The Cadenza is a semi-premium midsize sedan that fits above the Optima in size and price, but well below the big K900 in power and prestige. It’s a comfortable competitor for the Toyota Avalon, and a mechanical twin to the Hyundai Azera.
In 1993 there were four Kia dealerships in the U.S., and they were relegated to selling a miserable little sedan called the Sephia, or a less miserable and almost cool little SUV called the Sportage. A succession of not very excellent cars and SUVs followed, and without a good price-to-features ratio and the addition of a stellar warranty, Kia would have gone the way of Nash, Rambler, and the Moody Blues. But then Kia (and corporate cousin Hyundai) started to get its mojo. The SUVs improved, the midsize Optima got better, and Kia even stuck its toe in the luxury waters with the Amanti, an upscale midsize sedan that had decent quality, baroque styling, and a quiet ride. The Amanti was a total frumpster to drive, but it wasn’t trying to be cool.
The 2014 Cadenza picked up where the Amanti left off – occupying the space above the Camry-fighting Optima and filling in below the huge, rear-drive Lexus-adjacent K900. The Cadenza ditched the comical styling of the Amanti, and when designer Peter Schreyer (poached from Audi) penned an Avalon fighter, the results were quite modern and handsome. Equally modern was the 3.3-liter direct-injected V-6, and six-speed automatic, which whisked a 2014 Cadenza to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds during our first test of the suave Kia. We were also taken by the inventory of features, including navigation, decent leather, keyless entry, Bluetooth, backup camera, parking sensors, adaptive headlights, ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitor, and an Infinity audio system. For $41,900 we thought it was a reasonable deal – and a decent, well–assembled car underneath all the bells and whistles. In the end, our only concern was the perception of the Kia brand.
The Latest Generation
There’s no nice way to say this, but the Cadenza hasn’t sold well. In fact, it’s nearly invisible to upscale sedan buyers. When prices for a plush sedan head north of $35,000, buyers head to the Buick LaCrosse and Toyota Avalon. But Kia is not giving up, and the new 2017 Cadenza is another strong effort for the Koreans. It’s not as big, brash or expensive as the K900, but it’s more distinctive than the last model. And it has a tighter, more robust body structure, a new eight-speed transmission, drive-mode selector, and the welcome addition of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. We drove the new Cadenzaand found it quieter, more substantial, and a bit roomier than the outgoing model. And although there are no breakthroughs in Kia’s big front-drive sedan, this isn’t a breakthrough market segment. Rather, Kia needs to figure how to break through its own reputation.
Why You’d Consider One
Because the Cadenza is now the equal of its competitors, and the Peter Schreyer styling is quite good. Just as important, Kia’s long warranty is reassuring, and you really don’t want to buy a third Avalon. Nor will you join the crowd and buy an SUV.
Why You’d Look Elsewhere
Because those last two Avalons were actually quite nice, reliable cars, and you’re just not sure about Korean quality – despite everything you have heard to the contrary. And if you were going to switch brands, you’d likely give Buick a try.