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2017 Kia Cadenza Pros and Cons: Why (Not) This Car?

2017 Kia Cadenza front quarter view

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Something I've noted before about Kia: they refuse to give up.

For the 2014 model year, the Korean company introduced a new large front-wheel-drive sedan. I found the Cadenza, essentially a streched Optima the same way a Toyota Avalon is a stretched Camry and a Nissan Maxima is a stretched Altima, to be quiet, roomy, well-equipped, and pleasant to drive. But buyers continue to resist Korean cars with price tags north of $30,000, and the Cadenza hasn't sold well.

In fact, last year Kia sold fewer than 5,000 Cadenzas. In December alone Nissan sold more Maximas, Toyota sold more Avalons, and Chevrolet sold more than twice as many Impalas as Kia sold Cadenzas during all of 2016. On top of this, large sedans, once the core of the American vehicle market, aren't a growing segment. These days people seeking a roomy vehicle predominately buy crossovers.

Given the Cadenza's last place showing in a declining segment, I wouldn't have been surprised if Kia had discontinued the model, or had at least stopped investing in it. Sister company Hyundai opted for a much more limited update to their equivalent (and about equally successful) model, the Azera. No point in throwing good money after bad.

But this is Kia, and they don't give up. After only three years, half the typical cycle, they've fully redesigned their big front-wheel-drive sedan. To what end? Has Kia improved the Cadenza to such an extent that people who didn't buy the original will (or at least should) buy the new one?

To find out I evaluated the new Cadenza against a competitor that also has been fully redesigned for 2017 (after seven years), the Buick LaCrosse.

Cadenza Reviews: 2017 Kia Cadenza front quarter view

Handsome. But sufficiently distinctive? more Cadenza photos

Cadenza Reviews: 2017 Kia Cadenza interior

The Cadenza Limited is trimmed with softer leather than you'll find in competitors.

Tested: 2017 Kia Cadenza

4dr Sedan 290-horsepower 3.3L V6 8-speed shiftable automatic FWD

Compared: 2017 Buick LaCrosse

4dr Sedan 310-horsepower 3.6L V6 8-speed shiftable automatic FWD

Why the 2017 Kia Cadenza?

  Compared to the LaCrosse
Driving position & visibility
Driving position & visibility: Much better Better Worse

The new Kia Cadenza rates highly in many respects, but so do competitors. It, like its predecessor, most separates itself from the pack with a more commanding driving position thanks to a taller, less distant, more upright windshield, larger side windows, and an instrument panel about half as deep as the Buick's. You'll easily find a comfortable and confident position behind the wheel in the Cadenza. You might not feel like you're driving a crossover, but you're far closer to crossover-like outward visibility here than in the Buick.

The 2010-2016 LaCrosse suffered from an abysmal driving position owing to a high, deep instrument panel and front pillars thick enough to conceal entire cars. The 2017 Buick's instrument panel appears somewhat more compact and its pillars are thinner, but these improvements at best bring it near the segment average. Compared to that in the Cadenza, the view forward from the LaCrosse's driver seat still resembles that through a tunnel, if no longer that out of a pillbox.

Quietness: Better Better Worse

Both the Kia Cadenza and Buick LaCrosse were and remain smooth, quiet cars. This noted, the sound inside the Kia has a more hushed and thus a more luxurious tone. Especially at low speeds, but on the highway as well, you'll sense a more upscale car.

In terms of ride quality, the Buick might have a slight edge. I can't be entirely sure, since I tested the Cadenza with 19-inch wheels and the LaCrosse with 18-inch wheels, and taller tire side walls tend to better absorb impacts. I detected a slight jitteriness in the Kia that was absent in the Buick. Would this jitteriness go away with the 18-inch wheels fitted to lower trim levels? Perhaps. Conversely, does the LaCrosse ride less smoothly with its optional 20-inch wheels, required to match the appearance of the Cadenza Limited? Maybe, maybe not, as Buick packages these wheels with adaptive dampers that likely benefit both handling and ride quality.

Both cars absorb medium-to-large impacts well. Compared to the original Cadenza, the new one maintains its composure on badly surfaced roads significantly better, but still can't quite match the outstanding poise of the new LaCrosse.

Cadenza Reviews: 2017 Kia Cadenza side view low rearward angle

My favorite angle: slightly rear of center and low.

Cadenza Reviews: 2017 Kia Cadenza instrument panel

Too many similar buttons to find the one you want with a glance (or less). Seat heaters out of view.

