by Roger Biermann
The Kia Cadenza is a large sedan that's part of the second generation first introduced in 2017. Although many buyers are moving away from sedans and into SUVs, the venerable sedan is still holding on and the Cadenza is a great example of what a 21st-century sedan should be. It's available in three trims, the Premium, Technology and Limited models which are all front-wheel drive and powered by a 3.3-liter V6 developing 290 horsepower and 253 ft-lbs of torque, while connected to an eight-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel-drive. The Cadenza might not have the biggest trunk or the best performance, but it has many brilliant standard features and safety equipment and continues to finely tread the line between luxury and affordability, giving it a leg up on rivals like the Toyota Avalon, Buick Lacrosse, Chrysler 300, and Chevrolet Impala.
The current Kia Cadenza was introduced as part of the 2017 generation and has seen some minor upgrades. The 2019 model gets a few changes to keep things fresh, but they're primarily limited to a reshuffle in standard equipment across a few trims. Now standard on the base Cadenza Premium, you'll find enhanced safety courtesy of rear parking sensors, blind spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert made standard. Meanwhile, the Technology model gets the remaining equipment from last year's Premium Luxury package as standard, including an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system, Harman Kardon premium audio, auto-dimming rearview mirror, panoramic sunroof, and built-in navigation.
The Kia Cadenza is quite large with a very modern and aggressive look you'd expect from a premium luxury sedan. Kia has given the Cadenza a uniquely-styled Tiger Nose grille, running nearly the full width of the nose with a vertical strake design, flanked on either side by projector beam headlights on the base Premium, with Technology and Limited trims receiving LED headlights. All models feature LED rear combination lights and dual chrome exhausts integrated into the rear bumper. The Limited trim gets an abundance of chrome trimming on the side mirror housing and all about the exterior, while both the Technology and Limited trims receive a panoramic sunroof.
The Kia Cadenza is quite a large car with an overall length of 195.7 inches on a wheelbase measuring 112.4 inches. It has a height of 57.9 inches and a width of 73.6 inches, and these dimensions place it firmly in the large sedan segment with comparable dimensions to the Toyota Avalon. The curb weight of the Premium is 3,633 lbs, while both the Technology and the Limited trims have a claimed curb weight of 3,770 lbs.
The 2019 Kia Cadenza comes in only four colors, of which only three are available at no cost on all trims. The three in question are Snow White Pearl, Platinum Graphite, and Aurora Black Pearl. Technology and Limited trims are available in an additional hue of Gravity Blue. This color palette has been simplified substantially from last year's seven-strong offering, with Silky Silver, Moss Gray, and Granite Brown Pearl all being left behind in 2018.
All the models in the Cadenza range are front-wheel driven and utilize the same 3.3-liter V6 engine mated to an eight-speed transmission. The V6 engine churns out 290 hp and 253 lb-ft of torque, enough to carry the Cadenza from 0-60 mph in around 6.8 seconds. Most segment rivals share a front-wheel drivetrain, although the likes of the Toyota Avalon can be had in AWD guise, while the Chrysler 300 gets a choice between RWD and AWD, with a chunky V8 powertrain, too. Those rivals are also quicker from 0-60 mph, and the Cadenza doesn't stand up as an outright performer in its segment.
All the trims in the Cadenza range make use of a 3.3-liter V6, with 209 hp and 253 lb-ft on tap, driving the front axle through an eight-speed automatic transmission.
The acceleration on the Cadenza is slower than rivals in its class and it really shows. There's a gradual buildup of speed when the throttle is pressed, but once the Cadenza eventually gets going, it's boringly predictable although manages to move at a fairly rapid speed with ease and casual civility. Whether on long or short trips the Cadenza does its job of providing a comfortable, no fuss journey for its occupants.
On the freeway, the transmission can sometimes take a while to downshift when overtaking, but at least it manages to stay in the correct gear most of the time. When wishing for better acceleration, sport mode is available for faster upshifts, but the difference is negligible as the engine itself is a lackluster performer.
