by Frank S. Washington
MIDDLEBURG, Va., – Kia reminds us of the tale about the hare and the tortoise, with the Korean automaker in the role of the latter. It methodically keeps putting one foot in front of the other until it arrives at the target. When Kia first came to the U.S. market in 1994, it finished dead last in the country’s most prominent Initial Quality Survey. This year the automaker finished first.
You could say the same thing about the Kia Cadenza. Since it was introduced in 2013, only 28,000 of the large sedans have been sold. That’s not a lot but those sales are in a segment of the market that the automaker had no offerings, thus, each one added to the bottom line.
So is the glass half full or half empty? Looking at Kia’s record the smart money says the glass is half full. Kia has redesigned the Cadenza for 2017 and will obviously push on with this large sedan which should be taken seriously as the automaker widens the wedge it has created in the large car market.
It is PR hype but what Kia has given the second generation Cadenza is a stronger body structure, power enhancements and made its driving experience more engaging. But first the automaker refined the sheet metal.
The Cadenza’s design for 2017 is evolutionary; you’ll know the new Cadenza when you see it. But the redesign is sleeker, a little more sophisticated. It’s newer. The new car had Z shaped accent lighting in the headlamps and the LED taillights that made it look sharper.
The car had a new fascia with air slits on the ends for better cooling. The tiger nose grille was prominent but on the 2017 Cadenza it was concaved toward the engine bay. But the grille has also evolved into a new hexagonal shape that emphasizes the Cadenza’s visual width with lines extending underneath the headlights. What’s more, two grilles are available depending on the trim line.
Kia said lower trim models of the Cadenza will come with the “Diamond Butterfly” grille that features the same three-dimensional pattern as several siblings within the lineup, but with its own unique appearance thanks to the curved form. Higher trim models will come with the “Intaglio” grille, featuring vertically oriented, faceted blades. Whichever, they both will be tiger nosed grilles.
Chrome garnishes as Kia called them were added to the trunk-lid, side mirrors and rear quarter windows. And chrome was added to the side molding. The overall length remained the same but the car was slightly wider and lower. The wheelbase was “stretched” increasing legroom by almost a half-inch. Rear seat space rivaled full-size sedans. The roofline was extended rearward by more than two inches; that improved trunk space a little. We took a look and the trunk seemed big enough that you could hear an echo if not for the carpet.
Stylists spiffed up the Cadenza’s interior too. They used better quality materials; they widened the space by giving the sedan a wraparound dashboard that flowed into the door panels. And they said the dash featured real stitching (which can be faked these days). The door panels featured soft touch materials that were noticeable during our test drive
The driver’s seat had been lowered. The Cadenza can be equipped with a seat cushion extender that slides and rotates. Heating elements for the front seats were reengineered to more evenly distribute warmth. It was 90 degrees, humid and the heat index approached three figures when we tested the car so we took their word for it.
Of course we had the air conditioner going and the fan was not noticeable, it was pretty quiet, as was the ride. There wasn’t much road noise that got into the cabin. The sight lines were really good and the navigation system was easy to use. We went on an unexpected tour of Northern Virginia’s Equine sector.
This was a fairly easy drive through the rolling hills here. Road surfaces pretty much didn’t change. There were few curves and no switchbacks. Still we got a sense of how the driving characteristics of the Cadenza had been improved.
The 3.3-liter direct injected V6 worked a little to get over the hills. It made 290 horsepower but we think the 253 pound-feet of torque would have helped climbing if the full force had kicked in at something less than 5,300 rpm. The hills were not that steep. The engine was mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission, the first time that many gears had been mated to a front-wheel-drive car. The 2017 Cadenza was rated at 20 mpg in the city, 28 mpg on the highway and 23 mpg combined.
Chassis strength was improved over the outgoing model by using 50 percent more advanced high strength steel. Side body panels were stronger. They used more structural adhesives and hot stamped components that increased stiffness by 35 percent. When engineers do stuff like that it also helps to seal the vehicle and that leads to a quieter vibration free ride.
Engineers used aluminum instead of steel in areas like the front steering knuckles, the chassis was lighter and larger bushing were used on the front and rear sub-frames. Kia said amplitude selective damping shock absorbers maximized comfort without sacrificing stability. That’s hard to argue with. Our test car was rock solid, quiet on the road and stable at any speed, or at least the ones we covered during normal driving.
And the steering was quicker and more responsive as Kia replaced the outgoing 16-bit electronic control unit with a 32-bit processor. And it had a better on center feel. We hardly had to touch the wheel. The car stayed planted wherever it was pointed, no mini adjustments were necessary.
For 2017, the Cadenza had a heads up display which included turn-by-turn navigation directions. The surround view monitor had been updated. And there was a smart trunk that will open if its sensor detects the key FOB for more than three seconds. The latest generation of UVO featuring Android Auto and Apple CarPlay was also part of the package. There was also a wireless smartphone charger. And the 2017 Cadenza has a new 12-speaker 630 watt audio system that was really thumping. We turned up the volume and it vibrated the armrest of the door as well as our driving partner’s left leg.
Of course the car had the usual suspects: a navigation system, Bluetooth, voice controls, satellite radio, USB and auxiliary jacks. There was a panoramic roof, a heated manually adjustable steering wheel, power sunshade in the rear and manual sunshades on the side rear windows, drive select modes, a smart key and rearview camera with cross traffic alert.
The 2017 Cadenza had a suite of what Kia called driver assistance features: Advanced Smart Cruise Control with stop-and-go functionality, Forward Collision Warning, Autonomous Emergency Braking, and Lane Departure Warning. And it had Smart Blind Spot Detection System which is designed to sense unintentional drifting toward an adjacent vehicle and automatically brakes the opposite side front wheel to help maintain the vehicle’s intended course.
Prices start at roughly $32,000 for the Premium trim line, $39,000 for the Technology trim line and $44,000 for the SXL. They do not include the $895 freight charge.