Feature availability
Feature availability: About the same Better Worse

With the 2014 Cadenza I selected "feature availability" as a reason to buy the Kia. I especially appreciated the around-view camera system, which wasn't (and still isn't) often offered in sedans under $50,000 (though the Maxima also offers one).

You can get even more features on the 2017--about $2,500 worth even though the car's sticker price has increased by only $350. Additional content on a 2017 Cadenza Limited includes automatic braking, forward collision warning, auto-dimming LED headlights, a head-up display, a power trunk opener with a proximity sensor (stand near the rear bumper for a few seconds and the trunk opens automatically), support for Android Auto and Apple Carplay, and the aforementioned additional seat adjustments. Compared to a top-of-the-line Nissan Maxima Platinum, the tested Cadenza includes about $3,350 in additional content. Even the mid-level Cadenza includes more features than the top-trim Maxima.

You can get features on the Buick LaCrosse that you can't get on the Cadenza, though. Most notable: all-wheel-drive and a rear seat that folds to expand the trunk. The LaCrosse also offers adaptive suspension dampers, lane departure prevention, forward obstacle detection (less necessary in the Kia since the view forward is so open), a semi-automated parking system (does anyone use these much?), the OnStar telematics system, a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, remote start, massaging front seats, and headlights that swivel in turns (though these are xenon rather than LEDs).

Not that the Kia Cadenza doesn't offer features you cannot get on the Buick, including many of those added for 2017, plus the around-view camera system and (surprisingly not offered on the Buick) rear seat heaters. Tabulate all of the feature differences, and they cancel out. Since there are so many things available on the Buick that you cannot get on the Kia, the latter's feature availability advantage isn't what it was three years ago. It'll come down to which features you most want to have.

The Cadenza's largest feature advantage could be the Limited's interior materials, specifically the unusually smooth, soft,, and supple (for this segment) nappa leather on its seats and center armrest and the synthetic suede that covers its pillars and headliner. (Some reviews claims that leather also covers the instrument panel, but this is clearly not the case, and they door panel upholstery seems to be synthetic.) Such materials are typically only offered on much more expensive cars. Buick offered an Ultra Luxury Package with comparable interior materials on the 2014-2016 LaCrosse for $2,495, but offers no such package on the 2017. Maybe they'll add it later?

Aside from the seats and headliner, the Cadenza's interior materials are, like the Buick's, somewhat better than you'll find in the typical midsize sedan, but are not a match for those employed by premium brands.

Rear seat room & comfort
Rear seat room & comfort: Much better Better Worse

Due to its shorter greenhouse and taller, more intrusive center console, the Buick's front row doesn't feel nearly as roomy as the Kia's, or even as roomy as the related Chevrolet Malibu's. Large sedans aren't what they used to be. While in the past they were both longer and wider than midsize sedans, these days they more often than not share platforms with the latter, and thus are not significantly wider, only longer. Even in the official specs the LaCrosse has nearly an inch less front shoulder room than the "smaller" Malibu.

Likewise, the Cadenza's front row dimensions are within fractions of an inch of the Optima's. If you're seeking more front seat room than in a midsize sedan, you won't find it in these cars. To be fair, midsize sedans have grown.

Both the Cadenza and LaCrosse have comfortable front seats, with the Buick's cushion perhaps slightly cushier. Take a turn aggressively, though, and you're much more likely to slide off the Buick's non-bucket, as it provides hardly any lateral support. The Cadenza's bolsters are more effective.

The payoff for the additional size of these largish sedans can be found in the back seat, where each offers about two inches more legroom than its junior partner. On paper, the Kia Cadenza offers only slightly more total legroom than the Buick LaCrosse. In reality, it offers much more. With the front seat positioned for my 30-inch inseam (I'm not long of leg), I had about ten inches of knee room in the Kia's back seat. The Kia's rear seat cushion is also a little more supportive and comfortable than the Buick's.

Not so good: in both cars there's not enough space under the front seats for the rear seat passengers' feet, essentially robbing them of about a half-foot of legroom. This design flaw is more the rule than the exception in upscale sedans. Still, it's not right.

Warranty, maintenance cost
Warranty, maintenance cost: Better Better Worse

Buick's warranty is better than Chevrolet's, with a fourth year of "bumper-to-bumper" coverage and a sixth year of powertrain coverage. But, like other Kias and Hyundais, the Cadenza has a 5/60 basic warranty and (for the original purchaser) a 10/100 powertrain warranty.

