There is real buzz around the brand-new 2017 Kia Cadenza.
Car reviewers near and far have been shocked by its lux feel and right-priced tech.
Are they right?
We spent a week in the loaded Cadenza Limited to find out. Hard on throttle and chucking it around corners... and honestly expecting the worst. After all, it is a hard time for near-luxury sedans. Cars like the Maxima, Avalon, Lacrosse or Chrysler 300 are suffering from low sales and a crowded marketplace. Meanwhile, the deeply unfun Lexus ES still hoovers up sales for reasons no one truly understands.
How can Cadenza carve a place for itself in the $35-45k pricerange? We have a few dozen photos, two high-def videos and a full writeup to find out.
Spoiler alert: Cadenza is fun and sporty as well as high-tech and high-quality. A sport-luxury sedan to take on the world's best.
But first, check out the Cadenza on full throttle and around corners via the below performance drive video.
The Cadenza's style for 2017 makes it very hard to ignore on the road. This is a car that is ultra-modern and unconventional for every body panel. This is a premium Kia that has a look all its own.
This starts up front with the wide and slim Tiger-nose grille. Concave vertical slat work is intricate and sexy up close, and nicely hides the clear panel for its active safety tech.
Then your eyes will find the LEDs galore. The daytime running light setting of the Cadenza is the amber LED turn signal light across the Z-shaped line in the lights. Why not white light for this area? Just to be distinctive, it seems. And to draw eyes. Which it certainly does.
The yellow actually contrasts nicely with the triple-beam LED low and highbeams at night, as it stays lit under the three individual projector bulbs. This pre-dates the new look from Acura with a similar yellow/white contrast. But on the road it is deeply unconventional in 2017.
Quad LED foglamps are a nice nod to Kia's new design mojo. They are also effective at lighting up the near road brilliantly at night.
Around the profile of the Cadenza, you note the huge wheels and fastback overall shape right away as sexy and cool looks. These preview the upcoming Kia Stinger sport sedan nicely. Cadenza, importantly, will rarely if ever be confused for the smaller and cheaper Optima sedan that competes with Accord and Camry.
The front overhang is cleanly integrated with a flowing slash of chrome that starts in the nose and continues across the lower body of Cadenza to the tail. Even so, the slightly long nose ahead of the front wheels does tell car-guys that this is a front-drive sedan.
Interesting looks for the windowline of Cadenza are another all-new design touch that is not a clone of any luxury vehicle for sale. All Kia's own, and the better for it. This rising glasshouse at the rear doors chops the rear glass vertically right before the C-pillar. It looks cool and modern, especially in this SX-Limited trim level.
The tail of Cadenza is one of the only angles that is not completely fresh and unlike anything else on the road. What does it mimic? None other than the Lebron-approved K900 flagship.
This means a hatchback-like long roof is actually just a very chopped trunklid. This part of the design feels pretty heavy, visually, but integrates nicely with the horizontal trunk chrome slash between the oversized LED brake lights. These lamps have an LED light pipe with a similar Z-shape as the accent in the nose. Reminds you of the car's name.
Twin exhaust pipes down below are suitably premium and speak to Cadenza's standard V6 power.
Overall design thoughts? A clean and unique look at 2017 luxury style. A solid B grade that looks worlds more current and modern than main rivals like ES350 or Avalon.
Design Analysis Walkaround
Much as design and handling are important for enthusiasts, the cabins are what seals the deals in this segment. It has to be plush, silent and filled with enough tech to impress BMW and Mercedes drivers. This is what sets the near-luxury, full-size sedans above a loaded Camry, etc.
Plus a jumbo backseat with premium details. This bridges the gap between the $40's pricing of these machines and the $60k or so that Lexus or Jaguar will ask for a similarly-equipped, and similarly-sized, rival.
Kia easily spent as much time on Cadenza's cabin as it did on the exterior style or its performance tuning. We're glad they did -- as a poorly designed or poor quality cabin is a key reason for avoiding American rivals in this pricerange.
On first sitting, the Cadenza hits the fences for an in-the-park home run. Gorgeous white Nappa leathers have a quilted pattern stitch. The alcantara headliner is tactile and lovely. Especially when zooming back its sunshade for the giant moonroof. Giant width for the split, leather-wrapped center console is a respectable 7 series homage in look and feel. Everything snicks around with a high-quality feel. Even the vent controls have that nice metallized knob edge, with inner rubber elements. It is unique but clearly an Audi and Germanic-inspired approach to small details that sets Cadenza apart from cheaper Kias.
A huge range of seat adjustment even includes our favorite: the squab extension for extra under-leg support. Cadenza keeps impressing as you tap the start button and the V6 fires up with Lexus-beating refinement.
