Kia recently unveiled the all-new 2017 Kia Cadenza, and we had the opportunity to take the second generation of its gateway luxury car out for a spin in some of Virginia’s beautiful horse country. Through the gorgeous scenery and rolling countryside, we found the Cadenza to be a comfortable highway companion, which despite an already-small and still-shrinking demographic for full-size soft-luxury sedans, would still be suitable for a wide range of people.
Kia has always been the “fun” Korean brand (its sister, Hyundai, has the more grown-up serious vehicles if you discount the Veloster), and although the Cadenza doesn’t have the same spunk as the Soul, Forte, or even the playful nature of the Sportage, it still feels distinctly Kia. The “tiger nose” grille and the quad-lamp fog lights do a marvelous job at tying it into the rest of the lineup, though the redesign certainly helps it stand out in its own stable — even next to the stately K900.
While it may not be cutting edge in either design or manufacturing, the Cadenza is a thoroughly solid car that can be easily tossed into a comparison with almost any brand out there, and come out ahead in at least one metric. You couldn’t say that about a Kia from 10, or even five, years ago. It’s a complete package of ample space, comfort, amenities, and everyday driving character, but it might not be for everyone.
Here’s who should buy one:
The first-time luxury car buyer: If you either got a nice bonus or a new gig, and you’re a current Kia driver but looking to move onward and upward, don’t skip across the street just yet. The Cadenza is a perfect gateway luxury car — it’s large enough that you won’t feel like you’re compromising on a luxury brand’s efforts to move downstream, but not so large that it feels like parking a helicopter in a storage locker. There isn’t anything in it that a regular mechanic can’t handle, the maintenance won’t be a nightmare when it turns five, and it certainly looks stately. So if you’re younger and have some cash to burn, a Cadenza can help you stand out without getting too friendly with your local European car specialist.
The traveling businessman: If you commute for work a lot — like, a lot –– than try the Cadenza on for size. It’s fuel economy, while not spectacular, is admirable considering the size of the car. It’s exceptionally comfortable, easy to pilot, includes most of the tech you’d find in high-end luxury barges, and won’t cost a mint to maintain. Further, the 10-year/100,000 mile warranty backs it up, which some of you might hit in like 18 months.
The low-key retiree: If you’re freshly retired and your daily commute has gone from 60 miles to six — but those six miles have to be comfortable — the Cadenza makes for an ideal car. It recalls the best aspects of senior favorites like the Lincoln Town Car or Buick Lucerne (smooth power delivery, a comfortable and quiet cabin) but without the complimentary AARP brochures stuck under the window visor. It can get up and go when it needs to, the seats are well-bolstered and supportive, and even with all the tech on board, the intuitive layout of the controls make navigating through it all simple and easy.
Here’s who shouldn’t:
Performance junkies: The Kia is a fine vehicle, but it’s not a performance car. It has a stout 290 horsepower that gets the job done, and Sport mode can do its best to firm the suspension and hone the steering, but it’ll never be a corner carver in the same way that a car engineered for that purpose can be. The Kia makes for an excellent commuter, but if you have a penchant for speed and gray-area driving activities, then your money is likely better put elsewhere.
Active lifestylers: There are some sedans that can pull double-duty quite well — the Mazda6 comes to mind, as does the Volvo S60 Cross Country, Volkswagen Passat, and of course, the Subaru Legacy. The Kia, however, isn’t really one of those; if you’re regularly out with your dog, kids, kayaks, bikes, or off finding remote hikes, then the Cadenza probably isn’t the car for you. It’s comfy, plush, and those gorgeous chrome rims are going to get scuffed. Further, it isn’t available in all-wheel drive, and there are other, better options to put a roof rack on.
Old guard loyalists: We get it, you have your brand that you’re sticking to. That’s understandable. For those who have always driven a Benz, or an Audi — you do you. The Kia is a world-class luxury vehicle in many ways, but one area where it falls short is it still shares the badge with the $14,000 Rio. There isn’t much that can be done about that, and for those who have to keep up appearances at the yacht club, the Kia badge might not carry the same kind of cachet as one of the Old Guard luxury marques.