Not the original purchaser? Then the Buick has a longer powertrain warranty.

Worth noting: Kia and Hyundai tend to interpret the coverage of their warranties more strictly than other auto makers do. A number of items, such as interior trim, are warrantied for less than five years.

Looking to trade in your vehicle? Get an estimate of how much it's worth.

Why Not the 2017 Kia Cadenza?

  Compared to the LaCrosse
Brand reputation & image
Brand reputation & image: Much worse Better Worse

Though Kia has improved its cars dramatically in the past decade, the reputation of the brand lags. Further improving the Cadenza has had no immediate effect on Kia's image. The more expensive the car--and the 2017 Kia Cadenza Limited lists for $45,190--the more this image will depress sales. Buick, though no Lexus, much less a fancy European brand, has a more upscale image than Kia.

Depreciation: About the same Better Worse

Partly owing to Kia's downscale brand image, the Cadenza loses value rapidly. You can get a 2014 Cadenza Limited with low miles for well under $20,000.

A 2014 LaCrosse has depreciated about as rapidly, though. That many were sold to rental car fleets hasn't helped. The 2017 LaCrosse might hold its value better, but I wouldn't count on this.

The positive side of rapid depreciation: it produces used cars that can be outstanding values--if you plan to keep the car for a long time (they'll keep depreciating).

Cadenza Reviews: 2017 Kia Cadenza front view

LED headlights. Concave variant of the "tiger nose" grille. Shame about the sensor in the center.

Cadenza Reviews: 2017 Kia Cadenza rear seat

An abundance of rear legroom.

Controls and instruments
Controls and instruments: Worse Better Worse

The buttons on the Kia Cadenza's center stack are mostly similar in size and shape, and form large groups, making it unnecessarily difficult to find the one you want with a quick (or even no) glance. The Buick LaCrosse relies more heavily on its touchscreen, and so gets by with far fewer physical buttons. Alas, one of the casualties in the Buick is the audio system's tuning knob. The Kia has one.

The Cadenza's largest ergonomic flaw, and the one that earned it this why not to buy: the swtiches for the heated and cooled front seats sit so far back on the center console that I often had to take my eyes well off the road to use them. Those in the Buick are much more conveniently located near the base of the center stack.

Cargo capacity
Cargo capacity: Much worse Better Worse

The Kia Cadenza's trunk is about average in size for a medium-to-large front-wheel-drive sedan. But, unlike those in competitors (including the LaCrosse), its rear seat cannot fold to expand the trunk. Instead, Kia has fitted a relatively small pass-through.

Exterior styling
Exterior styling: Worse Better Worse

The new Kia Cadenza isn't an ugly car. Many potential buyers will likely find it handsome. It certainly appears more elegant and expensive than the Optima. The mid-size Kia sedan, with a fierce front fascia, red calipers (highlighting pedestrian brakes?), and "turbo" script filling its fender "vents," tries too hard.

But the same packaging that affords Cadenza drivers good outward visibility also yields an exterior much less sleek and swoopy than those of competitors, including that of the new Buick LaCrosse. What's more, no one will find the Cadenza's exterior distinctive. From many angles there's a thickness to the big Kia's midsection that reminds me of the late Lincoln MKS. This said, I did find one angle from which the car looks quite good (see the rear quarter photo on this page).

Kia makes a big deal about how the Limited gets a different grille than the regular Cadenza. But the sensor for the adaptive cruise control sits smack dab in the middle of this grille, and painted on "slats" fail to camouflage it. They need to find a better way to incorporate this sensor.

At a glance the new LaCrosse looks like a cross between the even sleeker Chevrolet Malibu and the more muscular Chevrolet Impala, albeit one wearing Buick's latest face. Without the optional 20-inch wheels it looks rather plain. Too subtle, or tastefully understated? You be the judge.

Other features of the 2017 Kia Cadenza

  Compared to the LaCrosse
Interior styling
Interior styling: Worse Better Worse

For the Cadenza's interior styling, Kia has copied liberally from the Germans. The instrument panel's convex face (it bows out in the center) and the center stack's chrome trim rings are very BMW. They've also copied the quilted seats found in Audis (among others) with a twist: instead of quilting the seat's center panels (as they did in the Optima SXL), they've quilted the bolsters. Opinions have been mixed. Personally, I like the look.

