (C/D EST)
Zero to 60 mph: 6.7-6.8 sec
Zero to 100 mph: 16.6-16.7 sec
Standing ¼-mile: 15.1-15.2 sec
Top speed: 145 mph
EPA city/highway driving: 20/28 mpg
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If you think the words “luxury” and “Kia” can’t be spoken in the same breath, you haven’t looked closely at the Cadenza. Kia’s full-size sedan offers a long list of standard and optional features, along with the brand’s signature value pricing and an unbeatable warranty. Its cabin is well-built and comfortable, and the Cadenza is a rolling technology showcase, wrapping up the latest gear in one handsome package. Performance isn’t showstopping, but lap times aren’t important when your primary intention is to arrive in style.
What's New for 2017?
Completely redesigned from bumper to bumper, the 2017 Cadenza has a sleek interior and modern technologies such as Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and an available head-up display. The 3.3-liter V-6 engine has been retuned for better fuel economy and pairs to a new eight-speed automatic transmission. For the first time, the Cadenza offers a full suite of active safety technology.
- Premium: $32,890
- Technology: $39,890
- Limited: $45,290
Engine, Transmission, and Performance
The Cadenza’s engine is velvety and competent. The revised 3.3-liter V-6 makes 290 horsepower, and while the engine itself is a smooth operator, initial throttle response is sleepy. The eight-speed automatic is carefree, but it's never quick to change gears and stumbles under heavy throttle. The Cadenza’s fair acceleration, refined ride, and handling capability will satisfy those in the market for a full-size sedan. Braking performance needs improvement, though, and other rivals simply offer more speed and better cornering ability. The suspension soaks up bumps admirably and manages to keep body motions in check. The Cadenza’s helm is light to the touch; comfort is prioritized over sportiness here, but it’s still a competent handler.
EPA fuel-economy testing and reporting procedures have changed over time. For the latest numbers on current and older vehicles, visit the EPA’s website and select Find & Compare Cars.
Interior, Comfort, and Cargo
The Cadenza’s classy, well-built cabin provides the same luxuries as its rivals and then some. Overall, the Cadenza is a lovely space to spend time. A high-quality, elegant interior pulls cues from models above the Kia's class. The leather-trimmed seats, with beautiful quilted panels in our Limited test car, were highly supportive. The optional ventilated front seats were weak enough that we often couldn’t tell whether they were cooling our hindquarters. Its average-size trunk, limited cubbies, and lack of folding rear seats make the Cadenza less flexible than the competition. Despite these shortcomings, it comes close to other full-size rivals in practicality.
Infotainment and Connectivity
A high level of standard infotainment equipment is a great start, and the Cadenza kicks it up a notch with a software package that’s easy to operate. Base Cadenzas, oddly known as the Premium trim level, have a 7.0-inch infotainment touchscreen and come with standard features that include Bluetooth, USB and Auxiliary inputs, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and an eight-speaker audio system. Higher trims and option packages add amenities like an 8.0-inch touchscreen, navigation, and a premium Harman/Kardon sound system with 12 speakers. All models have Kia's UVO eServices, an onboard telematics system that can diagnose a mechanical problem, alert the driver for vehicle maintenance, and call for help in the event of an accident.
Safety Features and Crash Test Ratings
For more information about the Kia Cadenza’s crash-test results, visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) websites.
Some older vehicles are still eligible for coverage under a manufacturer's Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) program. For more information visit our guide to every manufacturer's CPO program.
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