The Cadenza cabin is a nice mix of high-tech and traditional. High-tech for the Auto Hold functionality, vented seats and tons of steering wheel controls. But traditional with a normal gear selector and simple, easy touchscreen controls. No mystery touchpad or remote knobs to worry about. A cluster of button controls behind the gearstick makes perfect sense from minute one.
On a test drive or certainly as an owner, you will have dozens of moments when you are shocked at how nice Cadenza feels inside. How easily the technology does its job, without being confusing or mysterious in operation.
The cabin of Cadenza even stood up to hard cornering -- where its seats have plenty of support and a stellar drive position. We love how low and reclined you can get in the driver's seat -- with the wheel extending put to fall right in your lap. Much of this greatness is not a Cadenza Limited exclusive, either. The core package is terrific in its high-quality and highly spacious nature -- even from its low 30s base pricing.
There are a few places where Cadenza Limited is a bit of a let-down versus its aspirational, $60k rivals. The Nappa leather looks great but is slightly slippery and not as soft as we'd like. And on a final note: something we debated mentioning here but decided it needs to be said: Cadenza Limited seemed to have a slightly unusual aroma after baking in the Carolina sun. Not sure if it is the glue, plastics or leather... but Cadenza is not intoxicating luxury for all senses as a result.
This is subjective, and definitely not enough to hurt the B+ cabin grade of the 2017 Cadenza Limited.
What really shocks about the Cadenza Limited? Its handling! Who would've expected a Maxima-killer from Kia?
But that is what Cadenza was on our handling loop from the above video.
Shocking for any front-drive sedan. And zapping your preconceived Kia notions to dust.
Cadenza is genuinely fun to hustle to its redline and fling it around corners. The 290HP V6 is slightly down on torque versus Maxima, but makes up for that with a snappy eight-speed automatic and precise throttle. The interplay among power, steering and brakes is exceptionally good.
And not just for front-drive sedans rivalling Avalon or Lexus ES. Beating those cars in the fun-to-drive stakes is easy.
But Cadenza is also more playful and sticky around corners than we ever expected. Its gas-pressurized front struts and dual-flow rear shocks have been tuned to perfection -- and are standard across the Cadenza price-range.
In truth, it is slightly more fun than even the small-engined 5 series, Lexus GS and E-Class. Fact.
How did they do this? An ultra rigid chassis feel helps, while the independent suspension all around is one better than Maxima's solid rear axle. The 19s with performance rubber help Cadenza stay hard on throttle even around bumpy corners. No slop and even nice balance around fast corners.
A flipside of this surprisingly rewarding handling? A ride quality that feels much more German than American in its firmness balance. Cadenza is very, very comfortable but does lack the pillowy, wallowy nature of the Lexus ES. This is great news from our perspective, but some shoppers might find the ride of the SX-L Cadenza to be a little sharper than desired. Cheaper trimlevels of Cadenza ride smoother.
Overall, the best surprise/delight of the Cadenza's performance is its steering feel and handling balance.
Cadenza comes in with the standard V6 powertrain and giant cabin from its $32k base price in Premium trim level. The $40k Cadenza Technology trim is likely the best-seller. It brings the sharp vertical-slatted grille, LED headlights with LED fogs, plus active cruise and 8-inch nav with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto. Vented front seats and that Auto Hold electronic parking brake also join the fun at the Tech level. The giant moonroof and paddle shifters join in at the Tech specification as well.
Limited brings unique, dark-finish wheels as the only exterior differentiator versus the Tech. Inside is where SX-Limited Cadenza's really impress. The quilted leather seats are Limited-exclusives, as is the plush hypersuede headliner, power trunk and heated rear seats.
In general, Cadenza from Tech above is immensely well-equipped. To match this equipment like wireless charging, power-folding mirrors, heads-up display, active cruise, blind spot and surround view monitor would take big dollar options on rivals.
The Limited Cadenza makes buying extra easy: there are no options at this loaded level of about $45,000 even, out the door.
We didn't know what to expect from Cadenza. Sure, we hoped it would be respectable competition to the Avalon and hoipefully slightly more fun than Chrysler 300 or Buick Lacrosse.
What we found is a car that leaves those price and size rivals in the dust. A car with a bigger backseat than nearly anything else under $50k -- and also one with tech features rarely seen under $60k.
On these metrics the Cadenza is a star car.
Its compelling and special exterior design details prove this is no Lexus clone. Cadenza draws stares on the road because it looks classy and chic from all angles. A fresh take that is proud to be unique on the streets.
Where Cadenza really earns its keep is the drive. Great comfort, support and luxury ... meets frisky handling and awesome grip!?
Cadenza is a terrific step in Kia's evolution -- and a car that is easily better than American and many Asian rivals. One with a lux/sport balance that should worry the Europeans.