The new Buick LaCrosse has a more distinctive interior, with flowing curves and a tall center console that flows up into a less stacked (and thus sportier) center stack. Attractive, but (as mentioned earlier) not good for front seat room.

Following a fashion pioneered by the 2010 LaCrosse, both interiors employ yards of stitching, much of it embedded in molded, non-upholsttered panels. I generally give such stitching a pass as long as the stitching is real. All of it is in the Buick. Bonus points for the contrasting color. That along the Buick's upholstered center console adds to the ambiance of the interior. (Unfortunately, the hard plastic that trims the upper surface of the center console takes away from this ambiance.) The Cadenza, alas, has fake "stitching" molded into its steering wheel hub. While I've seen worse, molded "stitching" does not belong in a $45,000 car.

Powertrain performance
Powertrain performance: Worse Better Worse

I rented a 2016 Buick LaCrosse eAssist for an 18-day trip through the Rocky Mountains last June. Not voluntarily--it was the only car they had in the class I had reserved. With a four-cylinder engine and small electric motor combining for 200 horsepower--at sea level, deduct three percent for each 1,000 feet of elevation--I avoided passing on two-lane mountain roads. People buying $40,000+ sedans expect better than tepid performance, and for 2017 that engine is gone.

This year, the only engine you can get in the LaCrosse is a 310-horsepower 3.6-liter V6. Similarly, the only engine you can get in the Kia Cadenza is a 290-horsepower 3.3-liter V6. Both eschew the current turbocharging trend and pair with eight-speed automatic transmissions that can be shifted (or at least be advised to shift, neither is programmed for quick, no-questions-asked responses) using paddles attached to the steering wheel. With both cars weighing a bit over 3,600 pounds (the Buick dieted away a couple hundred for 2017), the one with the larger, more powerful engine is quicker.

But the Cadenza is plenty quick for this class of car--I never wished for more power--plus hard acceleration provokes engine noise lower in quantity and higher in refinement than in the Buick--making me more willing to engage in it. The Kia's transmission shifts more smoothly, at the cost of a somewhat slushier feel. In either car front-wheel drive makes it too easy to spin a wheel when accelerating while turning (e.g. when entering a busy road from a side street or parking lot). Otherwise I didn't feel the need for the Buick's optional all-wheel-drive in cars built more for comfort than for speed.

Fuel economy
Fuel economy: Worse Better Worse

In recent years manufacturers have been replacing V6 engines with turbocharged four-cylinder engines to improve cars' fuel economy. While the Kia Optima and Buick Regal have jumped on this bandwagon, the Cadenza and LaCrosse have not. Both have gained eight-speed automatic transmissions, though. In the Kia's case, the new transmission adds a single mpg in city driving and makles no difference on the highway, for passable EPA ratings of 20/28. The new LaCrosse does better, espcially on the highway: 21/31. The Nissan Maxima, with a V6 hitched to a CVT, also bests the Kia: 22/30.

In my driving I could nudge the trip computer average mpg over 30 in the suburbs, but 25 was much more easily achieved and low 20s were common. On my extended highway drive the trip computer average was 32.5 mpg in one direction and 29.9 in the other, better than the EPA rating despite a 70-mph speed limit.

Handling: Worse Better Worse

While the new Kia Cadenza is no sport sedan, it's also no floaty barge. Throw it hard into a tight curve and it obeys quite well, with little sensation of plowing, a moderate amount of roll, and just a hint of looseness. I enjoyed driving the Cadenza more than I expected to on the few roads with twists and turns in my area, and would have loved to have had this car instead of the 2016 Buick I rented in the mountains last June. Out of the curves, in typical suburban driving the new Kia just feels right, even more so than the already very pleasant 2014-2016 Cadenza.

The problem is, General Motors exceeded my expectations even more with the chassis of the new Buick. Compared to the Cadenza, the LaCrosse feels lighter, tighter, more precise, and more agile in transitions. Though both cars weigh about the same, the LaCrosse feels a few hundred pounds less massive.

The Buick's steering feels lighter than the Kia's, especially if the latter is in sport mode, yet it also feels more precise. This said, I enjoyed the slightly hefty feel of the Cadenza's steering in sport mode, even if this didn't help the perceived agility of the car. Set to comfort, the Kia's steering feels lighter but also overly vague.

This is with the base wheels and suspension. Opt for the 20-inch wheels and the attendant adaptive dampers on the Buick, and it should handle even better.