This particular engine and transmission combination was designed for good fuel economy and highway cruising in mind rather than performance, but it still delivers more than enough to make the Cadenza glide anywhere with ease.
The Cadenza feels like a lounge on wheels. It's a comfortable and quiet place with plush seating that transports its occupants around without much fuss. The steering is light and doesn't give as much feedback as it should, especially when cornering. It's no surprise that the standard driving mode of the Cadenza is Comfort, which optimizes a soft ride and smooth shifts above all else. Sport mode firms up the steering and sharpens the throttle programming, while eco maximizes efficiency with even slower responses to throttle inputs. There's also 'smart mode', which learns the driver's habits and adjusts the car accordingly. Of the four modes, only Sport feels any different, with the changes in other modes feeling negligible.
The ride is extremely comfortable even on the Limited trim with the 19-inch wheels, but this does result in more body roll than we'd ideally look for in a large sedan. However, bumps are hardly felt and occupants will feel disconnected from the stress of the outside world due to the extremely high levels of isolation when inside the Cadenza.
Braking is also easy and predictable and makes stopping the Cadenza, even at speed, a trivial matter. While not the quickest off the line, or the most agile around a corner, the Cadenza turns every journey into a smooth and relaxed affair.
With all the models in the range using the same V6 engine and eight-speed transmission, they all have the same fuel consumption of 20/27/23 mpg on the city/highway/combined cycles according to the EPA. The Cadenza has an 18.5-gallon gas tank, which allows for an estimated range of 425 miles in varying combinations of city and highway driving.
In comparison to the Cadenza, the Toyota Avalon's fuel economy reads 22/31/26 mpg while the Buick Lacrosse with the 2.5-liter engine has figures of 25/35/30 mpg. The Cadenza is markedly better than the Chrysler 300, though, whose hefty V6 and V8 engines are thirsty lumps of metal.
The Cadenza has a high-quality interior with a solid and highly premium feel to it. The leather-covered steering feels comfortable and plush to hold, and the usual satellite controls are tactile and clearly laid out. A seven-inch touchscreen takes center stage on the dash of the base Premium, upgraded to an eight-inch touchscreen on the higher trims, with impressive levels of functionality and ease of use. All models have leather upholstery with the Limited getting Nappa leather. The Kia Cadenza also has Alcantara lining on the roof and faux wood trim on the dash and doors which enhance its premium appeal. It's a spacious, relaxed environment, with an abundance of space both front and rear for occupants to stretch out, relax, and enjoy the journey in utmost comfort.
Large sedans are supposed to be spacious and comfortable and the Cadenza is no different. It offers comfortable seating for five occupants on supportive seats with plenty of adjustment and the availability of heating in both the front and rear. In the front, there's headspace of 40.2 inches and legroom of 45.5 inches, while the rear gets headroom of 37.9 inches and legroom of 37.3 inches - all of which will cater to adults measuring six-feet-tall. The Cadenza has more than enough legroom for both front and rear passengers, but due to the sloping roofline, passengers exceeding six-foot tall may notice a little bit of brushing against the ceiling. The same can be said of the front seats, but only when the Cadenza is equipped with the panoramic sunroof that eats into headroom.
The Cadenza has a premium finish with a dashboard and interior that verges on the premium quality we expect from some Audi and Lexus models. The Premium trim comes with black leather upholstery while the Technology comes with either black or beige leather. The high-end Limited model gets black or white Nappa leather for an even more luxurious feel. The dash has a combination of hard and soft-touch materials, giving it an elegant feel and look. Depending on the interior color chosen, the dash will also have either a faux wood grain or faux ashwood trim on the dash and doors that mimic many premium sedans.
