Kia started out in the U.S. market in the mid-’90s as a bargain brand, but it’s been progressing into a full-line automaker as it has matured, and just three years ago introduced its first premium sedan, the Cadenza.
Now, for 2017, the Cadenza moves into its second generation with a general makeover that gives it more refinement, technology and safety features, showcasing just how far Kia has come from its humble beginnings in the U.S. market more than 22 years ago.
A near clone of the Hyundai Azera, the Cadenza is a credible large sedan in the same class with the Toyota Avalon, Chevrolet Impala, Ford Taurus, Chrysler 300/Dodge Charger and Buick LaCrosse.
For 2017, the Cadenza comes in three trim levels, with a starting price of $31,990 (plus $900 freight) for the base Premium; $38,990 for the midlevel Technology model; and $44,390 for the top-end Limited version, which we tested for this report.
At these prices, the Cadenza is even pushing into luxury territory. It could easily be cross-shopped against the Lexus ES 350, Infiniti Q50 and Acura TL, although those are slightly smaller sedans.
While the Cadenza is a few thousand dollars less that some of those models, it’s not lacking in anything other than a luxury nameplate when it’s compared honestly to the entry Lexus, Acura and Infiniti sedans. For those who can live without having a fancy brand name in their driveways, the Cadenza comes across as a real bargain.
It’s no slouch in the power department, either. Its 3.3-liter V-6 engine, revised for 2017, cranks out 290 horsepower and 253 foot-pounds of torque, which easily beats the 268 horsepower of its biggest competitor, the Avalon. EPA ratings are 20 mpg city/28 highway/23 combined.
Consumer Reports previously had ranked the first-generation Cadenza above the Avalon, and even above its own Azera sibling – although all three of these Asian sedans fell below the top-ranked Impala and second-place LaCrosse.
Just as the Avalon is a stretch version of the Toyota Camry, the Cadenza comes from the Kia Optima (and Hyundai Sonata) architecture. While the new Cadenza has the same overall length as the previous version, it’s a bit lower and wider. There is slightly more rear legroom (about half-an-inch), and trunk space has been slightly increased.
It’s 4.6 inches longer than the 2017 Optima, but just 2/10 of an inch higher and 4/10 of an inch wider. It also has a wheelbase two inches longer.
There is a new eight-speed automatic transmission, which shifts quite smoothly and usually at just the right times. It replaced the previous model’s six-speed. There is a manual-shift function, too, with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters for those who want to be more involved with the driving.
Inside, there’s room for five people, although as in most sedans these days – even the bigger ones like this – it’s a tight fit for three adults in the back seat. With just four people onboard, though, everyone is quite comfortable in the Cadenza.
There are front bucket seats and the rear bench, which has a pull-down center armrest with cupholders for use when there are just two rear passengers.
The trunk is roomy for a car this size, with 16 cubic feet of space. The trunk includes a temporary spare (under the floor). Our Limited model came with the Smart Power trunk, which opens and closes automatically if you’re standing for as long as three seconds behind the car with the key in hand or pocket. The power trunk lid also can be operated from inside the vehicle.
Leather upholstery is standard, but our Limited model came with the premium Nappa leather with quilted inserts. A dual panoramic sunroof also was included on our vehicle. While 18-inch alloy wheels are standard on base models, the Limited comes with 19-inch dark satin alloy wheels.
Also included on our tester were such premium tech features as a rear parking-assist system and around-view monitor, forward collision warning with autonomous emergency braking, smart blind-spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert, and lane-departure warning.
The Limited also comes with the premium 640-watt Harman Kardon audio system with 12 speakers and Clari-Fi technology, a navigation system with eight-inch touch screen, a heads-up display that projects speed and nav information on the lower windshield in front of the driver, heated and ventilated front seats and heated outboard rear seating positions, rain-sensing wipers, smart key with pushbutton start, and dual-zone automatic climate control with rear vents.
