by Gerhard Horn
Kia has been building some stunning SUVs these last few years, but its sedans have failed to capture the attention of American buyers. Apart from the stylish Stinger, nearly all Kia sedans are easily forgettable, as is the case for the Kia Cadenza. This is particularly troubling, as it competes with some big names like the Toyota Avalon, Buick Lacrosse, and Chevrolet Impala.
The 2020 model wades back into the large sedan war sporting a wide variety of upgrades to the exterior and interior. The 3.3-liter naturally-aspirated 290 horsepower V6 remains, sending power exclusively to the front wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission.
The exterior of the Cadenza gets a redesigned hood, LED headlights and daytime running lights, a new lower front fascia and rear bumper, new LED taillights, and redesigned 18- and 19-inch wheels. These revisions pale in comparison to the all-new grille, which retains the famous 'Tiger Nose' design, but draws some inspiration from BMW. The Cadenza's grille is so large and sparkly, we're surprised it hasn't released a rap album yet.
On the inside, it has an entirely new dashboard with multiple new features like a 12.3-inch touchscreen, LED mood lighting, new Lappa leather options, and a 4.2-inch TFT color screen in the instrument cluster, to name but a few.
Considering this is a family car, the most important upgrades are on the safety side. Both Cadenza models come with forward collision warning with pedestrian/cyclist detection, smart cruise control, and high-beam assist. In addition to this, the Kia also has lane following assist, blind-spot collision avoidance, highway driving assist, navigation-based smart cruise control, and safe exit alert, which prevents passengers from opening their doors if traffic is detected.
See trim levels and configurations:
The Cadenza's exterior redesign is quite aggressive, especially from the front. The lower end of the front fascia is now one large air intake, and above that is one of the biggest, most imposing grilles this side of a BMW 7 Series. This new grille is flanked by slimmer headlights angled downward. LED headlights, daytime running lights, and rear lights are now standard across the range. To spruce up the bland rear-end of the old model, Kia incorporated combined rear lights. 18-inch wheels are standard on the base model, while the Limited trim gets a set of 19s.
The Cadenza is a large car with an impressive set of dimensions. The overall length is 196.7 inches, housing a 112.4-inch wheelbase. It's 73.6 inches wide and 57.9 inches tall. While these dimensions are impressive, they're not class-leading. A similarly priced Chrysler 300 is much larger, while a Chevrolet Impala is more-or-less the same size. Technology and Limited trims of the Cadenza both weigh 3,770 pounds.
The color palette is disappointing. Since Kia did so much to the car's exterior, we expected to see more exciting color options. Alas, both models are only available in four no-cost options, with Gravity Blue being as wild as it gets. Other choices include Snow White Pearl, Aurora Black Pearl, and Graphite Gray.
Both models in the Cadenza use the same 3.3-liter engine that sends power to the front wheels only. While this is the standard format in the segment, most rivals offer an all-wheel-drive option for cold-weather states. By comparison, the Chrysler 300 provides rear-wheel-drive as standard and all-wheel-drive as an option.
Independent tests have shown that the Cadenza can sprint from 0 to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds. It's not slow in the big scheme of things, but easily outgunned by all of its main rivals. If you want the real performer in this segment, look no further than the Chrysler 300, which can be ordered with a 5.7-liter V8.
The sole engine option is a 3.3-liter naturally-aspirated V6 producing 290 horsepower and 253 lb-ft of torque. It's an impressive set of figures, but this is not a performance engine. The motor is all out of ideas at 6,400 rpm, though the eight-speed automatic transmission will change gear long before you get there. Kia's engineers were more interested in efficiency than performance. It's strange to think that this is the same rorty, vivid V6 powertrain used in the Stinger, albeit with two turbochargers bolted on.
For the most part, the eight-speed automatic transmission does a good job. It gets the Cadenza up to speed effortlessly enough, but it sometimes hesitates to shift down when you want to overtake. Sport mode is available, and the gearbox will hold onto gears for longer, but at the end of the day, it's not a gearbox problem. The V6 just doesn't like being hustled and is much better suited to cruising. Treat it accordingly and it will reward you with relatively decent fuel consumption.
The 3.3-liter V6 sending the power to the front wheels tells you everything you need to know about this car. It was never going to be sporty, even though it has the obligatory "Sport" driving mode - most likely for marketing purposes.
Thankfully, the default setting is Comfort, which is something the Cadenza is excellent at. The steering is light and devoid of feedback, the cabin is well-insulated, and the suspension is mushy. As a result, it rolls through the corners like a drunk college student on a skateboard. It's too much for our liking, but we appreciate people out there who value comfort above all else. These are the people the Cadenza is aimed at.
