2017 Kia Cadenza Review

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Andrew Ganz Andrew Ganz
June 21, 2017

The 2017 Kia Cadenza edges closer to the true luxury car it wants to be, thanks to big advances in refinement.

The new 2017 Kia Cadenza takes aim at two of the outgoing full-size sedan's big sore spots: Its conservative styling and its lack of driving polish. And, by and large, the automaker has succeeded with a new big sedan that looks and feels a class above its predecessor.

The Cadenza is available in just three flavors—Premium, Technology, and SXL—and it features only a single powertrain choice. That should make for easy shopping for comfort-oriented sedan buyers, especially those who aren't super brand-conscious yet want a luxury-car feel and feature set without breaking the bank.

We assign it an overall rating of 7.4, with comfort and features leading its high scores. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

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2017 Kia Cadenza styling and performance

More than anywhere else, the 2017 Cadenza ups its game inside, where it counts, with an interior far more focused on hand-crafted (or at least hand-crafted-looking) details and an upgraded material set. And with Kia’s first 8-speed automatic transmission in a front-wheel-drive sedan, the Cadenza also makes gains in fuel consumption and drivability.

A good deal more elegant than its predecessor outside, the 2017 Cadenza appears a little sportier—but that's all smoke and mirrors since this four-door remains focused on cosseting and not carving corners. The Cadenza is the same size as its predecessor, albeit with a slightly longer roofline and wheelbase designed to improve interior space. The Peter Schreyer-penned sheet metal itself is a little more organic and less-creased with more brightwork to punctuate the look—framing the Kia family grille with a nice, more ornate counterpoint to the simplicity of last year's model.

The 2017 Cadenza is motivated by a 3.3-liter V-6 engine rated 290 horsepower and 253 pound-feet of torque that delivers its power exclusively to the front wheels via a new 8-speed automatic gearbox. A new body structure is both lighter and stiffer than before thanks to extensive use of high strength steels and structural adhesives, which allowed engineers to loosen up the Cadenza's suspension. The result is a sedan that's vastly more refined than before, letting in only a hint of the outside world as it whittles away the miles. 

Cadenza quality, safety, and features

Inside, the Cadenza delivers a warmer, softer, and more luxurious interior that is conservative but subtly upscale. Dashboard and door panel surfaces feature real stitching, and there’s more soft leather used throughout for surfaces. On the SXL you’ll find softer nappa leather with quilted bolsters and diamond-shaped stitching. A new dark brown leather stands in comforting contrast to the available stark white leather. 

Interior accommodations in the Cadenza have improved for everyone, whether they’re in the front or back seat. A lower driver's seat improves headroom and a new cushion extends at the press of a switch for taller drivers, but no massing feature is available like on the Buick LaCrosse.

On the safety front, all Cadenzas include nine airbags including a knee airbag for the driver. Technology and SXL models include as standard lane departure warning, automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise control. Those important features can't be ordered on the Premium, but the entry-level trim does offer an optional blind spot detection system and rear cross traffic alert. 

SXL models deliver the ultimate in cosseting with a suede headliner, a heads-up display, a wireless smartphone charging pad, and a feature that opens the trunk if the driver lingers at the back of the vehicle for three seconds. All Cadenzas have a version of Kia's UVO infotainment including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, with all but the base Premium including an 8-inch version with navigation. 

The Cadenza's new 8-speed automatic improves fuel economy to an EPA-estimated 20 mpg city, 28 highway, 23 combined—figures that still fall short of some key rivals. 

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2017 Kia Cadenza

Styling

The Cadenza makes big strides in refining its looks, inside and out.

Strongly European-influenced, the 2017 Kia Cadenza presents as upscale a look as we've ever seen from the Korean automaker, besting even the brand's actual flagship—the comparatively dowdy K900. 

This stylish appearance and Kia's close attention to detailing is enough to stand out against some admittedly good looking rivals, which earns the handsome Cadenza a 7 in our styling rating. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Premium models have their own grille treatment and ride on 19-inch wheels, while Technology and SXL grades sub in a slightly different fascia and a choice of 19-inch wheels wrapped in Michelin rubber designed specifically for the Cadenza. All models have LED running lamps carved into a Z-shape that would make Zorro happy; the look is repeated at the rear. Opt for the Technology or SXL and you'll net full LED fog and head lights.

We especially like the Cadenza's slightly concave grille, which is a complimentary facsimile of something you might see in a Maserati. 

