2017 Kia Cadenza Limited First Review

By Keith Buglewicz on August 22, 2016 3:00 PM

For a market segment that's handily overshadowed by a number of other comfy, $40,000-ish conveyances, there certainly are a lot of full-size sedans out there. Beyond our Best Buy winner Chevrolet Impala, there's the Toyota Avalon, Nissan Maxima, Hyundai Azera, and Ford Taurus. You can even include the Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300 if you like, even though they're bringing rear-drive to a front-drive party.

There's also the Kia Cadenza, a car that hasn't exactly lit sales charts on fire in the three years it has been available. Yet after finding 28,000 happy homes for its first-generation Cadenza, Kia felt that there was enough interest in the big-but-not-really-luxury-sedan market to continue the model, and has introduced the second-generation 2017 Kia Cadenza to the market. 

Sedan lovers will be happy

The 2017 Kia Cadenza isn't a segment-redefining car by any stretch. Rather, it reminds us most of the Impala: It takes the best of the brand it represents, packages it into a large four-door sedan, and puts it out there for a reasonable-but-not-cheap price. The new Cadenza's compelling blend of big-sedan features -- comfort, style, refinement, technology, and space, especially rear seat space...wow -- is sure to attract big sedan lovers, and maybe even a few who might otherwise consider a crossover SUV.

Imagine the old Kia Cadenza went to fat camp, and you have the 2017 Cadenza. Previously handsome but forgettable, the new Cadenza boasts several eye-catching elements. The revised "tiger nose" design features a concave grille with one of two inserts, depending on model. It's flanked by multi-element headlights and quad-lens fog lights below, at least on the Limited models we drove. Z-shaped LED lights accentuate the profile at both ends, blending into a shoulder line that runs across the upper part of the doors and fenders. It splits the difference between the smaller, edgy Optima sedan, while implying the premium experience of the larger luxury-class Kia K900.

Two-level dash

The interior benefits from a two-level dash, with "things you look at" on top -- gauges and infotainment screen -- and "things you press" below. Kia goofs by putting the climate controls directly under the infotainment screen -- it should be the infotainment controls -- but otherwise it's a smart, comfortable, and upscale design. The gauges, controls, and switchgear all look and feel high-end, with touches like the diamond pattern on the seat bolsters giving an impression of luxury. But the Cadenza isn't trying to punch above its weight, and is perfectly happy to be a premium Kia sedan, like a "super Optima."

One important point: If this class of car were judged solely by back seat room, the Cadenza would be a clear winner. There's ample headroom, tons of legroom, and the floor is mostly flat, meaning there's not much of a hump in the center of the floor for a middle-seat passenger to contend with.

The drive

Our route took us through Virginia horse country around Middleburg, Virginia, and on into the area surrounding the Shenandoah Valley. "Spectacular" is a nice summary of the scenery, and "oppressive" equally summarizing the humidity to my California-based weather sensibilities. Yet somehow between fallen trees blocking the road, vultures eyeing us hungrily as they stood on the pavement, and even a random bear sighting, we actually were able to evaluate the car itself.

Under the hood of the 2017 Cadenza is Kia's tried-and-true 3.3-liter V6, putting out 290 horsepower and 253 lb-ft of torque. It's connected to a new Kia-designed 8-speed automatic transmission making its debut here. The suspension is an evolution of the previous generation setup, adding sophisticated shock absorbers that use what Kia calls Amplitude Selective Damping. The idea is that they adjust to different conditions, and combined with an internal Hydraulic Rebound Stopper, makes the most of the new car's stiffer structure to smooth the ride over harsh surfaces. The electrically assisted steering raised a red flag when we found out the assist was on the column and not the rack, a layout that usually results in an artificial feel and a tendency to wander on highways.

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Yet those fears were quashed when we hit the road. The steering is actually better than fine, offering good effort in corners, and very good straight-line stability. The engine possesses plenty of gusto and the new 8-speed transmission provides for either robust acceleration or relaxed cruising, depending on the driver's right foot. The composed and comfortable suspension benefited from mostly smooth pavement on our route, but it handled long stretches of Interstate and tight twisting sections through the Shenandoah with equal ease. Kia doesn't bill the Cadenza as a sport sedan, despite shift paddles on the steering wheel and selectable driving mode function that includes "Sport." Yet keeping that in mind, the big Cadenza felt at home on the two-lane highways we encountered, although it is clearly more in its element when cruising long stretches of open road.

Plenty of tech

As for technology, there's Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and an excellent Harman/Kardon audio system that blew our ears away. The cruise control and blind spot warnings all worked well, although we never felt a "nudge" from the advanced blind spot system that will actively prevent you from switching lanes into another car. Interestingly there's no lane-keeping assist function, just a lane drift warning that, on our car at least, was set way too sensitive; we'll chalk it up to early-production calibration.

Prices for the 2017 Cadenza will start at $32,890 for a base Premium model with the Technology model opening at $39,890 and the fully-loaded, range-topping Cadenza Limited commanding $45,290. All three are solidly priced and highly competitive in a segment that, while not as popular as it once was, still has its fans. With more cars like the Cadenza, that fan base could very well grow. 


 

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