The ride is sublime, as the Kia simply irons out the road ahead. Couple that with the cocooned interior, and you have a car that isolates you from the rest of the world. Braking is easy thanks to a progressive pedal feel. The Cadenza might not be the sprinter in this segment, but we appreciate its unashamed comfort-biased setup.
The naturally aspirated 3.3-liter V6 engine is a bit disappointing when it comes to fuel consumption. According to the EPA, the Cadenza should be capable of 20/28/23 mpg city/highway/combined. It's acceptable, but the Chrysler 300 with a (much older) 3.6-liter V6 can do 19/30/23 mpg. The Toyota Avalon and its bigger 3.5-liter naturally-aspirated V6 leads this segment with EPA-estimated figures of 22/32/26 mpg. An 18.5-gallon tank is standard, giving the Cadenza a range of 426 miles between refills.
The Cadenza's interior is essentially brand-new with a redesigned dash and relocated buttons for the sound system. An all-new 12.3-inch touchscreen takes center stage, and the Limited gets a new LED mood lighting system.
Every surface is covered in high-quality materials. The steering wheel and shifter are clad in leather, as are the seats. The old faux wood has been ditched in favor of a lighter trim. Overall, the interior has the look and feel of a Kia, but with the kind of materials you usually find in a German car.
Both trims in the line-up come standard with a power sunroof, which takes up a little bit of headroom. Front passengers get 38.5 inches of headroom, while rear passengers get 37.6 inches. Though the Cadenza can easily fit five fully-grown adults, the rear headroom might be tight for six-footers.
The legroom is mighty impressive in the front, rated at 45.5 inches. Rear passengers have 37.2 inches, which is still enough to stretch out a bit. Front power-adjustable seats are standard in both models, making it easy to find a comfortable driving position. Visibility is good, but there are driver assistance features to help out with the blind spots.
The pre-facelift model had an interior verging on Germanic, and the redesigned interior undoubtedly takes it into that territory. Both models come with leather seats available in four colors. The Technology trim offers Black and Warm Gray while the Limited trim can be specced with Nappa leather in either Saddle Brown or Black.
The new faux-wood trim does an exceptional job of mimicking real wood, and you'd have to be an expert to tell the difference. Still, having the option of fitting a metallic trim would have been a welcome addition for those who want to be a bit more avant-garde.
A large sedan needs a large trunk, especially since it's going to spend most of its life running daily errands. The Kia delivers with a massive 16 cubic feet of cargo capacity. That is pretty much standard across the board, with the Toyota Avalon having 16.1 cubes and the now-defunct Buick Lacrosse boasting 15 cubes. The Cadenza also has a button-operated, hands-free trunk. Unfortunately, the rear seats don't fold at all, which is a massive oversight. There is a center pass-through for longer items such as skis, however. Owners don't often use this feature, but you will undoubtedly be annoyed when Walmart has to deliver something you could have easily just chucked in the trunk.
Interior storage is ample, fortunately. There's storage space beneath the center armrest, and the door pockets are large. Rear passengers only get door pockets.
Both models are handsomely equipped, with the Limited trim only adding a few nice-to-have features over the Technology. Standard features across the range include puddle lamps, rain-sensing wipers, a panoramic sunroof with power sunshade, a 4.3-inch LCD screen in the instrument cluster, leather seats, power-adjustable heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, and keyless entry with push-button start.
A 12.3-inch touchscreen infotainment system with navigation, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, HD radio, and multi-Bluetooth connectivity is standard. The base Technology trim gets an eight-speaker sound system, while the Limited model is equipped with a 12-speaker Harman Kardon setup. Wireless charging is standard across the range, and there are two USB ports in the front and two in the rear.
The Cadenza has been recall-free for two years, with a single problem recorded for the 2019 model. Unfortunately, it's quite a big one. The recall was issued earlier in 2021 for both the Cadenza and Sportage, and customers were urged to park their vehicles outside until the problem could be rectified.
The reason? The electrical circuit in the Hydraulic Electronic Control Unit may short-circuit, leading to a fire. So far, no actual fires have been recorded, as Kia noticed the problem well in advance. Each Cadenza is sold with an impressive five-year/60,000-mile basic warranty and a ten-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty.
The NHTSA has not had the opportunity to test the Cadenza yet, but the IIHS has a complete list of ratings. It scored Good in all the major categories, with only the LATCH system's ease of use scoring a Marginal rating.