At first glance the Cadenza's new interior looks derivative of last year's model—but the differences are plentiful. The style remains conservative, with buttons grouped logically on the dashboard and a high-resolution touchscreen perched high and flanked by climate control vents. 

Material quality is up all around, and the look is overall more cohesive and better laid-out than last year. Again, the detailing is what sets the Cadenza apart. An attractive pattern on its upholstery is augmented by a unique design around the door panel speakers. The look is thoroughly modern and shows that Kia's interior designers are interested in creating a comfortable, cohesive environment. 

We also laud the inclusion of a traditional automatic transmission gear lever instead of the quirky units seen in so many rivals these days. 

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2017 Kia Cadenza

Performance

The Cadenza doesn't have the crisp road manners of some other big sedans, but does have a smooth-shifting 8-speed automatic.

Its looks may recall European sports sedans, but the Cadenza goes about its business with a far bigger emphasis on refinement and comfort.

It pointedly steers clear of the fine athletic nuance that makes the Buick LaCrosse remarkably rewarding to drive, but the Cadenza nonetheless whisks passengers along in near silence and a high degree of refinement—and that's enough to earn it 7 out of 10 available points. We've given it extra points for its ride quality and the performance of its engine and transmission. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

That comfort is due to its relaxed steering and gentle ride quality, made possible for 2017 by a much stiffer structure and a softened suspension. 

Power is provided by a largely carried-over 3.3-liter V-6 rated at 290 horsepower and 253 pound-feet of torque, figures down a bit from before but compensated for thanks to a new 8-speed automatic transmission offering two more gears than last year. The 8-speed was designed internally by Kia and its parent company, Hyundai, and it's a winner in this application. 

Unlike the slightly bigger V-6s in the Toyota Avalon and Nissan Maxima, the Cadenza's V-6 doesn't deliver all that much torque at the low end of the rev range (the V-6 in Toyota's Avalon feels perkier that way), which means it needs to be throttled. Thankfully, the new 8-speed provides quick downshifts when called upon. 

A center console switch toggles between four drive modes—Comfort, Eco, Sport, and Smart—that each give it slightly different personalities by adjusting steering heft throttle response, but we found the Cadenza to be happiest where you might expect it: Comfort. Smart adapts to a driver's idiosyncrasies, but its differences are subtle to discern. 

Select Sport and the Cadenza's already heavy steering loads up substantially—too much, in our eyes, for a big sedan. No mode modifies the suspension's settings, which are decidedly comfort-oriented. Push the nearly 3,800 pound Cadenza too hard into a corner and it feels settled but never as confident as the more lithe LaCrosse. The Cadenza's body control betters some other large sedans, but it delivers neither the steering response nor the dynamic chops to satiate enthusiasts. Its upsized brakes, however, are easy to modulate and are quite strong. 

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2017 Kia Cadenza

Comfort & Quality

A vast back seat and a cabin that's very quiet make the Kia Cadenza a new benchmark in full-size sedans.

Miles ahead of any Kia before it, the Cadenza's smartly trimmed interior pampers almost as well as a high-end luxury sedan.

An appearance and feel that knocks on established luxury brand doors helps the roomy Cadenza merit 9 out of 10 points for comfort and quality. It scores high for front and rear seat roominess, fit and finish, and its ability to seat all five passengers in supreme comfort(Read more about how we rate cars.) 

Roominess is stellar for five, especially those in the outboard positions. Moreover, its 16 cubic foot trunk is on the high side for its segment. 

At first glance, the Cadenza doesn't deviate much from before; much of its switchgear and basic design language has been carried over. But, as always, the difference is in the details, with the Cadenza bringing a higher level of refinement. Only low on its doors will you find hard plastics. Even the Premium trim level's occupants sit on leather seats, not the imitation hide seen in most rivals at this price point. Step up to the SXL and things become downright decadent with a suede headliner and upgraded nappa leather seats that feature a borderline gaudy quilted stitching on their bolsters.

Technology and SXL trims also feature a powered under-knee bolster for the driver that should allow those with longer inseams to be especially comfortable. A longer roofline for 2017 brings with it much-needed improvements in rear head room even for passengers over 6 feet tall. A panoramic moonroof is standard on Technology and SXL, and optional on Premium, but it robs a small amount of front seat headroom.  

