2017 Kia Cadenza Limited Review - A Better Buick

Chris Tonn
by Chris Tonn
Fast Facts

2017 Kia Cadenza Limited

3.3-liter V6, DOHC (290 horsepower @ 6,400 rpm, 253 lb-ft @ 5,200 rpm)
Eight-speed automatic transmission, front-wheel drive
20 city / 28 highway / 23 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
22.3 (Observed, MPG)
Base price
As Tested (Limited)
Prices include $900 destination charge.
2017 kia cadenza limited review a better buick

The squeals of delight from the back seat were nearly deafening. My eight-year-old had discovered the rear seat heater button while pawing at the door-mounted armrest.

She tends to underdress for the climate, and as usual, she was sporting shorts for her basketball game that morning — in 38 degree weather. Mercifully, the Kia Cadenza took the chill off both the leather seats and her butt, saving mine from a deserved berating from her mother.

The little details Kia sweated in creating this new Cadenza have added up to a remarkable luxury sedan that should be the benchmark for the class but instead will likely remain a second-tier player due to Kia’s history.

Shame, because I’m quite sure this Cadenza is a magnificent Buick.

Take a look at that concave grille, all chromed and toothy. Wouldn’t that be right at home on a Buick? Too bad about the spinach stuck between the teeth; that opaque, front-and-center plastic panel hiding the Cadenza’s radar-based features looks a little tacked on. The lighting up front is handsome if a bit contrived, with three lamps for the headlamps, a quartet of fog lamps on either side, and a Z-shaped LED strip for the daytime running lamps.

A horizontal line leads rearward from the headlamp, forms the top of the fender front and rear, and makes its way into a horizontal chrome strip that wraps around the trunk. The headlamp “Z” is echoed out back on the taillamps, linked together by that chrome bar. The optional 19-inch alloy wheels look a little busy, but the dark finish will hide brake dust nicely. It’s handsome, yet understated.

It’s easy to see an Optima with a stretch when inspecting the Cadenza, and there are few significant differences besides 2 extra inches of wheelbase (112.4 inches on the Cadenza versus 110.4 inches for Optima) and 4.6 extra inches of overall length when you compare them dimensionally. The wheelbase difference adds 1.6 inches of rear legroom on the Cadenza, and I can assure you the rear seat occupants were never wanting for foot space during my time with the big Kia. That extra length brings roughly 500 pounds (depending on trim) of heft along with it versus the Optima, but at least there’s a 3.3 liter V6 to pull it along, which produces 290 horsepower, 45 over the Kia midsizer’s top-trim turbo four.

The interior is at once simple and elegant. The optional white Nappa leather seating looks marvelous, though I can’t imagine what my kids and their dusty cleats would do to it after a long weekend of soccer. The 14-way adjustable driver’s seat accommodated my awkward frame quite nicely, with the extending thigh support especially welcome after yet another extended highway cruise. The heated steering wheel warmed quickly on those brisk February mornings, allowing me to drive glove-free.

Above is a panoramic sunroof, though I’d forgotten it was there by the end of my time with the Kia. Ohio winters will do that to you, as will the Kia’s surprising surplus of head room even with the big glass panel. I’ll typically brush my hair against a sunroof in most cars, but not so with the Cadenza. I even had space for the noggin in the rear of the cabin. Try that in a sloped-roof four-door “coupe.”

The center console compartment opens a bit differently than most. It’s split in the center, and opens as if it were a side-by-side refrigerator. I’d expected my elbow to be irritated by the seam, but it was no bother.

The Cadenza V6 offers plenty of power for this stately sedan — enough power for extra-legal cruising speeds and backroad passing, but nothing to suggest you might want to hassle street racers. The six is quiet and silken, only allowing a bit of noise to seep into the cabin as redline approaches. The eight-speed automatic transmission is competent and basically invisible. While sport mode does firm the shifts somewhat, I saw no reason to do so. Ditto the shift paddles, which worked as expected, but I didn’t find myself hunting apexes and dropping two gears to power out of corners in the Cadenza.

It’s not that the big Kia drives poorly, nor does it keel over when turning. It’s simply not what the Cadenza is all about. The suspension was firm yet yielding to pavement imperfections, swallowing expansion joints with little more than a muted thump from the big 19-inch tires. The electrically-assisted power steering is a bit numb, however, with little feedback when cornering.