Safety-wise, the Cadenza is very well specced. It comes standard with nine airbags, ABS brakes, traction and stability control, and a rearview camera. The standard driver assistance package has been thoroughly revamped. Both models come with Kia's Sensor Fusion technology, incorporating forward collision warning, forward collision avoidance with pedestrian/cyclist detection, smart cruise control with stop & go, and high beam assist. In addition to this nifty tech, the Cadenza also gets lane following assist, blind-spot collision avoidance, lane change assist, highway driving assist, navigation-based smart cruise control, and safe exit assist. The last two aren't usually found in this particular segment. The navigation-based cruise control will lower the car's speed automatically before an upcoming corner, while the safe exit assist will make sure the road is clear before it allows the rear doors to open.
There are a few limiting factors to consider. All of its rivals offer the option of AWD. The Cadenza also has a lackluster engine that delivers average fuel economy, and hardly any driver involvement whatsoever. On the practical side, the rear seats don't fold at all.
However, it has plenty of advantages. The Cadenza is more handsome than ever, and the interior feels way more upmarket than the price suggests. It comes with a lot of kit as standard, and it's hard not to be impressed by the safety features. Safety should always be a top priority in any segment, and we're always impressed when a manufacturer throws all of the available tech in as standard.
The starting price is up from around $33,000 to just under $38,000. It's a significant increase, but the revamped Cadenza does have a lot more to offer.
The previously entry-level Premium has been dropped from the lineup. The new base-model Technology has an MSRP of $37,850, while the top-spec Limited retails for $43,550. These prices exclude Kia's destination charge of $1,035. In comparison, the Toyota Avalon range starts at $35,975 and goes up to $42,975 for the TRD.
There are two models in the Cadenza range: Technology and Limited. Both models use the same 3.3-liter naturally-aspirated V6 engine that sends power to the front wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission.
The Technology spec gets 18-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, rain-sensing wipers, a panoramic sunroof with a power sunshade, a manual tilt-and-telescoping steering column, leather seats, ten-way power-adjustable driver's seat, and eight-speed power-adjustable passenger seat, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, wireless charging and a 12.3-inch infotainment system with an eight-speaker sound system.
The Limited trim adds 19-inch wheels, Nappa quilted leather seats, a 14-way power-adjustable driver's seat with heating, ventilation, and a memory function, a ten-way power-adjustable passenger seat, heated rear outboard seats, a surround-view camera, and a heated steering wheel. The sound system is also upgraded to a 14-speaker Harman Kardon system.
On the safety side, both models are equipped with forward collision warning, forward collision avoidance with pedestrian/cyclist detection, smart cruise control with stop & go, high beam assist, lane following assist, blind-spot collision avoidance, lane change assist, highway driving assist, navigation-based smart cruise control, and safe exit assist.
Kia doesn't do optional packages. If there's a top-spec feature you want, you have to opt for the top-spec model. The only options available are a host of standalone features like a cargo net ($50), a cargo tray for $80, and mudguards for $115.
There's a $5,700 price gap between the two models. We'd say the base model is more than good enough, as it comes with all the features you'd need. The all-new 12.3-inch touchscreen is standard on both models, as are all the safety features. Still, when you take all of the Limited's additional features into account, $5,700 is a small price to pay. Adding all of those extra features to a German car can quickly escalate the price by as much as $10,000.
If you can't stretch the budget, the base car is excellent, but we'd be happy to pay the extra charge for the Limited considering how much you get.
Kia's revamped Cadenza is an excellent-looking car but parked next to the Toyota Avalon, it looks a bit meh. There's a lot of Lexus in the design. If you swapped the Toyota badge for a Lexus one, nobody would notice.
The Avalon also has more engine options to choose from, and the availability of AWD makes it more suitable for cold-weather states. When we compare V6 engines, the Avalon also comes out on top, by 20 hp, and it's more frugal to boot. The Avalon is also more comfortable and has an extended warranty.
Kia's latest host of upgrades makes it more competitive, however. The full range of driver assistance features easily bests Toyota. We reckon this battle is so close that only a test drive could settle the matter. If it were our money, we'd spend it at Toyota.
Since the Kia's other big rival, the Buick Lacrosse, is no longer with us, we need to look inhouse for a competitor. If you're looking for a more engaging car, the Stinger might be the answer. You can get a mid-spec Stinger with a twin-turbo V6 for more-or-less the same price as a Limited Cadenza. Bolting two turbos to the V6 engine pushes the power output up to 365 hp, good for a 0 to 60 mph sprint in a claimed 4.7 seconds.
To get these performance figures, you do need to make some sacrifices. The Stinger has a smaller interior and trunk. And while it is handsomely equipped, it can't match the Cadenza's standard features list.
While there is some overlap in pricing, these two cars are aimed at entirely different buyers. If you want comfort above all else, the Cadenza is the way to go. For a more engaging experience, opt for a Stinger.
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