Kia has historically been noted for the affordability and economy of its cars, rather than performance or refinement; its first standard-bearer in the North American market, the Kia Sephia, whilst competitively priced and ultimately proved to be a solid vehicle for its segment, was nevertheless still unrefined when compared to the competition. Attempts to move upmarket through offerings such as the Kia Amanti proved difficult; the cars, while offering good value for money, nevertheless fell short of true competitiveness with their contemporary competitors.
Therefore, one might dismiss the Kia Cadenza, Kia’s latest attempt to compete with established full-size sedans such as the Toyota Avalon, the Nissan Maxima, and the Chrysler 300. That, however, would be a mistake, as Kia has managed to make truly astonishing strides in performance, refinement, and design with this new model, and just as the Sephia fittingly symbolized the relatively simplicity of Kia’s nascent efforts, so the Cadenza Limited, now in its second generation, aptly represents just how far they’ve come since.
Styled by former Volkswagen Group designer Peter Schreyer, famous for the Audi TT, the exterior design of the Cadenza emphatically sets the tone for the rest of the car. Bold, sharp creases accentuate the clean lines of the car, while a low and sleek roofline evokes a sense of purposeful motion. Crystalline LED headlights and fog-lights impart a sense of edginess to the design, with the employment of “Z” shaped LED daytime running lights. A subtly tasteful strip of chrome runs across the rear to connect the bright LED taillights, and the design is finished off with large 19” wheels finished in Dark Satin, that are both classy and sporty.
By no measure is the Cadenza a classically beautiful design, but it’s nevertheless a strikingly attractive vehicle; enough to visually distinguish itself from its competition, and certainly a far, and very welcome, departure from the dowdy Kias of yesteryear. This is a handsome car.
The interior design of the Cadenza are even more impressive, with the entire cabin luxuriously wrapped in plush leather and finely accentuated with wood trim. The rear cabin, in particular, features a wonderfully atmospheric panoramic sunroof, flooding the entire cabin space with an expansive sense of ambience and natural light. The cabin itself is generously spacious, offering considerable headroom, and, due to its front wheel drive layout, an abundance of legroom, by virtue of the absence of a centre driveshaft. The seats themselves are beautifully covered in soft, white, Nappa leather, and equipped with heating cold, winter evenings.
The driver’s seat is equally impressive; similarly outfitted with heating but also with ventilation, the seat is additionally adjustable in fourteen different ways, allowing for the discerning driver to precisely determine the most comfortable driving position for him or herself. The seat itself provides excellent physical support, maintaining the driver’s body position well even under significant load transfers, and just as comfortable as the passenger seats.
The steering wheel is finished in smooth, high-quality leather. It is a satisfying steering wheel with a reassuringly hefty chunkiness inspiring confidence and control along with solid, comfortable grips at the “nine-and-three” positions. The instrument gauge cluster is clean and easy to read, with a bright heads-up-display to compliment, providing additional information to the driver. The center console exudes similar quality, with carefully-weighted buttons installed in a thoughtful layout without excessive clutter.
The one fault I could find with the interior was the lack of a dedicated display for the climate temperature. Instead, the climate temperature is integrated in the infotainment display and is momentarily displayed when adjusting the temperature. Other than that ergonomic annoyance, the whole cabin feels extremely high quality, but in terms of materials used as well as the quality of build.
The Limited trim is fully loaded with every option available. The multimedia system is installed with Apple Car Play and Android Auto, along with support for USB, Bluetooth, and auxiliary input. It’s all paired with an impressive 630-watt Harmon Kardon stereo with 7.1 surround sound. The system operated using a responsive, high-definition, 8” touchscreen, which is significantly smoother to use than other infotainment systems, even in more expensive cars.
As for driver assistance features, the Cadenza is fitted with a full, 360 degree camera view for parking, parking sensors with rear cross-traffic alert, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, and collision avoidance with automatic braking. Each alert can be customized to the driver’s preferences in regard to the sensitivity of the sensors and the volume level of the warnings. On top of that, most warnings can be displayed on the head-up display. The Cadenza Limited is also equipped with adaptive cruise control.
The Cadenza is a competent performer for its segment, with the few dynamic faults largely mitigated by several pleasant surprises. The Cadenza comes with a single choice of engine, a 3.3 liter, direct-injection V6 producing 290 hp and 253 lb-ft of torque, which is relatively sprightly for its class, if not neck-snappingly rapid. The eight-speed automatic transmission is particularly smooth, and responds reasonably quickly to paddle shifts.
As for handling, the Cadenza certainly acquits itself well for a vehicle of its heft, with the steering being the big surprise. It’s very well weighted, with a progressive increase in steering weight as more input is applied. The chassis is competent on most roads and body roll is well controlled. Nevertheless, the brakes do leave something to be desired, as the lack of bite gives the driver a lack of confidence.
Cruising, or commuting, however, is where the Cadenza truly shines. The suspension neutralizes bumps and other imperfections in the road surface, leaving the passenger compartment essentially insulated from the shocks, while the double-paned glass windows prevent any excess wind noise from entering the cabin. However, a bit of road noise managed to enter the cabin, a result I suspect from the low profile tires on the 19” wheels.
The full-size executive sedan segment is extremely competitive. It’s difficult to recommend any one vehicle as a definitive winner. And, despite the very evident quality of the Cadenza, it is nevertheless priced at a point $2,000 higher than similarly equipped class rivals in the Toyota Avalon and the Nissan Maxima.
The biggest challenge that the Cadenza is likely to face still pertains to the stigma associated with its badge; despite having made considerable progress in recent years in improving its brand perception. Kia is still carrying the weight of its reputation from humbler times. The Cadenza, however, constitutes clear evidence that Kia can now design and construct a legitimate contender, a “near luxury” offering that’s now fully competitive with equivalent entries from Japan, Europe, and the United States. This is a truly compelling sedan.
My full video review can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HaTCjZWIYjU
Public Brand Perception
Uncertain Resale Value
Excellent Fit and Finish
Quick Progress From Kia's of 10 years ago
Engine – 3.3L DOHC 24-Valve Direct Injected V6
Drivetrain – FWD
Horsepower – 290hp @ 6,400 rpm
Torque – 253 lb-ft @ 5,200 rpm
Transmission – 8-speed Automatic
Weight – 3770 lbs
Starting Price – $31,990; Tested at $44,390