Cadenza’s electronic power steering has been improved over the first generation’s, using a 32-bit processor instead of the previous one’s 16-bit. Still, electronic steering offers less driver feedback than I would like, and the ride emphasizes cushy over control. But this is typical of the class, which is aimed at an older customer than the typical sport sedan.
Overall, though, I had no serious complaints with this car, which is surprisingly well-done. The interior is luxurious without being ostentatious, and the layout of controls and instruments seems very well-thought-out.
For my gadgets, there was a convenient tray in the center console in front of the shifter. It also came with a wireless charging pad that kept by Galaxy S7’s battery full, and the audio system supports Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
The test vehicle also came with Kia’s UVO infotainment system that adds voice-command to the navigation (with real-time traffic and highway conditions from SiriusXM Traffic).
The UVO Parking Minder can help you locate your car in a parking lot. The UVO system also includes features similar to those of OnStar, such as diagnostic checks and automatic emergency assistance (it will dial 911 if the air bags deploy, giving first responders your location).
In the center of the dash is an analog clock, a touch usually found only on luxury brands. Bottle holders are included in the door pockets. Rear passengers have two cupholders in the pull-down center armrest, but that eliminates the middle seating position. There is also a pass-through to the trunk when the armrest is lowered.
Safety features include four-wheel antilock disc brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, front and rear seat-mounted side air bags, roof-mounted side-curtain air bags for both rows, electronic stability control with traction control, hill-start assist, and tire-pressure monitoring. There is also a new driver’s knee air bag.
Our Limited also came with heated/power/folding outside mirrors with built-in LED turn signals.
The new generation’s body has been strengthened through the use of more than 50 percent Advanced High Strength Steel, which Kia says is more than double the amount used in the previous model.
The Cadenza is available with two different grilles. Base and mid-level models have the “Diamond Butterfly” grille with the same three-dimensional pattern as some of the other vehicles in the Kia lineup. Our Limited model came with the special “Intaglio” grille, with vertical blades.
There are new LED “piano key” taillights, chrome garnishes on the trunk lid, side mirrors, and rear quarter windows, and chrome side molding.
For 2017, there is a new dark brown leather interior color, bringing a total of four interior color combinations. The White Interior Package carries over from the previous model, but now includes black wood-grain-style trim finished with a pearlescent sheen.
Our tester had the new Granite Brown exterior color and the White Interior Package, but at no additional cost. Total sticker price of our Cadenza Limited was $45,290, including freight. There were no options.
The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1994. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @gchambers3.
2017 Kia Cadenza sedan
The package: Full-size, four-door, five-passenger, front-wheel-drive, V-6, gasoline-powered premium sedan.
Highlights: Added to the Kia lineup for 2014, the Cadenza moves into its second generation with a restyling for 2017. This is the brand’s flagship sedan, a premium model that is similar to the Hyundai Azera, which uses the same basic architecture. It’s on a stretched version of the Optima sedan chassis, and has sport styling, a roomy interior, and lots of premium amenities.
Negatives: Rear seat better suited for two people than three.
Engine: 3.3-liter V-6.
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic.
Power/torque: 290 HP./253 foot-pounds.
Length: 195.7 inches.
Curb weight: 3,633-3,799 pounds.
Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, antilock.
Electronic stability/traction control: Standard.
Side air bags: Front/rear seat-mounted; side-curtain for both rows.
Trunk capacity: 16 cubic feet.
EPA fuel economy: 20 mpg city/28 highway/23 combined.
Fuel capacity/type: 18.5 gallons/regular unleaded.
Major competitors: Toyota Avalon, Nissan Maxima, Chevrolet Impala, Buick LaCrosse, Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger, Hyundai Azera, Ford Taurus, Lincoln MKZ.
Base price range: $31,990-$44,390, plus $900 freight.
Price as tested: $45,290, including freight (Limited model, no options).
On the Road rating: 9.3 (of a possible 10).
Prices shown are manufacturer's suggested retail; actual selling price may vary.