2015 Kia Cadenza Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
May 28, 2015

The 2015 Kia Cadenza is no sport sedan, and not quite a luxury car, but it offers many of the features premium buyers want, excepting maybe the badge, for a solid price.

Just in the year since it's been introduced, the Kia Cadenza has been joined by an even larger, luxury-minded sedan, the rear-wheel-drive K900. Yet the Cadenza, the value-oriented brand's first sedan foray above the $40,000 base-price level, represents Kia's desire to be taken seriously as a brand that can provide luxury—even if that's very value-oriented luxury, like in this case.

The 2015 Kia Cadenza continues to try to erase memories of the similarly-sized Kia Amanti while injecting the brand's latest European-influenced design and sporty demeanor, without actually being sporty. The Cadenza is closely related to the Hyundai Azera, but the two are well differentiated by unique exterior and interior treatments. The Azera's smooth, flowing design and deeply sculpted sheetmetal stand in contrast to the Cadenza's taut, more athletic look.

Kia isn't actually calling the Cadenza a luxury sedan--just a 'premium' one. And it's in an in-between market niche that some shoppers might find just right. At $35,700, the 2015 Cadenza includes lots of standard equipment and is quite the value considering it's about the same price as a well-optioned Optima (SX Limited), Accord, or Camry, all of which are smaller. With the Luxury Package and the Technology Package added to that, you get things like a panoramic sunroof, power retractable sunshade, Nappa ventilated seats, a heated steering wheel, 19-inch alloys, smart cruise control, blind-spot detection, and lane departure warning—all for about $42k.

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The 2015 Kia Cadenza feels quick and responsive relative to other large front-drive four-doors; it's not a true sport sedan by any stretch. Power is provided by a 3.3-liter V-6, making 293 horsepower and 255 pound-feet. The V-6 doesn't make all that much torque at the low end of the rev band, which means that stepping away from a standing start, or up a steep hill, feels a bit more sluggish than you'd guess from its power output—until the revs build, and then you rocket ahead. Steering lacks road feel and requires a lot of small corrections to stay on course on the highway. When driven at anything but a sport-sedan pace, this is a car that feels confident on the back roads yet maneuverable in town.

The Cadenza has top-notch interior comfort, without those boat-like old-fashioned big-car motions. It's also luxury-car quiet inside. Get the Luxury Package and you'll have ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, and even an extendable driver's thigh bolster—something rare in this class of cars and something that will be appreciated by tall drivers. In back, the available panoramic roof really limits headroom, though.

Once you're in, this is a sedan, that won't let you down on the subtle details. The Cadenza is a very quiet-riding sedan, with almost no wind noise, and very little road noise, at highway speeds. Materials, and the leather upholstery, are very impressive throughout the cabin.

The Cadenza gets Kia's UVO eServices system, which provides integrated roadside assistance, diagnostics, and other services, through a paired smartphone (no separate subscription is required). It also has Kia's eight-inch touch-screen system that responds well to natural voice commands and includes plenty of traditional physical buttons to back things up. Navigation is included as a standard feature, and it's one of the best systems on the market, with clear, colorful displays, live traffic information, and easy-to-intuit split-screen views.

Luxury badge or not, that's going to seem like a deal to a great many families and comfort-minded folks.

8

2015 Kia Cadenza

Styling

The Cadenza isn't a sports sedan, but its handsomely rendered shape is appropriate for one.

With great proportions, an athletic stance, and clean, uninterrupted sheetmetal, the 2015 Kia Cadenza looks like a sport sedan even though it doesn't act like one. As with all the latest Kia products designed under the direction of Peter Schreyer, the Cadenza has hints of European influence throughout while managing to avoid being derivative.

Based on the Hyundai Azera, the Cadenza blazes its own trail stylistically. The interior and exterior are different enough that you wouldn't suspect anything underneath is shared.

The Cadenza's side profile is arguably more interesting to look at than many other large sedans; the proportions are sporty, with the long hood and short rear making it appear to be rear-drive, unlike many of its front-drive couch-on-wheels competitors. The rather blunt nose, combined with available HID headlamps and LED running lamps, and the quite long, nicely contoured hood, give it an overt look in front. The sides feature a subtle crease that wraps directs the eye to the taillights.

Above, in some models, is a twin-panel panoramic roof setup; with its blacked-out panels, it helps punctuate the look from the outside, and it brings a lot more light into the cabin.

Inside, the look is rich and finely detailed, with soft-touch and nicely grained materials for the upper dash, plus woodgrain for the steering wheel and dash and door trim. Controls and displays are laid out in a cockpit style, with plenty of supplementary steering-wheel controls. Front and center on the dash, there's a mix of the traditional and the leading edge. An analog clock lets us know that this model is reaching up to the premium and luxury crowd, while Kia's latest eight-inch high-resolution touch-screen system sits just above it. Two rows of buttons are laid out below the screen—the upper one for climate, the lower for audio and navigation.

