Kia Cadenza — A pleasing full-sized sedan

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Flying under the radar, the 2017 Kia Cadenza may be the best full-sized entry-level luxury sedan sold in the U.S. that's largely unknown by most shoppers in the segment. That's unfortunate because we found the all-new second-generation Cadenza one of the most pleasing sedans we've driven in recent times — regardless of size.

The Cadenza is aimed directly at such competitors as the Buick LaCrosse, Toyota Avalon, Chevrolet Impala and Nissan Maxima. The new Kia stands tall in that segment, a quiet and capable car loaded with convenience and safety features and sporting a very receptive 3.3-liter V-6 engine making 290 horsepower and 253 pound-feet of torque mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission.

The Cadenza has a nice stance, stylishly conservative. The front design is elegant, highlighted by a chrome concave version of Kia's trademark "tiger nose" grille flanked by projector beam headlamps that blend into the fenders. Below are neatly styled chrome detailing and four-element foglamps. In back, LED taillamps over twin exhausts and connected by a chrome strip give the car a nice finishing touch.

The interior is equally tasteful and well executed. The interior could just as easily belong to an Audi or a BMW. Upon entering, you are greeted by diamond-quilted Nappa leather seats and dark woodgrain accents. Sit down on the Nappa leather and you will find it comfortably pleasant. Jump into the backseat and discover wide open spaces.

Engines in some competitors are bigger, but the 3.3-liter V-6 mated to the aforementioned eight-speed feels exactly what is needed to inspire the car. The power is smoothly distributed through the transmission yielding a 0-to-60 run in about 6.7 seconds and a quarter mile pedal-to-the-medal jaunt in 15 seconds at 95 mph. To get the most bang select the Sport mode which alters the shift points in favor of speed and handling.

Braking is a sweet spot with 60-to-0 measured in just 115 feet. Also on the plus side, gas mileage is above average for the segment at 20 mpg city, 28 highway and 23 combined — on regular gas.

Although we found the Cadenza to be confidence-inspiring in most driving situations it is not sporty in the image of BMW's ultimate driving machine persona. But we think that's not a highly sought after quality among drivers of up-level sedans. The electrically assisted power steering proved responsive and on-center feel is excellent. Of extreme interest to drivers in this segment is ride quality, and the Cadenza more than shines in this category. The suspension eats up road imperfections like a sponge soaking up water. At the same time, the cabin remains "Lexus quiet" imparting a true feeling of luxury with only a hint of road and wind noise.

Inside, the dashboard is gracefully styled with intuitive buttons and knobs. The heated and cooled front seat controls are situated in the center console right at the driver's and passenger's fingertips (heated seats are standard across the lineup), good old-fashioned knobs are provided for audio volume and tuning, and climate controls flank a cool-looking analog clock. Kia has provided adequate storage for small items up front with a good-sized cubby beneath the center stack as well as a bin under the center arm rest.

In addition to stretch-out room for back-seat passengers, the Cadenza offers a decent amount of trunk space measured at 16 cubic feet. Unfortunately, the rear seatbacks do not fold down to create room for that occasional long item that has to be transported from a Home Depot or Costco.

The Cadenza comes in Premium and Limited trim levels. The base Premium starts at a bargain basement price of $32,890 including destination charge. But at the least we recommend buyers add the $3,000 Luxury Package which brings rear parking assist with cross traffic alert, navigation with 8-inch display, an upgraded 630-watt audio system with SiriusXM radio, and a blind spot detection system. Add the Technology package and the price rises to $39,890. It adds 19-inch wheels, LED headlights and foglights, a power-adjusted heated steering wheel, two-way lumbar for front passengers, ventilated front seats, and driver-seat memory.

The Limited, such as our test car, brings everything in the Cadenza parts bin including Kia's comprehensive suite of safety tech including blind-spot and forward-collision warning, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-change assist, rear-parking assist, automatic high-beams, automated emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, and a 360-degree-view camera system.

Our Limited tester carried a bottom line of $45,290, which might seem high, but considering all the luxury touches the price is reasonable.

Base price: $32,890; as driven, $46,290
Engine: 3.3-liter V6
Horsepower: 290 @ 6,400 rpm
Torque: 253 foot-pounds @ 5,200 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Drive: front wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 112.4 inches
Length: 195.7 inches
Curb weight: 3,770 pounds
Turning circle: 37.2 feet
Luggage capacity: 16 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 18.5 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 20 city, 28 highway, 23 combined
0-60: 6.7 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Buick LaCrosse, Toyota Avalon, Nissan Maxima

The Good
• Stretch-out room for passengers
• Well equipped for segment
• Many advanced safety features
• Quiet interior

The Bad
• Rear seats don't fold down

The Ugly
• Performance lags many competitors