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2018 Kia Optima vs. 2018 Kia Cadenza: What’s the Difference?

Your heart is set on a Kia and you’ve narrowed your choices to the 2018 Kia Optima and the 2018 Kia Cadenza. Now you need to determine which is the better pick for you. The choice may be more cut and dry than you think. Although both share Kia DNA and that terrific Kia warranty, there are plenty of differences on which to base your decision. For one, the government classifies the Optima as midsize and the Cadenza as full size. Moreover, the Cadenza is more up market, while the Optima is securely anchored in the mainstream. Much more than size and status, however, separate them.


Both cars look like traditional sedans. Both share Kia’s tiger-nose grille and cat’s-eye headlights. Both have sloping rooflines and wrap-around taillights. Hey, they sound an awful lot alike so far, right? To a point, yes, they do. Despite their similarities, though, the Cadenza’s front end is upright and its concave version of the grille is a much more elegant interpretation. On the 2018 Kia Optima, the face is rounder and softer; the grille is more like the rest of the Kia lineup. In profile, the Optima looks a little more coupe-like.

The Cadenza holds a slight advantage (fractions of an inch) in height and width, but its wheelbase stretches roughly two inches longer and its overall length about 5.5 in longer.


As one might expect, the Cadenza bests the Optima in the space race. Head, shoulder, hip and legroom, front or rear, the Cadenza offers more space. Only in Cadenzas with the panoramic sunroof does the Optima gain a small advantage in headroom. It’s just under an inch in front and a fraction of an inch in the rear. Cargo-carrying capacity is too close to call.

Although the Cadenza isn’t really a luxury sedan, it provides a more elegant passenger experience than the Optima. Upgrades like dual-zone automatic climate control and leather seating are standard on every Cadenza, but only standard on the Optima’s top two grades. Both have color touchscreens, voice-activated UVO infotainment integration, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The Cadenza’s entry-level audio system has eight speakers to the Optima’s six. Both offer a Harman Kardon audio upgrade, but the Cadenza has 12 speakers to the Optima’s 10. In nearly every respect, the Cadenza’s passengers are more pampered than the Optima’s.


The Optima offers more engine choices. Although those choices are attached to specific trim levels, there are three Optima engines to the Cadenza’s single 290-horsepower 3.3-liter V6. Standard on the Optima LX, S and EX is a 185-hp 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine. The LX can also be outfitted with a 178-hp 1.6-liter turbo 4-cylinder. The top-of-the-line SX comes with a 245-hp 2-liter turbo 4-cylinder engine. The Optima offers hybrid models, as well. The Cadenza uses a driver-shiftable 8-speed automatic transmission to spin the front wheels. The Optima’s 2.4L and 2.0T are mated with a 6-speed automatic transmission. The 1.6T uses a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic tranny.

Government-estimated fuel economy is 20 miles per gallon city and 28 mpg highway for the Cadenza. Complicating matters, the Optima’s 2.4L mileage varies according to wheel size. With the base 16-in wheels, the numbers are 25 mpg city/36 highway. With the 17-in wheels, mileage drops to 24 mpg city/34 mpg highway. Moving up to the 18-in wheels lowers it to 23 mpg city/32 mpg highway. The 1.6T delivers 28 mpg city/37 mpg highway. Stepping up to the top-end SX trim with its 2.0T drops mileage to 22 mpg city/31 highway.

Features & Technology

Every Kia vehicle has a value story to tell. Whether you plunk down $23,450 to $31,450 for an Optima or part with $10,000 to $15,000 more for a Cadenza, you will get your money’s worth. Obviously, the Cadenza offers more standard and optional content than the Optima. Furthermore, the Optima offers four grades to the Cadenza’s three, making the Optima more segmented in its standard and available gear.

Upper Cadenza grades have a power tilt-telescopic steering wheel; the Optima has a manual one across all grades. Although it varies by grade, every Cadenza has standard power-adjustable front seats with the top trims getting 14-way versions. Base Optimas have manually adjusted front seats. The top trim has a standard 12-way power adjustable driver’s seat. And on and on it goes. The Cadenza costs more, and you get more.

Driving Experience

No one would call either of these sedans sporty. The Optima’s base 2.4L and 6-speed tranny are engineered more for fuel economy than dynamic performance. It performs satisfactorily for most every-day driving needs. It’s a decently balanced sedan that handles well, producing sufficient thrust to maintain its place in traffic. The 1.6T provides a bit more pep, but it too is basically engineered for fuel economy. With its combination of low-rev torque (up to 260 lb-ft), the high-end 2-liter turbo delivers the most enthusiastic performance of the bunch. If you want a little hot sauce on your eggs, the bigger turbo is the way to go.

The Cadenza doesn’t respond quite as quickly to helm changes with steering that’s somewhat heavier than the Optima. Additionally, its pillow ride is softer than that of the smaller sedan. Its V6 is responsive, going about its work quietly and without drama. The rapid downshifts of its 8-speed automatic help dampen noise.


All grades of both sedans come armed with seven airbags, hill-start assist and a backup camera. Surprisingly, the Optima provides more standard driver-assist/safety technology. Every Optima comes with blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-change assist and rear parking sensors, which are options on the entry-level Cadenza. They are standard on the two top Cadenza trim levels. Furthermore, every Optima provides forward-collision avoidance assist, lane-change assist, lane-keep assist, lane-departure warning and driver attention warning as standard equipment. None of these are even offered on the base Cadenza, but they are standard on the top two grades, along with high beam assist and smart cruise control that also aren’t available on the base Cadenza. The top Cadenza trim also provides surround view monitor and head up display. High-beam assist is optional on all Optima trims. Smart cruise control is standard on the top two Optima grades, while surround view monitor is only available on the top Optima trim.


Your decision boils down to how much you have to spend and how big a sedan you need. If price wasn’t an issue and we didn’t need the extra space, we’d save some cash by opting for the top-of-the-line 2018 Kia Optima SX. It’s more affordable than the entry-level Cadenza and better equipped. Find a Kia Cadenza for sale or Find a Kia Optima for sale

Russ Heaps
Russ Heaps is an author specializing in automotive, financial and travel news. For nearly 35 years he has covered the automotive industry for newspapers, magazines and internet websites. His resume includes The Palm Beach Post, Miami Herald, The Washington Times and numerous other daily newspapers through syndication. He edited Auto World magazine, and helped create and edit NOPI Street... Read More about Russ Heaps

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