2017 Kia Cadenza Review
Liz Kim | Jun 27, 2017
IntroductionBig cars used to be a big deal. Long, low, but definitely not lean, full-size sedans and wagons once ruled American highways and byways, serving as the family cars of choice in the decades before people decided that SUVs were a better solution.
Today, size XL sedans are just as likely to be driven by law enforcement officers, government officials, and tourists as they are private citizens. And even within this ecosystem, the Kia Cadenza is essentially invisible.
To put this car into perspective, consider that Kia sold approximately 1,625 examples of the Cadenza during the first 4 months of 2017. Some of the cars that outsold the Cadenza include the BMW i3, Chevrolet SS, and the Volvo V60. Smart came within 200 units of beating the Cadenza's sales tally with the tiny little Fortwo.
Should people pay more attention to cars like the Kia Cadenza, which is completely redesigned for 2017? Perhaps, but with pricing that overlaps entry-level luxury cars, they're a tough sell no matter how good they are. Mercedes-Benz sold more than 17 times the number of C-Class cars as Kia sold Cadenzas during the first 4 months of this year.
To see whether or not this car deserves greater consideration, we evaluated a 2017 Cadenza Limited with an extra-cost cargo net. The price came to $45,340, including the $900 destination charge.
What Owners SayBefore we discuss the results of our evaluation of the redesigned 2017 Cadenza, it's helpful to understand who typically buys large cars like this one. According to J.D. Power research data, buyers of large cars are predominantly men (67%), with a median age of 58 and a median annual household income of $104,469.
As far as Cadenza buyers are concerned, the majority consider themselves to be practical buyers, at 55% compared with 32% for the segment, and they are far less likely to demonstrate a preference to buy from a domestic company, at 41% compared with 62%.
Cadenza buyers are more concerned about fuel economy, with 63% agreeing that it is their first consideration when choosing a vehicle (vs. 56% for the segment), and they express a willingness to pay more for a vehicle that is environmentally friendly (73% vs. 50%).
People who buy the Cadenza are more likely to strongly agree that their first consideration in choosing a vehicle is quality of workmanship (68% vs. 54%) and reliability (73% vs. 59%), that they like a vehicle offering responsive handling and powerful acceleration (86% vs. 61%), and that they are willing to pay extra to ensure that their vehicle has the latest safety features.
What Our Expert SaysIn the sections that follow, our expert provides her own assessment of how the new 2017 Cadenza performs in each of the 10 categories that comprise the J.D. Power 2016 U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study.SM
ExteriorKia alters the Cadenza's appearance based on trim level, and of the three trims–Premium, Technology, and Limited–my favorite is the Technology for the concave "Intaglio" grille and sharp looking wheels. Paint it Gravity Blue and I'm sold.
Generally speaking, the Cadenza is tastefully attractive and convincingly upscale, though the front and rear overhangs are a bit excessive. The Z-shaped front and rear lighting elements add flair, and the tapered greenhouse gives the car a sporty look.
InteriorCohesive design themes continue inside the car, but busy detailing, flip-flopped climate and stereo controls, gloss black trim that attracts dust and fingerprints, and sickly red nighttime control lighting detract from the ambience.
It is also too easy to spot examples of how Kia keeps the car's cost in check, especially in the Limited version, which has premium perforated Nappa leather with diamond-stitched bolsters at the same time that its simulated wood might get kicked out of a 1970s-era Ford LTD. Faux suede on the headliner and roof pillars oozes luxury, while the cabin's lower plastic panels scream Spectra.
In short, it looks good at a glance, but upon further inspection the Cadenza's interior makes promises it can't keep.
SeatsThanks to heated and cooled front seats, along with a heated steering wheel, I found the Cadenza Limited to be quite comfortable, and the rear seating area is positively huge. My test car also had window shades for the side and rear glass, adding a measure of privacy.
My husband, however, said that the Cadenza's seats did not provide long-distance comfort and support. On a 3-hour trip, he said they felt hard and flat by the time he reached his destination.
Climate Control SystemKia elects to place the climate controls directly below the infotainment screen, which is where most car companies locate the stereo controls. Owners will acclimate to this quickly, unless they cycle between the Cadenza and another vehicle in the household that has the more traditional arrangement.
