Car Reviews First Tests

2017 Kia Cadenza First Test: Built for Comfort…

… not for speed

… not for speed

Kia’s big-boned, relaxed-fit front-drive luxury sedan has just undergone an extreme makeover aimed at advancing its last-place sales ranking in what is a drastically shrinking pack. Its closest competitors are the Toyota Avalon, the Buick LaCrosse, and the sister-ship Hyundai Azera (ranked in that order by sales). If you include the more overtly sporting but similarly luxurious Nissan Maxima, it takes the alpha position in the sales pecking order.

This rig looks downright competitive on paper; it sports new sheetmetal, an opulent and lovely new interior, a retuned 3.3-liter direct-injected V-6, and a spanking new homegrown eight-speed automatic. Sure, the peak horsepower and torque figures wiggle down 3 hp and 2 lb-ft, but there’s all that extra leverage from the transmission’s wider gear ratio span (7.42 versus 5.51). The extra gears mean first is a whopping 19 percent shorter than in the six-speed, and eighth gear is 9 percent taller than the former sixth. At 3,794 pounds (1720.9 kg), overall curb weight is virtually unchanged from our most recent 2014 Cadenza test car. The new powertrain manages to squeeze an extra city mpg out of the EPA ratings (20/28/23 mpg (11.8/8.4/10.2 L/100km)versus the previous model’s 19/28). Our Real MPG testing essentially confirms the legitimacy of those numbers with measured results of 19.3/27.9/22.4 mpg (12.2/8.4/10.5 L/100km). The thing is, those numbers rank near the back of the competitive set. The Avalon, LaCrosse, and Maxima are all averaging 21 in the city and 30–31 on the highway.

Read more on the Kia Cadenza from 2017 Car of the Year testing HERE.

Sadly, the story is much the same when it comes time to merging onto the freeway from that on-ramp stoplight. The Cadenza’s 0–60 time of 6.5 seconds trails the entire pack and even its predecessor, which matched the current Avalon’s 6.2–6.3 seconds. LaCrosses and Maximas are quicker still, running from 5.7 to 6.1 seconds. The narrative continues in the same vein when examining the chassis dynamics performance specs. Squeaky tires, abundant pitch and roll, and an overly aggressive stability control (with no true off switch) conspire to lower braking, skidpad, and figure-eight numbers all below the class average by a distinct margin.

But belaboring this point would only suggest that we had expectations of class leadership in those areas when that is clearly not the point of this car. Rather, the point of the chassis—from the tires through the bushings, springs, and dampers—is to isolate occupants from the harsh realities of America’s crumbling infrastructure. So far we don’t have a good way of putting a number on that characteristic. Most editors who drove the Cadenza during its stay with us agreed, however, that if such a number existed, the Cadenza would rank right near the top of this pack. In terms of commodious accommodation, coddling luxury, and sensory deprivation, Kia is the leader. This reality renders the Sport mode button something of a curiosity. Sure, it sharpens throttle and transmission responsiveness slightly, but if you’re the sort who likes to press such buttons, you should probably be shopping at the Nissan store. If not, come to Kia and spring for the top Cadenza Limited model. It has a 14-way heated and cooled seat with Bentley-esque quilted stitching and all the latest luxury mod-cons, such as a giant color head-up display, electric sunshades, adaptive cruise control, around-view monitors, etc.

And hey, isn’t the true mark of an exclusive luxury car that you don’t see yourself coming and going at every stoplight? Then maybe don’t hope for sales to jump too much from the 4,042 year-to-date as of the end of October. That number is a few more cars than Jaguar sold of its XJ flagship and Porsche of its Panamera sedan. Good company, indeed.

2017 Kia Cadenza SXL
BASE PRICE $45,000 (est)
PRICE AS TESTED $45,000 (est)
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan
ENGINE 3.3L/290-hp/253-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 3,794 lb (59/41%)
WHEELBASE 112.4 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 195.7 x 73.6 x 57.9 in
0-60 MPH 6.5 sec
QUARTER MILE 14.8 sec @ 95.8 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 120 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.79 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 27.6 sec @ 0.63 g (avg)
REAL MPG, CITY/HWY/COMB 19.3/27.9/22.4 mpg
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 20/28/23 mpg
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 169/120 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.85 lb/mile