The very idea of a Kia luxury sedan seemed utterly ridiculous as recently as 2012, just before the original Cadenza appeared, raising eyebrows as the Korean brand put what it considered a first stake in the ground in the luxury sphere. But as we took our first spin in the second-generation 2017 Cadenza and adjusted the gap distance for the radar cruise control, no one was impressed with the fact that a Kia even had radar cruise control. Rather, we simply tested its newfound stop-and-go capability—as well as lane-departure mitigation and many other electro-nannies—just as we would if it were a Lexus ES350, a Lincoln MKZ, or a Buick LaCrosse. This near-luxury-sedan segment remains fiercely competitive even as total sales slacken against the rise of plushly trimmed crossover vehicles.
Prettiest Kia Ever?
Much of the positive impression can be attributed to Kia’s exterior design language as curated by Hyundai/Kia global design chief Peter Schreyer. Few of the brand’s cars wear it as well as the new Cadenza. No longer looking like an engorged Optima, the new model takes a strong stance with tall, clean body panels (made of heavier-gauge, more dent-resistant steel, says Kia), sizable fender flares, and a high, ducktail trunk. Kia’s signature “tiger nose” grille now stretches into the headlamps, which, like the taillamps, feature Z-shaped LED accents. The steep windshield leads into a longer, more rearward-set greenhouse with new trapezoidal rear quarter-windows that recall those of the 2017 Volvo S90. Indeed, there’s enough Volvo S90 both in the linear body sides and side-window graphic, not to mention the concave slats of the elegant “Intaglio” grille of mid- and top-tier trim levels, that one wonders if Schreyer has a mole in Gothenburg.
Driving: More of the Same
Driving the Cadenza generates less enthusiasm. It is powered by the same direct-injected 3.3-liter V-6 as the outgoing model, although now it’s down slightly from 293 horsepower and 255 lb-ft of torque to 290 horses and 253 lb-ft. It pairs with Kia’s new eight-speed automatic transmission. The engine is powerful enough and not noisy, but it’s not quiet enough to be remarkable in this segment.
On the road, the 2017 model behaves much like the original Cadenza, with the new, in-house-developed eight-speed transmission adding little discernible sharpness to the shifts but taking nothing away from its overall tranquility. The available drive-mode selector did elicit a few “Now what’s that doing here?” responses and barely livened up the car’s reflexes in Sport mode. If the new transmission was a fuel-economy play, it didn’t do much; the EPA city rating rises from 19 mpg to 20 mpg year-over-year, while the 28-mpg highway rating stays the same.
The 2017 Cadenza hits dealerships in late October or early November. Final pricing will be announced just before that, but we know the base Cadenza will start right around $33,000, with the mid-grade Technology package available for about $40,000 and the loaded SXL—also called Limited—coming in at less than $45,000. Beyond the price, this is a car that never could have emerged in Kia’s early years: a bona fide near-luxury sedan that can hold its own next to the admittedly benign competitors. If the original Cadenza was a stake in the ground, the new car proves that it was planted in fertile soil.