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2015 Kia Cadenza

Performance

Comfort comes first in big sedans like the Cadenza, but it accelerates smartly and brakes swiftly.

The 2015 Kia Cadenza is relatively quick and responsive for a car its size. That said, those who want something verging on a sport sedan are going to find that the Cadenza is missing some of the fine athletic nuance that can make a large, front-wheel-drive sedan rewarding to drive, and much of that is a matter of steering and handling.

Push the roughly 3,800-pound Cadenza hard into a corner, and you'll realize quickly that it's tuned for comfort; the body control is better than some other large sedans, but it has neither the steering feel nor the dynamic chops to satisfy enthusiasts. This is a car that feels athletic enough on the twisty sections, provided you're not truly expecting to extract the most out of curvy canyon roads or hustle on country back roads. Brakes feel surprisingly strong and confident, however.

Steering feel is on the light side, and while it loads up enough off center to be helpful, there's very little, if any, feel of the road. It also requires more attention and small adjustments than it should at highway cruising speeds. The lightness does pay off at parking speeds, making it easy to maneuver.

This year, the Cadenza Limited gets Kia's Flex Steer system, which allows the driver to select one of three different steering weights.

Power is provided by a 3.3-liter V-6, making 293 horsepower and 255 pound-feet. This new-generation, all-aluminum engine is direct-injected, with dual continuous variable valve timing, a timing chain, and three-stage variable induction.

The Cadenza's V-6 doesn't make all that much torque at the low end of the rev band (the V-6 in Toyota's Avalon feels perkier that way), which means that stepping away from a standing start, or up a steep hill, feels a bit more sluggish than you'd guess from its power output—until the revs build, and then you rocket ahead. Meanwhile fifth and sixth gear are quite tall, so the transmission downshifts frequently on long highway grades, or when simply resuming the cruise control from small drops in speed.

There's no sport mode for the powertrain or the stability control. There are, however, steering-wheel paddle-shifters, plus a manual gate on the console, that let you manually command the gears.

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2015 Kia Cadenza

Comfort & Quality

The panoramic roof cuts too much into rear-seat headroom, but the Cadenza has a well-trimmed interior.

Choose a big sedan like the 2015 Kia Cadenza, that's not overtly a sport sedan, and you might expect the ride quality to be pillowy, almost queasy. As with many of the latest entries in this class, that's no longer the case; the Cadenza has top-notch interior comfort, without those boat-like old-fashioned big-car motions. It's also luxury-car quiet inside.

Those used to true luxury models will be happy with the level of equipment available, and they'll really like the Limited trim level, which makes all of the possible features standard equipment. Materials are very impressive throughout the cabin, with Nappa leather standard on all models. The ventilated front seats that are included with the Luxury Package (standard on Premium cars) are as soft and supple as you'll find in $60k luxury rides, and the package includes an extendable driver's seat thigh bolster (quite the improvement for taller drivers on longer highway trips) plus a heated steering wheel, ventilated front seats, and even heated rear seats.

The seats themselves are on the soft side; some might prefer a little more firmness, particularly on the backrest. On curvy roads, the seats' lack of side bolstering becomes very evident, so front-seat riders will want to find something to hold onto. Leg room is abundant, and the driving position should be great for a wide range of body sizes. In back, too, there's enough legroom—even for long-legged riders over six feet tall, behind other six footers.

Tall riders won't be comfortable in back if the Cadenza is equipped with the two-panel panoramic sunroof system, part of the Luxury Package. (The Luxury pack is mandatory for every other option, like the Tech Package and its smart cruise control and other active safety.) Because of the sloping roofline, entering the back seat can require a ducking motion. But the real surprise comes inside, where you lose several inches of headroom to the roof system's back housing. There are two scooped-out areas in the headliner for outboard riders' heads, but you'll still need to hunch forward.

Just as in other Kia models, there's no shortage of real physical buttons here—something we like, actually. Between decent voice control, those hard buttons, and the touch screen, there's a good level of redundancy that allows you to truly control things your own way.

The Cadenza is very quiet, with almost no wind noise, and very little road noise, at highway speeds—all with good aerodynamics, a tight structure, and smart application of noise-blanketing, rather than stopgap measures like active noise cancellation.

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2015 Kia Cadenza

Safety

Crash-test scores have been good for the Cadenza, but they're incomplete.

The 2015 Kia Cadenza has scored well in the crash testing it has undergone and also includes some notable active-safety technologies.

The Cadenza has earned top 'good' scores from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in all four categories. It was a 2013 Top Safety Pick in its 2014 model-year launch edition, but it doesn't meet the stricter requirements that the IIHS put forth for 2014 and beyond to continue holding that title. Although the Cadenza is entering its second model year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) still hasn't tested it at all.

