2017 Kia Cadenza Review

Kia Builds a Better Lexus

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From its hot-selling breadbox on wheels, the Soul, to a chart-topping performance in the latest J.D. Power Initial Quality Study, Kia is a brand on the move.

It’s hard to believe how far this South Korean automaker has come since its U.S. debut back in 1994. The firm’s inaugural models in America were the Sephia sedan and Sportage utility vehicle, products that were, to be polite, cruder than a Howard Stern broadcast. But what a difference 22 years can make. Today, their slogan “The Power to Surprise” rings truer than ever.

Old enough to purchase booze but far more responsible than some puerile frat boy, Kia is continuing its push to offer more and better products. Appropriately, this youthful brand’s Cadenza sedan has been totally retooled for 2017, riding on a stronger, lighter, more rigid architecture, gaining advanced new technology that drivers are sure to love, all while offering more refinement than ever.

Reaching Higher

The new Cadenza is intended to be an aspirational product for customers that want a little something more than what the Optima offers but aren’t quite sold on the brand’s larger – and rear-wheel-drive – K900. Kia designers and engineers targeted rivals like the Chevrolet Impala, Toyota Avalon, Chrysler 300 and even the Lexus ES 350 when creating this car.


And dimensionally the 2017 Cadenza fits right in with this respected crowd. Its wheelbase, width and overall length are within an inch or two of these competing sedans. Aside from foundational digits, it’s also styled to play well in this segment.

Company representatives are keen to trumpet the car’s design, highlighting its “tiger nose” front-end and straight-line simplicity. This overall visual cleanliness is appreciated, though it’s still rather generic looking, with a profile that could belong to a Fusion, 200 or even Sonata. Likewise, the grille is rather nondescript. In short, the Cadenza’s bodywork could have wowed but it leaves us wanting; a little more razzmatazz would have gone a long way.

Luxury Lifestyle

But guess what? Customers shopping in this segment aren’t interested in flashy design; clean, handsome and understated are the adjectives that count and they’re exactly what this Kia delivers. Additionally, it’s important to remember that, as with people, it’s what inside that counts.


Neither does the Cadenza disappoint here, either. Its interior is truly premium and would not look – or feel – out of place in a vehicle wearing Lexus or Acura badges, that’s how well designed and built it is. How things have changed since the mid ‘90s!

The Cadenza’s cabin is extremely spacious, offering just shy of 108 cubic feet of passenger volume, supposedly a best-in-class figure. In real-world terms this means there’s ample room for front-row passengers and even more for riders confined to steerage. This car’s backseat is simply huge, with acres of sprawlin’ space! Likewise, the trunk is generously portioned, offering 16 cubic feet.


But it’s not just room that sets this interior apart, oh no. The materials are unexpectedly rich, with high-quality plastics, richly quilted leather and sturdy switchgear found throughout. It’s also host to plenty of advanced technology.

Tech This Out!

Kia’s third-generation UVO infotainment system is included at no extra charge, as is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for even broader market appeal. Beyond these niceties, there’s more standard equipment than can be listed, but a few highlights include leather seats, dual zone automatic climate control, Bluetooth, keyless entry with push-button start and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror.

Given the Cadenza’s rich feature content, it’s no surprise there are some luxury-grade options on the menu as well. You can snag an electrically opening and closing trunk, a panoramic sunroof and power-folding exterior mirrors. For audiophiles there’s even a 12-speaker Harman Kardon sound system, which comes with the firm’s advanced Quantum Logic Surround and ClariFi technologies for a top-shelf listening experience.

Power to the People

Unlike some rivals, just one powertrain is offered in the 2017 Cadenza. Fortunately, it’s a solid piece of engineering.

This car is hauled around by a 3.3-liter V6 that’s rated at 290 horsepower and 253 lb-ft of torque. The engine has been revised for reduced emissions and better fuel economy than before, something that’s always a top priority. Accordingly, this Kia is estimated to return 20 miles per gallon in urban driving and 28 on the highway. These figures ought to result in a combined score of 23 MPG.


To both prove its longevity and avoid going bankrupt from repair costs since the company still costs a 10-year/100,000-mile warranty, this powerplant was extensively tested. Supposedly, engineers ran it on the dynamometer for 41 days straight at maximum RPM and load, a punishing test that simulated some 100,000 miles’ worth of driving in barely more than a month.

Keeping things simple, the Cadenza is only offered in front-wheel drive; sorry Subaru fans. Helping make the most of its available power is a newly designed eight-speed automatic transmission that was completely developed in house by Kia.

The Drive

Matching its luxury-car interior, the Cadenza is suitably refined when you put it in motion. The ride is smooth and composed, at least on Virginia’s impeccable countryside pavement, though this car is also unexpectedly quiet. The use of laminated glass for the windshield and front doors plus the inclusion of expanded foam in the A-pillars and a full underbody pan help keep uncouth ruckus far from passengers.


Give it the spurs and the Cadenza moves ahead with verve, though its engine needs some revs on the clock before it starts pulling in earnest. Low-RPM torque is a little lacking, a deficiency even a super-resourceful transmission can’t entirely make up for. Once tachometer needle hits about 5,000 the Cadenza surges ahead with performance-car vigor.

Speaking of that eight-ratio gearbox, it’s pretty much faultless. Shifts are promptly executed exactly when they need to be; there’s absolutely nothing to complain about here, in fact maybe Kia should think about selling this transmission to rivals, it’s that good.


