Kia's redesign of the 2017 Cadenza significantly refines a car for buyers who want the stretch-out space and feature glut of a full-size luxury sedan at the price of an entry-level compact car from an established luxury brand.
Kia will need buyers of this description in order to grab a share of the pie in the near-premium full-size sedan market, a mixed-bag that ranges from boulevard cruisers to would-be sports sedans, from hybrids to V-8s. The battle is only getting more cutthroat as makers fight over the shrinking pool of buyers who will spend this kind of money on a big car rather than an SUV.
The new Kia got a subtle lift here and tuck there rather than radical cosmetic surgery, but the overall look is a lot more like an upscale European car and a lot less like a dressed-up version of Kia's Optima mainstream sedan, with which the Cadenza shares its platform.
Rather than spirited driving, a car like this is about sitting back and enjoying the ride. The new Cadenza provides that without being sloppy: Power is from an updated 290-horsepower, 3.3-liter V-6 mated to a new eight-speed automatic designed in-house by Kia. It now has a manual mode via the shift lever or optional wheel-mounted paddles. That might seem gratuitous in this car, which handles capably but does not invite carving twisty roads, but it was useful on this drive to manage engine braking in the mountains. Shifts were generally positive, though the transmission hesitated a couple of times making up its mind on downshifts. A Sport mode perks up throttle and transmission response, but not aggressively, and it was my preferred setting.
Prices have not been set, but Kia says the base Premium will start at near $33,000 with destination, about $1,000 less than the former base entry trim, and the top SXL Limited will be priced less than $45,000, also down about $1,000. The mid-level trim, now Technology, has been repositioned with added standard features and a $4,000 price bump to about $40,000. The Cadenza is expected to arrive at dealers in late October.
While the pricing is competitive with other near-premium full-size sedans, the Cadenza's toughest competition may be the higher trims of Kia's capable and stylish, but substantially cheaper and nearly as roomy.