In back, too, there's limo-rivaling legroom and a flop-down center armrest with integrated cupholders. The lack of a rear seat power or USB outlet is an unexpected misstep for what's otherwise a car practically begging for five passengers.

New sound deadening measures have made an already quiet cruiser nearly silent with almost no wind roar and very little road rumble at highway speeds.

The Cadenza is also refreshingly outfitted with real knobs, buttons, and switches logically arrayed in panels for climate and audio functions. Between decent voice control, those traditional buttons, and either a 7.0- or 8.0-inch touchscreen, there's a level of redundancy that allows for excellent control. Climate functions don't depend on the touchscreen system, for instance.

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2017 Kia Cadenza

Safety

It's an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ and federal testers may have better news soon.

The 2017 Kia Cadenza earns top marks from independent testers, and earn high marks by our book.

We give the Kia an 8 out of 10 so far, and that score may rise. Federal testers haven't yet completed their tests, but the IIHS has called it a Top Safety Pick+ already. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

A wide range of safety features is available on this big four-door, and we laud Kia for making automatic emergency braking standard on two of the three trim levels available. All models feature nine airbags, including a knee airbag for the driver, as well as a rearview camera that displays through  either a 7.0- or 8.0-inch infotainment screen. 

The Premium's lone option package adds blind-spot monitors, rear cross traffic alert, and lane change assist. 

But it's the Technology and SXL that really up the Cadenza's game with automatic high beam headlamps, automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control that can bring the vehicle to a complete stop and start moving again in heavy traffic, and a surround view monitor that provides a bird's eye look at what the driver might back into. 

The SXL also includes a convenient head-up display system that, unfortunately, washes out with polarized sunglasses. 

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2017 Kia Cadenza

Features

The Cadenza has lots of standard features, but not much in the way of options.

You won't find any stripped-down base model of Kia's Cadenza, a further commitment to this sedan's positioning as an upmarket model.

All Cadenzas are well optioned, but buyers won't find much customization and even the range-topping SXL falls slightly short of full luxury grade in terms of its available equipment, netting this big Kia 8 points for features. (Read more about how we rate cars.) 

The Cadenza is offered in just three trim levels: Premium, Technology, and SXL. Even the Premium is well outfitted with leather seats (power and heated up front) and a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system. A single option package for the Premium bundles a panoramic moonroof, an upgraded 8.0-inch touchscreen with navigation, a Harman Kardon audio system a blind spot monitor, and rear cross traffic alert.

From there, the lineup jumps to the Technology, which adds to a fully-equipped Premium a host of safety tech headlined by automatic high beam LED headlights, automatic emergency braking, and adaptive cruise control, as well as air conditioned seats and a wireless cell phone charger.

Neither the Technology nor the SXL offer any options, but the SXL adds a power rear sunshade, side window shades operated by hand, Nappa leather, suede on its headliner, and a heads up display system that, unfortunately, washes out when you're wearing polarized sunglasses. 

All versions of the Cadenza include Kia's UVO eServices suite, which provides a set of smartphone-based services accessed via a free app instead of a monthly subscription charge. The service features a diagnostics assistant, a parking reminder, roadside assistance connection, and access to certain vehicle settings.

The Cadenza is well outfitted, but it falls short against some rivals that offer either lavish owners with fancy features—like the massaging seats on the Buick LaCrosse and the Ford Taurus—or other powertrains—like the Toyota Avalon Hybrid. 

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2017 Kia Cadenza

Fuel Economy

A new transmission boosts the Cadenza's official EPA ratings.

The 2017 Kia Cadenza boasts a new 8-speed automatic transmission that adds two gears over last year's car, which helps it net improved fuel economy that nonetheless falls short of most rivals. 

On the EPA test, the Cadenza checks in at 20 mpg city, 28 highway, 23 combined, which rates as a 6 out of 10 on our scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.) 

By comparison, the Buick LaCrosse and Toyota Avalon are both rated at 31 mpg highway. And the Avalon is offered as a hybrid, which comes it at an impressive 40 mpg combined. 

Credit for the Cadenza's 1 mpg bump in city and combined mpg over last year is due mostly to its new transmission that allows its engine to breathe a little less hard in normal cruising, but Kia also says that its big sedan's new shape is more aerodynamic and it includes a new underbody aero panel designed to streamline things even further. 

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7.5
Overall
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Styling 7
Performance 7
Comfort & Quality 9
Safety 8
Features 8
Fuel Economy 6
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