Driven by Jim Powell
Kia is a Korean automotive company that moves quickly to improve their products, sometimes with stealthy efficiency. The Cadenza luxury sedan is the flagship for Kia and is a prime example of how they can completely redesign their vehicle, and no one notices. The Second-Generation Cadenza has been, lengthened, updated, and given even more electronic safety and conveniences for 2017. In order for more people to buy this competent and comfortable sedan, Kia might want to tell someone about it!
There have been some styling changes and platforms improvements only an enthusiast would notice and appreciate. After all, who would know that consumers can own a Cadenza with one of two different grilles? Lower trim models come with the “Diamond Butterfly” front grille that features a three-dimensional pattern, and higher trim models come with the “Intaglio” grille which includes vertical blades. This notwithstanding, the Cadenza is a wonderful example of what a hard-working team of engineers and computer wizards can produce.
Driving the 2107 Cadenza is an enjoyable experience with quiet and stable manners at any speed. The body structure is lighter and more rigid which can be felt on most roads. Kia has invested heavily in new suspension sub-frames and bushings. New shock absorbers now include a Hydraulic Rebound Stopper (HRS), which works to provide a smoother ride over harsh or broken surfaces. At the same time, they have worked at giving the Cadenza a sportier suspension geometry. The result is a wonderful ride on city street speeds but a firmer ride on highways. The suspension kept the car level and planted on all but the most severely uneven and broken pavement of Southern California.
Kia worked on the steering so it would be more responsive and it does have a good on-center feel at higher speeds. They have gone to a new 32-bit Electronic Control Unit (ECU), but I still felt slightly detached from the front wheels on cornering the mountain roads. The same is true with the electronic throttle response in 3 of the four driving modes: Comfort, Eco, and Smart Eco. There is a feeling that pushing on the gas is telling a computer what you want to do and then the computer decides if you mean it. The driveline software is biased toward fuel efficiency and not performance. Now the “Sport” setting does improve throttle response, but there is still a slight hesitation in throttle response.
The Kia Cadenza is a very quiet car to live in, even after 500 miles in a day. I was still impressed with how outside noises were reduced, and not because of electronic sound canceling. Kia has added acoustic absorbing laminate in the front windows and windshield to insulate the car from wind noise and a floor pan undercover to quite road noise. With managing airflow, even around the wheel wells, Kia has dropped the coefficient of drag from 0.29 to 0.28. This does not sound like much but aerodynamic engineers will be impressed and I saw 29.3 mpg after a week of combined driving.
Braking on the Cadenza is very impressive, with larger front rotors (12 inches) and rear rotors (11.1 inches). The electronic controls on the braking system are invisible but very effective in stopping and controlling this car. The new 19-inch alloy wheels and Michelin®2 tires (P245/40R19) on my press car were very sticky in rainy weather traction and did not add to the road noise. The 18-inch wheel and tire setup does soften the ride a bit more and are available on the entry-level models.
The Cadenza is Kia’s first FWD eight-speed automatic transmission application. Even though this transmission is always shifting to keep the engine in an optimum power range, the driver rarely feels the transfer of gears. The electronic controls for this transmission are finely tuned for smooth driving dynamics and an improvement in fuel efficiency.
This new transmission is powered by Kia’s own revised 3.3-liter V6 engine, and both have been tuned for improved fuel economy. In my opinion, with 290 hp and direct injection, there is plenty of power output available here. When adding in the excellent reliability of this engine, this one of the best drivetrains in the industry. Kia engineers ran this V6 at full power and under fully loaded conditions for 41 consecutive days- non-stop. This was to simulate more than 100,000 miles of real-world use, without any problems or breakdowns.
As for the interior and exterior design, Cadenza is birthed at Kia’s California design studio, the birthplace of the GT4 Stinger concept and Soul. This is a good looking sedan which confused people who were thinking BMW or Lexus when they approached the car during my test drive. Kia makes a statement with their matching Z-shaped lighting signatures in the headlights and LED taillights. The Cadenza also picks up some styling changes as it gets the unique LED lights from the successful SUV vehicles.
Again, only avid tech readers would notice Cadenza’s wider stance and lowered roofline. There is another 0.5 inch in the wheelbase which was added to the back seat legroom. Kia also extended the roofline rearward more than two inches, while maintaining rear headroom and slightly improving trunk space. In short, this is a large sedan with a generous rear seat. I noticed that taller people could get into and out of the rear seat without hitting their head. Proof of its prowess, Cadenza is being used as a limo in Korea, much like the Hyundai Genesis sedan.
The most impressive space on the revised Cadenza is the interior. This is a well thought out interior, with quality materials and even higher levels of craftsmanship. Instrument panels flow into the dashboard, which flows into the door and side panels. There is stitching everywhere, which is actually needle and thread. Soft leather covered all the surfaces my arms touched. Nappa leather is available with quilted seat bolsters accented by diamond-shaped stitching, giving this Kia a uniquely dressy appearance. There is a dark brown interior color new for 2017 making four choices for interior color combinations. Like the outgoing model, the White Package remains an option, but it has been upgraded with a new black wood trim finished with a pearlescent sheen.
Kia even redesigned the heating elements used for the seat warmers to more evenly distribute warmth and utilize a smart control system to automatically lower the heater operating mode after a certain period of time. Seriously? OK, Kia engineers might need more hobbies.
I enjoyed the smooth and accurate Advanced Smart Cruise Control with stop-and-go capabilities. In heavy traffic, this is a nice feature which made 4 hours of Los Angeles congestion in the rain easier and safer. Other safety features include Forward Collision Warning and Autonomous Emergency Braking, Lane Departure Warning, and Blind Spot Detection systems. Kia uses sensors to address the car drifting toward an adjacent vehicle by automatically braking the opposite side front wheel to help maintain the vehicle’s intended course. This non-inferring safety system does not take over the steering like the Hyundai Genesis lane departure system and assists the driver instead of becoming the driver. It can also be deactivated with the push of a button.
The 2017 Cadenza gets a heads up display (HUD) which projects speed, audio changes, and turn-by-turn navigation directions (with additional emergency information) on the windshield. Kia’s Surround View Monitor has been updated with improved software and display resolution which gives the driver a clearer birds-eye view of the area around the vehicle, with newly added reverse guidelines- adding confidence when backing into confined spaces. All these images can be overwhelming, and it would be helpful if they could be deactivated or turned off sooner when putting the transmission into “Drive.” Other bells and whistles include Kia’s auto opening trunk, a wireless smartphone charger, and the latest generation UVO system. I was disappointed in the voice recognition microphone response. For such a quiet sedan, the computer should have recognized every word I spoke, and it failed to understand many commands. UVO now adds Android Auto4 and Apple® CarPlay5 as standard programming.
Overall, this is a beautiful sedan that rivals the best sedans in the world. It only falls short on the feeling the driver gets when computers seem to create a slight separation from driver inputs and the delayed vehicle response. The number of computers, features, and options are too many to name in this review. Kia has built the 2017 Kia Cadenza with the newest of technologies and amazingly kept the Limited model MSRP at just $45,290. This is well under a similar, well-equipped model in any of the luxury brands, including Lincoln or Cadillac, making the Kia Cadenza a good value.