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2017 Kia Cadenza: First Drive Review

If you’re looking for information on a newer Kia Cadenza, we’ve published an updated review: 2019 Kia Cadenza Review

Despite often being lost in the shuffle, the 2017 Kia Cadenza plants the Korean brand’s flag in the large-car segment. Far from a household name, knowing what it is and what car company builds it just might earn you a few points in a hotly contested game of Saturday night trivia. Autotrader actually spent a year with the 2014 Cadenza when it was an all-new model, and it quickly won us over. So we were excited to get behind the wheel of the redesigned 2017 version.

With fewer than 3,100 units going out showroom doors in the United States through the first 7 months of this year, the Cadenza isn’t exactly keeping on the lights in the Korean plant where it’s assembled. The fact that you won’t see yourself coming and going at every intersection when driving one isn’t even the best reason to own a Cadenza. As with every other Kia, value is the big story here, followed closely by styling and refinement.

What’s New?

Itemizing what’s new on the revitalized Kia Cadenza would require more space than allotted here. However, there are some notable improvements worth mentioning.

In seeking more elegant styling for the Cadenza, designers at Kia’s California design studio opted for the simplicity of the straight line. Indeed, when viewed in profile, the vehicle’s lines are simple and sleek. Things become a bit more involved when you get to the sedan’s nose.

From the front, the Cadenza looks polished and upscale. The front end’s concave design puts a new twist on the Kia’s familial tiger-nose grille. The grille is flanked by very distinctive z-shaped headlamps. In the rear, the z shape is repeated in the LED taillights.

Inside, Kia has added a fourth dark-brown color to the choice of interiors. A new front-seat heating system, standard in all Cadenza grades, not only distributes the heat more evenly over the cushion surface but also automatically reduces the temperature after the seat has been warming a while.

Among the mechanical enhancements, Kia’s first front-wheel-drive 8-speed automatic transmission delivers power to the wheels, providing quicker shifts and slightly better fuel economy. This transmission is developed and built by Kia in-house, making it the only one in the industry not engineered and built by an outside supplier. See the 2017 Kia Cadenza models for sale near you

Robust Performance

Unless you can sense the subtle nuances of subtracting a few horsepower here or a couple lb-ft of torque there with the practiced skill of a wine sommelier, you’re unlikely to feel the loss of 3 hp and 2 lb-ft of torque in the overhauled 3.3-liter Lambda V6 that’s been carried over from the previous generation. This year’s V6 version delivers 290 hp and 253 lb-ft of peak torque.

But you will notice a difference in the driving experience thanks to that new, hot-to-trot 8-speed automatic transmission, which brings more aggressive acceleration, particularly when kicking down to pass slower traffic. Kia managed to dump a couple of extra cogs into the mix without adding to transmission weight. More aluminum bits in the suspension helped trim weight by 40 pounds.

The Cadenza’s reduced weight, the extra gears in the transmission and the decreased wind drag of the updated exterior design conspire to drop city and combined fuel economy by 1 mile per gallon. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates mileage at 20 mpg in the city, 28 mpg on the highway and 23 mpg in combined driving.

Upscale Furnishings

Although the Cadenza isn’t the top-end sedan in Kia’s lineup — that distinction falls to the K900 — it does compete in a rough-and-tumble segment with some fine cars, like the Toyota Avalon, the Hyundai Azera, the Volkswagen Passat and the Chrysler 300.

Kia engineered more passenger space into the 2017 Cadenza. In fact, the automaker claims the vehicle has the most passenger room in its segment. Additionally, the designers used more upmarket materials and increased the soft-touch areas in the cabin.

Cadenza’s top-end grade, Limited, is joined by the entry-level Premium and midlevel Technology trims. It should come as no surprise that standard content increases as you move up through the trim levels, but even the Premium edition comes standard with leather seating, dual-zone automatic climate control, a 7-inch touchscreen, the third generation of Kia’s UVO systems-integration technology, a USB input, charging jacks, Bluetooth connectivity, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, nine airbags and an 8-speaker audio system.

Kia offers a large suite of driver-aid systems, but you must move up to at least the Technology trim to get them all — only the rearview camera comes standard. Included on the upper two Cadenza grades are a blind spot monitoring system, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-change assist, rear parking assist, autonomous emergency braking, high-beam assist, advanced smart cruise control, lane-departure warning, forward-collision warning and a surround-view monitor. The first four of these systems are available on Premium grade in the only options package offered on any Cadenza.

Drive Time

Looking right at home among the horse farms and vineyards of Virginia’s gentrified northeastern region near Washington, D.C., the 2017 Kia Cadenza proved to be as fun to drive as it is good-looking during its media introduction in mid-August. Kia provided Limited-grade Cadenzas for the 100-or-so-mile drive that took us through the rolling hills of Virginia’s horse country.

Kia provides three modes in which the transmission operates: Eco, Normal and Sport. We didn’t feel much difference between them in our drive, which kept mostly to back roads. Because our cars were decked out in the Limited trim, we had the benefit of the new heads-up display, posting vehicle speed, the speed limit and other information at eye level on the windshield.

Kia models always punch above their weight class. Remarkably quiet and more than comfortable, the Cadenza enjoys the magic touch of Kia’s product folks, who always manage to deliver an experience exceeding the vehicle’s price point.

Arriving When?

Kia promises to have the 2017 Cadenza in showrooms by the end of October or early November at the latest. Finalized pricing is yet to come, but the goal is to lower current pricing by roughly $1,000. Look for Premium pricing below $32,000. Technology models should weigh in at less than $39,000, while SXL or Limited versions will top out at $44,000 before delivery charges. Find a Kia Cadenza for sale

To gain access to this information, Autotrader attended an event sponsored by the vehicle’s manufacturer.


Our editors are here to make car buying easier. We’ve driven, reviewed and compared thousands of cars. We’ve bought and sold more than our fair share, too. And as part of the sprawling Cox Automotive group of companies, we have exclusive access to a range of valuable data and insights. Whether you’re looking for the best car, the best deal or the best buying advice, you can trust... Read More about Autotrader

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