- Premium cabin
- Quiet, hushed driving
- Lots of storage space
- Big back seat
- Simple infotainment system
- Evolutionary styling
- Middling gas mileage
- Rivals have sharper handling
- Base model lacks safety tech
The 2018 Kia Cadenza has matured greatly, and offers exceptional room and polish.
What’s a full-size sedan to do when it’s not supposed to be a luxury car?
The 2018 Kia Cadenza tackles that big-car conundrum with grace and finesse, even if it doesn’t have a definitive answer. It has luxury features, big spread-out space, and softly tuned handling, and that makes it a less expensive and better car in some ways than Kia’s pricier K900. Awkward much?
Sold in Premium, Technology, and Limited trim, the 2018 Cadenza merits a score of 7.4 on our scale, with kudos for its features and its comfort. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
With the Cadenza, Kia breaks no new ground. Thankfully it also doesn’t merely copy and scale up its other sedans. The Cadenza has a pleasant if not daring shape, one that’s made more lively with details like a concave grille and LED lighting. The interior’s a familiar wing-shaped affair for those attuned to head designer Peter Schreyer’s efforts, and it’s a nice place to be, especially when trimmed in nappa leather and suede.
Performance issues from a 290-horsepower V-6, an 8-speed automatic, responsive brakes, 19-inch wheels and tires, and an independent suspension. It sounds a lot like Buick’s LaCrosse on paper, but while that four-door has turned up the stiffness on all its driving systems, the Cadenza keeps things calm and loose. Handling is composed but a bit fluffy, the powertrain’s all but invisible in its action. The sole noticeable deviance from big-car norms is overly heavy steering.
The Cadenza’s big interior space suits as many as five adults, without intruding too much on personal space. Diamond-quilted stitching elevates the top versions, but even the Premium model has leather upholstery, power-adjustable front seats, and a big trunk. It lacks the finishing touches you’d find on a K900, like massaging seats, but will you really miss that for tens of thousands less?
Crash-test data is incomplete, and Kia walls off its best safety technology on the more expensive trims. A rearview camera is standard. Other features found on the options list include wireless smartphone charging, a simple infotainment system with navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and a panoramic sunroof.
2018 Kia Cadenza
The 2018 Kia Cadenza breaks out in a slightly interesting styling direction.
With the Cadenza, Kia has a full-size sedan that wears compact sport-sedan cues well. It’s a sharp divergence from the formal lines on the bigger, more dowdy K900.
We think the interior and exterior are above average, which means it’s a 7 for styling. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
There’s nothing adventurous in the Cadenza’s proportions or glass areas. The details strike out in new directions for Kia, and they enliven the pretty but anodyne shape and give it character. The best detail may be the slightly concave grille, a cue adopted with great-looking results on the latest Maseratis.
Base Cadenza sedans have a different grille and get attractive 19-inch wheels, while the Technology and Limited versions wear their own wheel designs and have slightly stronger front-end styling. All models have Z-shaped LED lighting that would draw Zorro’s approving glance. They repeat at the rear. On Technology and Limited trims, LED headlights and fog lights swap in for the stock units.
The Cadenza's interior, at first glance, seems derivative of the previous generation car. The differences are numerous, though the overall look remains somewhat staid and predictable. The Cadenza’s dash has a winged, horizontal look that groups controls in all the usual places, flanking them around a central touchscreen.
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.
2018 Kia Cadenza
Crisp handling is off the menu, but the 2018 Kia Cadenza ably damps the world outside without shutting it out entirely.
The sport-sedan shape doesn’t impart much of its flavor into the 2018 Kia Cadenza’s performance.
It’s all pleasantly coordinated, from ride to handling to steering, but there’s nothing stellar about the Cadenza’s connection to the road. It may be an opportunity missed, but the Cadenza’s creamy, isolated road feel never feels sloppy, and that’s why we give it a 7 out of 10 here, primarily for its powertrain performance and its supple ride. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The Cadenza draws power from a 3.3-liter V-6 that puts out 290 horsepower and 253 pound-feet of torque. The 6-cylinder doesn’t have the strong low-end pull that the slightly larger V-6 engines in the Avalon and Maxima have, but it responds quickly through a standard 8-speed automatic. Quick downshifts and a lot of sound deadening filter all but the wide-open-throttle noises from the cabin, while the Cadenza steps forward smartly into traffic or on interstate passes. The powertrain’s all but invisible, in the right ways.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can toggle the drivetrain between Comfort, Eco, Sport, and Smart modes. The rewards are slight. Each mode maps the steering and throttle response differently, but the range through which the Cadenza tailors its personality is slim. Sport adds weight to the steering, which already is heavy to begin with, probably too much so for a large premium sedan.