The brakes are fine, so adequate in fact I don’t remember anything about them. The Cadenza’s steering is likewise forgettable; it neither triumphs nor transgresses, which is class appropriate as nobody in the market for a premium front-wheel-drive sedan like this is cross-shopping a Miata. In short, this Kia drives just fine, doing everything you’d expect and nearly nothing you don’t. It’s an ideal foil to an Avalon or something from Buick.

The Verdict: 2017 Kia Cadenza Review

The 2017 Kia Cadenza offers a surfeit of laudable attributes. It’s well built, feature laden and refined, giving rival models a run for their money.

On the subject of cash, this car should start around $32,000 for a base Premium model. A range-topping Limited variant is expected to go for roughly 44 large, though official pricing has not been revealed. Look for that information a little closer to launch, which will be this fall.


To date, the company has only sold about 28,000 examples of the Cadenza since it launched back in the 2014 model year. Obviously, they’re looking to significantly increase that figure with this new model, which, like the overall appeal of this car should be no surprise at all.

Discuss this story on our Kia Cadenza Forum

  • Circa79

    why havent you posted review of the 2017 Lacrosse like other auto review sources?

  • Modern Luddite

    Cadenza sales in US for all of 2015 were 7,343. Sales of Lexus ES350 were 64,969

    Looks like the market has clearly spoken and purchasers do not agree that Kia has “built a better Lexus” as this article implies.

    They wish..but it is not reality.

  • Shiratori1

    It won’t sell, just like the previous generation. No one wants to buy a luxury or near-luxury vehicle at a dealership that is also selling 16K subcompacts (rio).

  • Isend2C

    My wife got a 2014 one. It’s a nice car, but not worth $40k to me. Thankfully we’re leasing it.

  • Rocket

    You’re confusing luxury with well-equipped mainstream. Cars like the Avalon, Maxima, Impala, etc do just fine selling next to entry level models. If you’re expecting a Lexus-like dealer experience, you’re willing to pay more and not looking at Kia’s competitive set. The luxury-oriented K900, on the other hand, will struggle to gain traction in such an environment.

  • Rocket

    I’m not loving the concave tiger nose grille treatment, but overall it’s a handsome car with a very appealing interior. I can’t say I’m impressed with the fuel economy though. Still, if I were shipping in this segment, I’d give it some consideration.

  • bd

    Not so fast.

    The Optima went from around 40k in sales (2nd gen) to around 160k in sales (3rd gen) – so Quadrupling sales.

    Even if the Cadenza only triples sales – that’s around 24k, which I think Kia would gladly take.

    And while the Camry is the best selling midsize sedan, it’s hardly the “best” in its segment.

  • bd

    And yet, the Genesis sedan outsells the Audi A6, Lexus GS and Infiniti Q70.

    The Cadenza is a “tweener” anyway, in between something like the Avalon and the ES.

  • Modern Luddite

    But there are a lot more potential customers for Camry/Optima type cars than for the car segment this one wants to be in.

    As to the argument that Camry is hardly the best, I suppose I agree, but it’s a bit of a conundrum. It’s easy to point at any car in any segment and say it’s not “the best”, but “best” is subjective. To some it means best engine, best acceleration, others like the body shape, or the interior design. Others like good mileage, and you still have to put “value” for the dollar in there as well.

    No one for example would ever say Dodge Minivans are “the best”. yet they have certainly sold a lot of them over the years. Many car buyers looks for “good enough”, but the car journalists go on and on about “best”.

    My lesson came 20 plus years ago. At the time Dodge was advertising the Dodge Spirit was “better” than the Honda Accord. I ended up buying one (it was cheap at least!), but in retrospect it was completely ludicrous to say a 90’s Dodge Spirit was better than a Honda Accord.

    Let’s wait 3 years and check the numbers then.

  • Circa79

    its pretty much the exact same size as the Avalon and ES. It’s not in between them.

  • Circa79

    if it doesn’t sell, it wont have anything to do with that. Every mainstream brand has a huge range of vehicle prices. Chevy sells models from under $20k to $90k+.

  • Circa79

    what people buy doesn’t have much to do with product excellence. For all intents and purposes this is at least as good as the ES, regardless of what buyers are willing to consider.

  • Circa79

    today’s cars go to the dealer less than their predecessors. I personally think overpaying for a nicer dealer is absurd when you consider you may visit the dealer 2-3 times annually.

  • bd

    By “tweener” – meant something in between the full-size premium (Avalon) and entry-level luxury (ES).

    They are all full-size, FWD sedans.

  • bd

    Of course, but not saying that the new Cadenza will sell like the Optima, but rather could see a similar increase in sales, relative to where it had been before.

    Regardless, expect the new Cadenza to far outsell its predecessor.

  • Circa79

    the cadenza and avalon overlap in pricing- they are direct competitors although it wouldn’t be a stretch for someone to consider it instead of the ES350. Avalon starts in low to mid $30k range and tops out in low $40k range. It appears the Kia will top out a little higher due to extra equipment.

  • Shiratori1

    Deflection. We’re not talking about the genesis.

  • Shiratori1

    We’re talking about the cadenza.

  • EricD.

    This car is going to sell, no doubt. I have a 2008 Lexus GS350 AWD and, at this point, I don’t want another one. I am going to buy one of these Cadenzas, loaded.