A welcome safety feature is a heads-up display, which projects road speed, blind spot, lane departure, and navigation functions on the windscreen. I did find the display muted somewhat when wearing polarized sunglasses, though switching the speed display color from white to green helped.

Parking a sedan as long as the Cadenza might be challenging, but the top-down camera view coupled with the rear view camera made parking a breeze in a cramped downtown garage for a hockey game. I tested the emergency braking that evening as well, when the moron in front of me, driving without lights, abruptly stopped for a drunk pedestrian sprinting across the street. Not a scenario the manufacturer will put on a commercial, but it’s clearly a worthwhile feature.

The UVO infotainment system, paired with the 12-speaker Harman Kardon audio system, pounds out clear, deep sounds from Bluetooth or SiriusXM, and works beautifully with Android Auto. We have no Apple devices in our household, so I couldn’t test Apple CarPlay, but both are available. The wireless charging mat sits immediately below the HVAC controls, sized perfectly for my Samsung Galaxy S7. I don’t know that a larger phone (say, an explosive Note 7) would fit in that space, though. The infotainment controls on the touchscreen and the steering wheel are simple to use and operate intuitively.

The stout V6 powertrain does come with a drawback in fuel economy. The EPA rates the Cadenza at 20 miles per gallon in city driving, 28 highway, and 23 combined. I was close to the combined number at 22.3 mpg with a suburban two-lane driving mix. The onboard mileage computer was spot-on that figure, too, and registered just over 30 mpg during a two-hour, 70+ mph early morning drive to a meeting. That drive highlighted the beauty of the adaptive cruise control — despite the funky plastic blemish on the grille — which kept me sane in the fast-moving traffic.

If I didn’t have what others call a minivan fetish, I’m certain the Cadenza would be near the top of my shopping list. The serene ride combined with the ample passenger and cargo room make this big Kia a great family car.

No, it’s not inexpensive, with an as-tested price of $45,290 for this top-spec Limited trim. I’d probably choose the dazzling Granite Brown (Brown Car Appreciation Society represent!) with the matching brown leather. Beyond the color, I’d probably choose very nearly this exact car, as the kids would insist on those heated rear seats.

[Images © 2017 Chris Tonn]

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  • CincyDavid CincyDavid on Feb 25, 2017

    White leather?!? Reminds me of 70s-80s Cadillacs with white seats and navy or burgundy carpets. I have had really good luck with Korean cars, we have a 2006 Kia Sportage in our household with 160k miles...reliable as can be and the perforated leather seats hardly show any wear at all. Would I drop $45k on a Korean car? Nope, but to be fair I would be hard-pressed to spend that on ANY car, at least until the kids are out of college in a couple of years. My real beef with light colored leather is that blue dye from denim fabric gets ground into the surface and it's almost impossible to get rid of the stains...give me a chestnut interior, or charcoal gray.

    • SCE to AUX SCE to AUX on Feb 25, 2017

      Agreed. I've had 5 Hyundai/Kia cars with no regrets. I'm sure no Cadenza sale will ever close at $45k, either.

  • Probert Probert on Feb 26, 2017

    So it's just a really good looking sedan that performs really well, is very comfortable, everything works as it should, great stereo... How dare they!!! I want more - and I want it now! You know how you say Buick in German: Audi.

  • Cprescott I remember when Fords were affordable.
  • Cprescott As a once very LOYAL FORD buyer, I had to replace my 22 year old Ford (bought new in 1997) once it finally started to have problems at 180k miles. I would have gladly purchased something like this from Ford but they abandoned me as a car buyer. Oddly, Hyundai still builds cars in a variety of flavors so I became a customer of theirs and am very happy. Likely will consider another once this one gets up in mileage.
  • SCE to AUX A friend once struck a mounted tire that was laying flat in the middle of her lane on the PA Turnpike. She was in a low late-90s Grand Prix, and the impact destroyed the facia, core support, radiators, oil pan, transmission, subframe, and suspension. They fixed it all.
  • Dukeisduke Lol, it's not exactly a Chevrolet SS with Holden badging.
  • Dukeisduke Years ago, I was driving southbound along North Central Expressway (south of Mockingbird Lane, for locals), and watched a tire and wheel fall out of the bed of a pickup (no tailgate), bounce along, then centerpunch the front end of a Honda Accord. It wasn't pretty.