2016 Kia Cadenza Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
June 29, 2016

The 2016 Kia Cadenza is no luxury sport sedan, but it offers almost all of the trappings except for crisp handling—and maybe, the right badge.

The Kia Cadenza joined the South Korean automaker's lineup in 2014 as its first full-size sedan. Though it's been joined by the larger, rear-drive K900 luxury four-door, the Cadenza still strikes us as the ultimate sedan in the Kia lineup. It's styled and packaged well, has a premium level of refinement, and proves that Kia should be taken seriously at the $40,000 price point. Luxury badge or not, it can seem like a very good deal to a great many families and comfort-minded folks.

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 sheet metal stand in contrast to the Cadenza's taut, more athletic look. Inside, there's a mix of traditional and forward-thinking design. The look is rich and finely detailed, with soft-touch and nicely grained materials for the upper dash, plus wood grain 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.

The Cadenza feels quick and responsive relative to other large front-drive four-doors, but 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, it 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. Still, when driven at anything but a sport-sedan pace, this is a car that feels confident on the back roads yet maneuverable in town.

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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 doesn't disappoint in 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 has earned top "Good" scores from the IIHS in most tests, but hasn't yet been subjected to the new small-overlap crash test, which mimics an impact with a telephone pole. Because of that lack of data, it's not eligible for the IIHS' Top Safety Pick awards. The NHTSA hasn't tested it at all.

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 about $34,000, the 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 such as a panoramic sunroof, power retractable sunshade, Nappa ventilated seats, a heated steering wheel, 19-inch alloys, smart cruise control, blind-spot monitors, and lane departure warning—all for about $43,000.

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 8.0-inch touchscreen 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.

Even among large sedans, the Kia Cadenza's fuel economy doesn't register at the high end of the spectrum. The EPA pegs it at 19 mpg city, 28 highway, 22 combined. That's lower than some Ford Taurus models and even lower than the Hyundai Azera, from which the Cadenza is based.

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2016 Kia Cadenza

Styling

The Cadenza is a handsome sedan, with enough flair to avoid the me-too premium syndrome.

It's based on the Hyundai Azera, but the Kia Cadenza strikes out on its own styling trail. The interior and exterior are different enough that you wouldn't suspect anything underneath is shared.

With an athletic stance, great proportions, and clean stretches of uninterrupted sheet metal, the Cadenza looks more like a sport sedan than it really is. There are hints of European influences without devolving into a set of derivative cues. 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. The Cadenza's side profile is arguably more interesting to look at than many other large sedans.

Inside, the look is rich and finely detailed, with soft-touch and nicely grained materials for the upper dash, plus wood grain 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 8.0-inch high-resolution touchscreen 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. Most versions come with a panoramic sunroof, which brings in lots of light to the cabin, warming up the mix of neutral leathers and plastics.

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2016 Kia Cadenza

Performance

The Kia Cadenza accelerates swiftly and brakes smartly, but comfort comes first.

The Kia Cadenza is relatively quick and responsive for a car its size. But if you're looking for something more flavorful—something more in the sporty realm—the Cadenza isn't quite on target. It's always calm and collected, but it pointedly steers clear of some of the fine athletic nuance that can make a large, front-wheel-drive sedan rewarding to drive. Much of that comes down to its relaxed steering and handling.

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 selectively command the gears.

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

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. Its brakes feel surprisingly strong and confident, however.

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2016 Kia Cadenza

Comfort & Quality

A well-trimmed and spacious interior gives the Cadenza its distinction from the Optima.

The Cadenza is a large sedan that can seat up to five adults, and the cabin's trimmed smartly with the right premium features.

Passengers will find that the Cadenza's front seats are on the soft side; we'd prefer a little more firmness, particularly on the backrest. On curvy roads, the lack of bolstering becomes apparent. However, the Cadenza's driving position works for a wide range of body sizes, and leg room is very good. 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 $60,000 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.

In back, too, there's enough leg room—even for long-legged riders over 6 feet tall, behind other 6 footers. Tall riders won't be comfortable in back, though, if the Cadenza is equipped with the two-panel panoramic sunroof system, which is standard on most models. 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 head room 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.

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.

It's also refreshingly outfitted with real knobs, buttons, and switches. Between decent voice control, those hard buttons, and the touchscreen, there's a good level of redundancy that allows you to truly control things your own way. Climate functions don't depend on the touchscreen system, for instance.

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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2016 Kia Cadenza

Safety

The Cadenza hasn't been fully crash-tested, but the scores posted so far are promising.

The 2016 Kia Cadenza has scored well in the crash testing it has undergone and also includes some notable active-safety technologies.

The Cadenza comes with eight standard airbags, including front and rear seat-mounted side bags and full-length side-curtain bags. A rearview camera and parking sensors are included, too, and surround-view cameras are available.

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 or SXL. Adaptive cruise control 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 monitors 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.

The Cadenza has earned top "Good" scores from the IIHS in most tests but hasn't been subjected to the new small-overlap crash test, which mimics an impact with a telephone pole. Because of that lack of data, it's not eligible for the IIHS' Top Safety Pick awards.

Although the Cadenza is entering its third model year, federal regulators still haven't tested the car.

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2016 Kia Cadenza

Features

With its raft of standard features and a lower-priced base model, the Kia Cadenza is a very good value.

You won't find any stripped-down base model of the Kia Cadenza. The Cadenza is sold only in three trim levels: base, Premium or the fully loaded Limited/SXL trim. Even if you don't opt for one of the upper trim levels, you're getting a big sedan that's loaded with luxury.

All Cadenzas come with standard power windows, locks, and mirrors; cruise control; air conditioning; 18-inch wheels; keyless ignition; leather upholstery; power heated front seats; a rearview camera; navigation with an 8.0-inch touchscreen display and infotainment interface; and a premium audio system with an AM/FM/CD player, Bluetooth with audio streaming. Premium models get a standard sunroof; Limiteds (also called SXLs) add a surround-view camera system; an analog clock; 19-inch wheels; a rear armrest with its own USB port; and more wood-grain trim.

Factory-installed options are limited to the Luxury Package and the Technology Package for the Premium model, while the Cadenza Limited includes both as standard equipment, plus a few more items.

The Luxury Package includes blind-spot monitors; Nappa leather seats; a ventilated driver's seat; heated rear outboard seats; a heated steering wheel; a power-adjustable steering column; and a 7.0-inch screen for gauges. Add the Technology Package and it steps up to 19-inch alloy wheels; an electronic parking brake; adaptive cruise control; and lane departure warnings.

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.

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2016 Kia Cadenza

Fuel Economy

You'll find more compelling reasons to buy a Kia Cadenza than fuel economy.

Even among large sedans, the Kia Cadenza's fuel economy doesn't register at the high end of the spectrum. The EPA pegs it at 19 mpg city, 28 highway, 22 combined.

Those numbers are surpassed by powertrains like the turbo-4 in the Ford Taurus (20/29/23 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 20/29/23 mpg ratings with essentially the same engine and transmission. It's likely that the two vehicles, which share much of their running gear, have tires and body styles that are different enough to play a role in their fuel-economy ratings.

As a slight consolation for Cadenza shoppers, the V-6 is designed to run on regular unleaded gasoline.

In a 140-mile drive of the Cadenza when it was new in 2014, we saw about 21 mpg with no passengers aboard. About two-thirds of that time was spent on the highway and on rural two-laners. That's within 1 mpg of what we've observed in the Azera.

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Styling 8
Performance 8
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Safety 8
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