Aside from their location, the collection of buttons and knobs is easy to use, featuring clear markings and intuitive operation. An analog clock punctuates them, though–an unnecessary and unconvincing addition to the Cadenza's interior.
Infotainment SystemAside from a screen that is small by modern standards, Kia's infotainment technology is robustly outfitted. Better yet, since primary radio and climate functions are separated from the screen, interaction with it is minimized.
Called UVO, the system features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone projection, free eServices functions, and basic TeenSafe driving features including speed, curfew, and boundary alerts. Kia offers eServices for free for 10 years, providing the TeenSafe driving services plus automatic collision notification, 911 assistance, and even a "find my car" function.
The test car also had a Harman Kardon premium sound system with Clari-Fi music-restoration technology, and it delivered impressive sound in terms of its depth and clarity.
Storage and SpaceCadenza buyers will find plenty of storage space inside this car's roomy cabin. The trunk, however, measures 16 cu. ft., which is about the same size as the smaller Optima sedan. This illustrates one reason why people might not choose full-size cars anymore.
Visibility and SafetyOutward visibility in the Cadenza is fine, and the test car included a number of upgrades that help a driver to maneuver the vehicle, including a wiper de-icing system, rear park-assist sensors, LED headlights with automatic high-beam operation, surround-view camera, and a head-up display.
Kia also supplies a full roster of driving-assistance and collision-avoidance systems for the Cadenza, but they could use some refinement. The adaptive cruise control system behaved like a nervous Nellie on a curving coastal highway, the lane-departure warning system is irritating, and the blind-spot warning system is too subtle.
As for crashworthiness, the Cadenza earns the highest-posssible rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)– a "Top Safety Pick+" nod. The car could only improve in terms of headlight illumination and how easy it is to use the child safety seat latch anchors.
Engine/TransmissionCadenza buyers might be concerned about fuel economy and could be willing to pay extra for an environmentally friendly vehicle, but this full-size sedan comes only with a 3.3-liter V-6 engine making 290 horsepower.
At the same time, Cadenza buyers express a strong preference for powerful acceleration, and this Kia delivers. The trick is to push the accelerator pedal all the way to the floor, and then this otherwise leisurely car comes alive. Kia ought to consider adding all-wheel drive (AWD) as an option, though, because the front wheels can easily break loose under hard acceleration.
Over time, the 8-speed automatic transmission's Smart driving mode adapts to your style. Once that happens, the transmission always seems to be in the right gear at the right time, making the Cadenza more enjoyable to drive.
Fuel EconomyAccording to the EPA, the Cadenza is rated to get 20 mpg city, 28 mpg highway, and 23 mpg in combined driving. I averaged 23.3 mpg, so these estimates appear to be accurate.
Driving DynamicsEquipped with responsive brakes, electric steering that feels natural throughout its range of motion, and confidence-inspiring handling, the Cadenza is enjoyable to drive.
It is not, however, engaging to drive.
Nothing about this Kia's mechanical components puts an unexpected smile on a driver's face, or encourages back-road shenanigans. You get in, you drive to your destination, you get out, and you don't remember much, if anything, about what it was like to drive the Cadenza between points A and B.
Given the type of car that it is, this is less a criticism and more an observation.
Final ImpressionsThere is nothing particularly wrong with the new Kia Cadenza, but at the same time the car fails to distinguish itself in a segment that is dwindling in terms of consumer interest.
Buick's new LaCrosse, in the top trim level anyway, is legit luxurious and fun to drive. The Chevrolet Impala is stylish and huge, including its trunk. The Chrysler 300 has the whole fake-Bentley thing going on. The Dodge Charger has gigantic V-8 engines and muscle car attitude. The Toyota Avalon enjoys a reputation for reliability, and offers a hybrid powertrain that gets impressive mileage. Plus, Buick, Chrysler, and Dodge offer AWD.
Where does this leave the new Cadenza? Aside from its industry-leading warranty, free UVO eServices, and top-rated safety scores, this Kia is the car for people who prefer alternatives to the status quo.
Kia Motors America supplied the vehicle used for this 2017 Kia Cadenza review.
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