“Kia” and “Luxury” are rarely mentioned in the same sentence (although a lot more so now than ever before), but since 2013, it’s been increasingly difficult to avoid. The Kia Cadenza launched to take on soft-luxury stalwarts like the Buick LaCrosse, Toyota Avalon, Ford Taurus, and Chrysler 300. But not wanting to half-ass anything, Kia went for the jugular with the K900 and went after BMW, Audi, Lexus, and Infiniti, too.
Now in its second generation, we recently enjoyed an opportunity to drive the new 2017 Cadenza in the rolling hills of Virginia. Despite the small audience looking for a Kia in the $35K-$45K range, the brand has remained committed to its luxo-cruiser and has doubled down for its latest version.
All the basic improvements are there — it looks better, handles better, brakes better, and is overall just better in almost every measurable way over the old car. Furthermore, the car weighs less and costs less than the outgoing ’16 Cadenza.
Read on to find out what else we learned about Kia’s new leather-clad cruiser during our drive.
1. It’s inspired by a “tailored athlete”
Michael Phelps, Mark McGuire (in his day), Usain Bolt, and Connor McGregor all look totally ripped in their respective sports attire, right? But put them in a tailored Saville row suit, and they… well, still looked pretty jacked, but also very elegant. This was the design inspiration behind the Cadenza; give it a muscular appearance, but also a “clean design with minimal adornment,” designer Ray Ng said at the introduction.
As a result, the Cadenza boasts crisp lines, and sheet metal that fills out its form well. It’s a handsome vehicle that has road presence but doesn’t feel bloated. Much like an athlete in a tailored suit.
2. It doesn’t aim as high as you might think
How often do “Dodge Charger,” “Kia,” and “luxury” get dropped in the same sentence? Not often, but executives present on our test drive used the Charger, Toyota Avalon, and Chevrolet Impala a lot as the benchmarks of the class it was taking on. That’s not quite the luxury class you’d expect, but Kia’s letting the K900 take on the seriously big guns like Lexus, Bimmer, Mercedes, et al.
3. Comfort is paramount; performance, not as much
If you’re looking for a comfortable daily driver that makes a terrific highway companion, look no further. Kia’s investment in noise/vibration/harshness has paid off handsomely. The ride is quiet and comfy. The steering is intuitive and feels natural, the brakes are even-handed, and the acceleration is predictable.
But while the Charger can be spec’d out with a 707-horsepower V8, and the Ford Taurus SHO can get 365 horsepower and all-wheel drive, the Cadenza doesn’t offer such perks. If performance is your thing, the Cadenza probably won’t meet your needs — but if a svelte, handsome, cruising sedan fits the bill, then take one out for a spin.
4. It’s a California car through and through
Kia operates three design studios — one in Germany, one in California, and one in South Korea. Typically, the three will compete for a design with each other, ensuring that Kia gets the highest quality designs at the most effective cost. For the 2017 Cadenza, Kia’s California design center won the design rights to both the interior and exterior.
5. You won’t be wanting for anything inside
Remember in No. 3 when we mentioned it was the ideal highway cruiser? We meant it — unless you have some bizarre road-tripping need, the well-stocked interior of the Cadenza shouldn’t leave you wanting. There’s wireless phone charging, ample beverage storage space, plenty of room for five adults, a heated steering wheel, and heated seats that will — finally — gradually reduce power as the heat builds under your rump. You can pay more, but you won’t necessarily get more.
6. It’s bigger than it lets on
At 107.8 cubic feet, the new Cadenza has one of the largest cabins in its segment. It feels like it too; my 6-foot-2 frame fit in almost any seat with ease, and although the sloping roofline limits some headspace in the back, it’s still more generous than some cars two or three times the price. Fortunately, it doesn’t feel so big when you’re driving it.
7. The eight-speed transmission is Kia’s own
Transmissions are very complex. Modern transmissions even more so. Because of this, many manufacturers are skirting around the intensive R&D budgets required and going with a third-party vendor like ZF. Not Kia; it developed the eight-speed in-house. In a bid to ensure that it works more harmoniously with the engine, it made its own. It worked; the transmission is smooth, completely unintrusive, and stays out of the engine’s way. No random hunting for gears — the eight-speed always felt up for the task at hand.
8. Its Michelin tires were made for it
It’s not a surprise when a company like Michelin makes some custom shoes for, say, a Ford GT, a Porsche 918, or a Mercedes-AMG. But a $40,000 Kia? That’s unusual. Nonetheless, the rubber wrapping the Kia’s 20-inch rims (on our SXL-trim tester) is made specifically for that purpose; they proved to be grippy, quiet at speed, and allow the Cadenza to net 28 miles per gallon on the highway.
9. Cadenza sheds 35 pounds base-to-base
In an era where pickups are dropping 700 pounds model-to-model, 35 pounds doesn’t seem like much. However, considering that you get more stuff — noise/vibration/harshness insulation, tech and fun stuff, nicer seats — any weight drop at all is admirable.
10. The price tag actually slid year-over-year
Like its weight, the Cadenza actually grew cheaper than the outgoing model as a part of Kia’s ongoing commitment to value. Prices aren’t firmed up yet, and the savings aren’t likely to be enormous, but in the age of inflation and increasing safety regulations, any drop in price is an impressive achievement.