2017 Kia Cadenza Tested: An Inside Story (2023)

Whenever the term “luxury car” gets bandied about, certain brands come to mind first—Mercedes-Benz, Cadillac, and Lexus among them. Not so much Kia. But the Kia Cadenza first appeared on the scene in the U.S. as a 2014 model, nosing its way into the mainstream large-sedan segment dominated by the Toyota Avalon and the Chevrolet Impala. For 2017, the second-generation Cadenza arrives, and it gracefully moves farther up in execution, carving out a niche among full-size near-luxury sedans.

White, Light

Our test example was dressed in SXL trim (which stands for SX Limited) and equipped with the White package, which brought seats wrapped in ivory-colored nappa leather with quilted, diamond-stitched bolsters. A matching microsuede headliner; leather-trimmed dash and door panels; and piano black, faux wood, and metallic silver accents all could be materials pilfered from a Mercedes-Benz. Approach the Cadenza during the evening hours, and the LED interior lighting illuminating our car’s bright-white cabin brought to mind the presentations we’re used to seeing on auto-show turntables.

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Compared with the previous Cadenza, rear-seat riders gain half an inch of legroom, and rear-seat passenger volume grows from 45 to 46 cubic feet. Although rear-space hairsplitting will tell you that falls short of the 49 cubic feet provided by the Toyota Avalon and the Buick LaCrosse, the Cadenza’s back seat comfortably accommodates occupants well over six feet tall. The Kia also has excellent front-seat roominess and total passenger volume of 105 cubic feet, an increase of two from before.

HIGHS: Handsome exterior, artful and spacious interior, smooth ride.

That’s in a package with the exact same overall length and a fractionally longer wheelbase. The styling is new, with clean body panels and a single body-side crease that runs the length of the vehicle, giving credence to chief design officer Peter Schreyer’s “simplicity of the straight line” philosophy. Out front is a concave version of Kia’s “tiger nose” grille, although the look is strikingly similar to that of the Volvo S90. Two nose treatments are available in the Cadenza lineup. The lower trims use a “diamond butterfly” design similar to other Kias, but our test car wore the new “intaglio” grille with vertically oriented blades. The daytime running lights feature a Z-shaped lighting signature that’s also applied to the LED taillamps. While they look upscale, annoying shadows project onto the road ahead, a product of how light is reflected within the housings.

The Kia Cadenza SXL includes as standard a head-up display and all the gadgetry and safety features available in lesser models’ optional Technology package. The long list of safety tech includes blind-spot and forward-collision warning, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-change assist, rear-parking assist, automatic high-beams, automated emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, and a 360-degree-view camera system. Luxury bits exclusive to the SXL include side and powered rear sunshades for rear-seat passengers, a trunk that automatically opens as you approach it, heated rear outboard seats, and the aforementioned nappa leather upholstery.

More Gears, Less Power

Although sitting in the Cadenza is pleasant, driving it is somewhat less so. For 2017, Kia has slightly dialed back the output of the 3.3-liter V-6, by 3 horsepower to 290 and by 2 lb-ft of torque to 253, which, along with Kia’s new eight-speed automatic transmission, is part of an effort to increase fuel economy. EPA city and combined ratings both improve by 1 mpg (to 20 and 23 mpg). The highway rating remains at 28 mpg, but during our 200-mile, 75-mph highway fuel-economy test, we observed a respectable 30 mpg. Kia claims the new eight-speed automatic is lighter than the former six-speed and that the addition of two cogs increases its efficiency. We were impressed with the transmission’s smooth and inconspicuous upshifts around town; however, laying into the throttle caused some hunting during downshifts, and upshifts remained rather lethargic despite the request for urgency.

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The less than crisp shifts at wide-open throttle, coupled with the slight power reduction, were noticeable at the track, where this car recorded a 6.7-second zero-to-60-mph time, 0.5 second longer than the previous-generation model we tested despite almost identical curb weights. We attribute that to the extra shift required en route to 60 mph. It also fell short in the quarter-mile, crossing the line in 15.0 seconds at 95 mph, compared with 14.8 seconds at 97 mph for the 2014 Cadenza. That trails the Buick LaCrosse, which is capable of a 5.9-second zero-to-60-mph time and a 14.5-second quarter-mile at 100 mph.

LOWS: Slower than before, dynamically lacking, longish stopping distances.

Doubling the computing power of the electrically assisted steering improved response versus the outgoing model. It still feels overboosted, but Sport mode does provide higher effort. Even moderately vigorous cornering brings howling protest from the Michelin Primacy MXM4 all-season rubber, but even so, the Cadenza managed 0.83 g around the skidpad. That’s up 0.02 g from the previous Cadenza and puts it near the front of the pack, although the Nissan Maxima SR leads the class with 0.87 g.

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The Cadenza’s brake feel is vastly improved, and it’s easy to modulate stopping force. The brake rotors have grown one inch in diameter in the front, to 12 inches, and by 0.1 inch at the rear, to 11.1 inches. The larger rotors delivered shorter stops, although braking performance is no better than mediocre. The Cadenza required 180 feet to come to a halt from 70 mph—six feet shorter than in our last test but longer than the results posted by the LaCrosse, the Maxima, and the Avalon.

Quiet, Please

On our distressed Michigan roads, the Cadenza’s suspension turns sandpaper into silk. Body motions are well controlled by an updated damper package, while revised bushings in the front and rear subframes help improve lateral stiffness. Kia says it used additional acoustic materials to quiet the Cadenza’s cabin, yet we recorded 68 decibels at a 70-mph cruise, two decibels louder than the previous version.

With its redesign, the 2017 Kia Cadenza solidifies its place at the table. The former Cadenza was a fifth-place finisher in a comparison of six entry-level luxury sedans, but Kia has polished and refined the new one to the point that it’s a credible competitor. While the Cadenza may not win any drag races, it’s among the best-looking of its peers and boasts the segment’s most artistic interior—particularly in white under the lights.



2017 Kia Ceadenza

front-engine, front-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door sedan


DOHC 24-valve V-6, aluminum block and heads, direct fuel injection
204 in3, 3342 cm3
290 hp @ 6400 rpm
253 lb-ft @ 5200 rpm

8-speed automatic with manual shifting mode

Wheelbase: 112.4 in
Length: 195.7 in
Width: 73.6 in
Height: 57.9 in
Passenger volume: 105 ft3
Cargo volume: 16 ft3
Curb weight: 3798 lb

Zero to 60 mph: 6.7 sec
Zero to 100 mph: 16.5 sec
Zero to 130 mph: 31.5 sec
Rolling start, 5-60 mph: 7.4 sec
Top gear, 30-50 mph: 3.4 sec
Top gear, 50-70 mph: 4.5 sec
Standing ¼-mile: 15.0 sec @ 95 mph
Top speed (governor limited): 148 mph
Braking, 70-0 mph: 180 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad*: 0.83 g

EPA city/highway driving: 20/28 mpg
C/D observed: 23 mpg
C/D observed highway driving: 30 mpg
C/D observed highway range: 550 mi

c/d testing explained

2017 Kia Cadenza Tested: An Inside Story (5)

David Beard

Senior Testing Editor

David Beard studies and reviews automotive related things and pushes fossil-fuel and electric-powered stuff to their limits. His passion for the Ford Pinto began at his conception, which took place in a Pinto.

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