The suspension is unaffected by the changes; it has no adaptive damping. It’s tuned for comfort, and the 3,800-pound Cadenza pushes on its all-season tires with moderate body lean and plush cornering responses, though its strong and easily modulated brakes welcome the challenge. It’s settled, but not as resolved or firm as Buick’s LaCrosse. Body motion is well controlled, but the Cadenza would rather escort you to your destination without ruffling your outfit, and without pushing its limits too hard.
2018 Kia Cadenza
Comfort & Quality
The 2018 Kia Cadenza’ quiet cabin and spacious back seat establish a new full-size benchmark.
The Cadenza isn’t like the Kia you may have drawn in your brain. It’s not small, and it doesn’t have the thrifty feel of one of the brand’s good economy cars.
The Cadenza’s premium features and wide open spaces brim with the big-car bona fides usually tagged with Avalon or LaCrosse badges.
We like it very well, and give it a 9 for comfort and quality, with points for front and back seats, interior space, storage space, and true five-passenger room. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Front passengers revel in space in the Cadenza. The seats are supportive enough without being too firm, and have multiple adjustments standard. On the Technology and Limited versions, the driver seat has a power leg bolster that slides out for better support for taller drivers. Head and shoulder room are fine, but those same tall drivers will notice how the panoramic sunroof cuts into cabin space.
The Cadenza’s long roofline delivers lots of rear-seat head room, good for passengers over six feet tall. Leg room is limo-like, and two people can share a fold-down armrest with a pair of cupholders–or they can yield that convenience for a fifth passenger seat that’s actually usable, thanks to the Cadenza’s wide body.
Small-item storage is very good in the sedan’s console and door pockets and bins, and its 16-cubic-foot trunk is among the larger cargo spaces in its class.
The biggest improvement in the current Cadenza has come in interior quality. Basic-grade plastics are confined to low door panels and trunk liners. Leather trims the cabin, and nappa hides with showy stitching come in Limited trim. The Cadenza’s a quiet cruiser, with lots of sound deadening and padding. It’s also a simple car to operate, with its real buttons and knobs, arranged in logical groups.
2018 Kia Cadenza
The 2018 Cadenza has incomplete crash-test scores.
The 2018 Kia Cadenza only has one set of crash-test scores to its credit, so we’re holding off on a rating until the NHTSA reports back. We'll assign it a rating when data is available. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The IIHS says the Cadenza is a Top Safety Pick for 2018. That means it scores “Good” ratings on all crash tests. It misses out on the “+” designation because its better LED headlights are rated only “Acceptable,” and they’re only available on the top two trim levels.
Kia has made forward-collision warnings and automatic emergency braking standard on the Cadenza Technology and Cadenza Limited, but the features are not available on the base sedan. Those Premium sedans can be fitted with blind-spot monitors.
A rearview camera is standard; surround-view cameras come on the Limited model.
2018 Kia Cadenza
The 2018 Kia Cadenza comes very well-equipped, but lacks some premium options on base versions.
The 2018 Kia Cadenza comes in Premium, Technology, and Limited (formerly SXL) trim. Prices range from about $33,000 to $44,000.
All Cadenzas are replete with the usual standard features and some keen options, and Kia’s infotainment system works well. That merits an 8 for features. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
All Cadenza sedans come with power features, leather upholstery, cruise control, automatic climate control, a rearview camera, and a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system. That system bundles with Kia's UVO eServices app suite. Parking reminders, roadside assistance, and remote unlock can be accessed through the app.
Kia offers an option bundle on the base car. It includes an 8.0-inch touchscreen, navigation, a panoramic moonroof, blind-spot monitors, and a Harman Kardon audio system. The base model doesn’t offer the latest safety technology, and no Cadenza has the kind of luxury touches or hybrid powertrains offered by its rivals.
However, at the Technology level, the 2018 Cadenza gets automatic headlights, adaptive cruise control, cooled seats, wireless smartphone charging, and forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking.
Cadenza Limited sedans add nappa leather, a sueded headliner, surround-view cameras, and a head-up display.
2018 Kia Cadenza
The 2018 Cadenza carries over its middling fuel economy ratings.
Last year, the Kia Cadenza gained a new automatic that improved its fuel economy. It’s still not much better than average.
We give it a 6 out of 10 on our green scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The EPA says the 2018 Cadenza merits ratings of 20 mpg city, 28 highway, and 23 combined. Compared to the mid-30s ratings of Kia’s own Optima sedan, the slightly larger Cadenza doesn’t fare well. That’s despite the addition of an 8-speed automatic last year.
Drive a Toyota Avalon and you’ll get 31 mpg highway; opt for the Avalon Hybrid and 40 mpg combined is yours.