The Cadenza comes with eight standard airbags, including front and rear seat-mounted side bags and full-length side-curtain bags. A rear camera system and backup warning sensors are included, too.

All of the available active-safety systems are bundled together in the Technology Package, which is available on Cadenza Premium models equipped with the Luxury Package and standard when choosing the Cadenza Limited. A smart cruise control system offers four different following distances and will slow the car to a stop for traffic ahead. The lane-departure warning system may help alert you if you're drowsy or inattentive (it chimes loudly); meanwhile, the blind spot detection system helps warn of vehicles that are to the side and just behind, and rear cross-traffic alert warns of cars approaching as you begin to back up.

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2015 Kia Cadenza

Features

Like many Kias, the Cadenza is a great value, especially when you consider its tech features and options.

You won't find any stripped-down base model of the Kia Cadenza. Unlike Kia's other models, which are sold in trim levels such as LX, EX, and SX, the Cadenza is sold only in 'Premium' trim or the fully loaded 'Limited' trim. And even if you don't opt for one of the two major packages, you're getting a big sedan that's loaded with luxury.

Factory-installed options are limited to the Luxury Package ($3,000) and the Technology Package ($3,000) for the Premium model, while the Cadenza Limited includes both as standard equipment, plus a few more items. Considering the base price of $35,700 (including $800 destination), with both of those packages added you get a vehicle with top-tier luxury features, including things like active cruise control and blind-spot monitoring, for less than $42k. The Cadenza Limited runs $44,600

The Luxury Package includes a panoramic sunroof, a power retractable sunshade, an active front lighting system, Nappa leather seats, a ventilated driver's seat, heated rear outboard seats, a heated steering wheel, a power-adjustable steering column, two-position seat and mirror memory, a driver's thigh cushion extension, a first-aid kit, and a seven-inch TFT gauge cluster. Add the Technology Package and it steps up to 19-inch alloy wheels, hydrophobic front-door glass, an electronic parking brake, smart cruise control, blind-spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert, and lane departure warning.

The standard navigation system runs off an SD card, and the system is included in all Cadenzas. It's a great system, too, with clear map displays, smooth scrolling, and easy toggling between zoom level, split-screen views, and live traffic. The system features traffic warnings, and even an automatic-rerouting box that you can check.

The Cadenza also features Kia's UVO eServices suite, which provides a set of smartphone-based services, all accessed through a free app rather than a monthly subscription fee. The service includes a diagnostics assistant, parking minder, roadside assistance, and access to custom vehicle settings.

What we're not quite as charmed with is the 550-watt, 12-speaker Infinity sound system, which, when we cranked up the volume even just above midway, sounded a bit distorted (with the EQ zeroed).

For all the features it has, the 2015 Kia Cadenza does a good job in offering hard buttons for most tasks, without overwhelming you with them. Climate functions don't depend on the touch-screen system, for instance.

New for 2015, the Cadenza Limited gets Kia's Flex Steer system, which allows the driver to select one of three different steering weights. Surround View Monitor, which stitches together an overhead view of the vehicle using four cameras, is also included on Limited models. The Limited also gets some styling updates, including a new analog clock.

All Cadenzas now include a standard eight-way power adjustable passenger seat. Rear cross-traffic alert is new to the Technology Package and is of course standard on the Limited trim.

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6

2015 Kia Cadenza

Fuel Economy

The Cadenza's gas mileage isn't the most compelling reason to buy one.

For a vehicle its size, the 2015 Kia Cadenza isn't a particularly fuel-efficient vehicle. The Cadenza's EPA fuel-economy ratings are just 19 mpg city, 28 highway. But, as slight consolation, the V-6 in the Cadenza is designed to run on regular unleaded gasoline. 

Those numbers are surpassed by powertrains like the EcoBoost four in the Ford Taurus (22/32 mpg), as well as the hybrid powertrain that delivers 40 mpg combined in the Toyota Avalon Hybrid.

It's also worth noting that the Hyundai Azera, curiously, gets 20/29 mpg ratings with essentially the same engine and transmission. It's likely that the two platform-mates have different enough aerodynamics, and tire choice may also play a role.

In a 140-mile drive of the Cadenza we saw about 21 mpg, with no passengers aboard, and about two thirds of that on the highway and on rural two-laners. That's within one mpg of what we've observed in the Azera.

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June 25, 2017
For 2015 Kia Cadenza

It can take a beating!

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I love my Cadenza although I joke that it's cursed. I've had four people rear end me at various speeds and I tell you what... the other parties' cars have been severely damaged. My Kia hasn't had much damage... + More »
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December 30, 2015
2015 Kia Cadenza 4-Door Sedan Limited

Love mine!

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This car strongly speaks to someone wanting a nice businessman's sedan, without the badge snobbery. I cross shopped with this the Audi A6 and frankly I couldn't justify the extra $$$ for a few circles in the... + More »
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