Price or payments
Price or payments: Much better Better Worse

The Kia Cadenza Limited lists for $45,290. But, if you don't require the highest grade of leather and every available feature, the line starts with the far-from-basic $32,890 Cadenza Premium, and the $39,890 Cadenza Technology includes most of the features on the Limited.

To see what that last $5,400 will get you, check the value comparison table on our Kia Cadenza vs. Nissan Maxima price comparison page. One note: you won't find the Limited's upgraded leather in the features comparison, because we don't have data on how the two grades of leather in the Kia compare to those offered in the Nissan. As far as I know, no one does. Even the Cadenza Technology includes about $760 more content than the Maximum Platinum, while listing for nearly $1,000 less, for a feature-adjusted advantage of about $1,700.

The Cadenza Limited lists for $3,510 less than a similarly equipped Buick LaCrosse. Untick a few boxes, and the Cadenza Technology lists for $5,595 less than a similarly equipped Buick LaCrosse. Compared to the Buick, the Kia seems a much better value.

Even compared to the related but not as refined Hyundai Azera Limited, the Cadenza Technology lists for $430 less while including about $1,000 in additional content.

Given its advantage in all of these comparisons, should price be considered a reason to buy a Kia Cadenza? A case could be made, but it might have to overlook the image of the brand.

It might also be argued that none of the cars in this segment offers enough beyond its mid-sized brand-mate to justify its higher price. A Cadenza Limited lists for $8,350 more than a Kia Optima SX Limited, and only about $2,200 of the difference can be attributed to feature differences. Are the larger car's V6 (rather than turbo four) engine, marginally smoother, quieter ride, marginally nicer interior, and additional two inches of rear legroom worth another $6,000? Judging by their relative sales, some people think they are, but far more do not.


The new 2017 Kia Cadenza rides and handles better than the 2014, which was already an unexpectedly pleasant car to drive. Inside the Limited you'll find much nicer leather than in competitors, plus a synthetic suede headliner few others offer. During my week with the car I had to make one extended highway drive, and could hardly have been more comfortable.

The new 2017 Buick LaCrosse handles with more agility and precision than the Cadenza, and some people might prefer its styling. But the Buick falls short of the Kia in interior materials, outward visibility, and roominess, while costing considerably more. Other competitors have prices closer to the Cadenza's, but none costs less.

So why doesn't the Cadenza sell better? First and foremost, few brands rank lower in car buyer perceptions than Kia. In comparison, even a Nissan might seem prestigious, and a Buick certainly does. If you really don't care about brands, you can benefit from your apathy by paying the lowest price for a vehicle that's among the best in its segment.

But there's also a weakness common to the entire segment: midsize sedans are nearly as good in pretty much every way, including interior space, while costing much less. The biggest problem with the Kia Cadenza could be the Kia Optima, which the company also keeps improving. The Cadenza does look and feel somewhat more upscale than the Optima, but how much is this worth? I encourage anyone with an outdated view of Kia to drive both.

In the short term, Kia's improvements to the Cadenza probably won't help its sales much. But if the company keeps improving its cars the brand's reputation will eventually follow. They're playing a long game. There was a time when few people would buy an expensive Toyota.

Cadenza Reviews: 2017 Kia Cadenza engine uncovered

Not as strong or as efficient as the Buick's engine, but doesn't sound like it's working as hard.

Cadenza Reviews: 2017 Kia Cadenza trunk

The trunk's competitive in size, but the rear seat can't be folded to expand it.

See more 2017 Kia Cadenza photos

Kia provided an insured car for a week with a tank of gas. Kay Eizen of Art Moran Buick in Southfield, MI, helpfully provided a LaCrosse for a comparison test drive. She can be reached at 248-355-7611.

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2017 Kia Cadenza pros and cons, according to Michael Karesh: the best reasons for buying (or not buying) the 2017 Kia Cadenza. Join TrueDelta to post your own impressions.

Response from teamsc10190

2:32 pm February 11, 2017

It's not a bad car but it's a guaranteed non-started out of the gate. The fact that it depreciates faster than a stock market crash (as you've acknowledged), coupled with a lack of distinct brand identity and confusing glut of overlapping models that Kia and her sister company regurgitate into the market will assure that status quo. It's hard to build a vibrant brand without discipline or evidence of product planning. Form without substance is a poor foundation for brand DNA.


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