Cargo space is crucial, especially when taking the Cadenza on the long family trips a large sedan will need to undertake if it wishes to rival the booming crossover segment. Unfortunately, it doesn't have as much space as some of the rivals in its class, with only 16 cubic feet of trunk space to its name. To make matters worse, the rear seats don't fold down to increase it, limiting things immensely. Comparatively, the Buick Lacrosse only has 15 cu-ft of space and the Toyota Avalon has 16.1 cu-ft, but they have the flexibility of fold-down seats. All Cadenza models come equipped with a hands-free trunk opening function which opens the trunk automatically after three seconds if the keyfob is detected near it.
Fortunately, the interior fares better, where small item storage is more abundant. A cubby beneath the center console and a large bin beneath the center armrest cater to most storage needs, while door pockets are decently sized. Rear occupants don't get as much storage, however, with seatback pockets all that rear passengers can expect.
The Kia Cadenza comes jam-packed with features to make it an attractive buy. It has a rearview camera, with a 360-degree camera on the range-topper, as well as standard cruise control, upgraded to adaptive cruise control on both upper trims. Dual-zone climate control is standard across the range, as is an auto-dimming rearview mirror. Headlights are automatically operable. On higher trims, there's a panoramic sunroof as standard, and power seating adjustment is to be found on all models. The front seats are heated as standard but on the Limited trim, they receive ventilation as well, while the rear outboard seats get heating. Driver assistance systems include a head-up display on upper trims, as well as forward collision warning, lane departure warning, park distance sensors, lane keep assist, and driver attention warning.
The cheapest premium-spec Cadenza is equipped with a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system with AM/FM/MP3/SiriusXM functionality and eight speakers, while both higher trims receive an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system with a 12-speaker Harman Kardon sound system. The eight-inch unit also boasts voice-command navigation and HD radio functionality, as well as wireless device charging. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard on all models for full smartphone integration, while Kia's UVO eServices allow mobile app access to the Cadenza.
The Cadenza has a brilliant reliability record. Between 2017, when the generation was launched, and now there has been just one recall for a faulty brake vacuum hose, while owner complaints have been kept to almost none. Kia offers one of the best warranties in the business on many of its models and the Cadenza is no different. The basic warranty is five-years/60,000 miles, while the powertrain warranty is valid for ten-years/ 100,000 miles.
Unfortunately, the 2019 Kia Cadenza hasn't been tested by the NHTSA since the initial launch. However, the IIHS has completed the full range of crash-testing, awarding the Cadenza the title of 2019 Top Safety Pick due to high scores in all tests.
The Kia Cadenza has an extensive list of safety features to give buyers some peace of mind when traveling. All the trims come standard with dual front airbags, dual front and rear seat-mounted side airbags, driver's knee airbags, and side curtain airbags, making it an impressive total of nine. Four-wheel ABS brakes, blind-spot monitoring, brake assist, traction control, stability control, and front and rear crumple zones are also standard equipment. On the Technology and Limited models, there's also a pre-collision safety system, emergency braking preparation, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warnings, lane keep assist, and autonomous emergency braking.
The Kia Cadenza suffers in the performance area due to its mundane handling and ho-hum acceleration. It also suffers from average fuel economy and the fact that it is only available with the V6 engine.
However, the Kia Cadenza has many strong points like its stylish interior, great safety and equipment levels, as well as an infotainment system that can compete with the best. It's not a car with quick shifts and blistering acceleration; the Cadenza is meant to stay composed in all conditions while its occupants enjoy comfort and luxury on a trip. With little road noise and most of the bumps absorbed, passengers can enjoy the premium features while getting to their destination in style. At a starting price of only $33,100 it also provides fantastic value for money and it's a great alternative to some of the more established sedans out there. It's by no means a typical large sedan, but as a junior luxury sedan, it fulfills its role rather well.
The entry-level Premium model starts at an MSRP of $33,100, while the Technology model starts at $38,200. The range-topping Limited trim starts at $44,100 before tax, registration, licensing fees, and a destination charge of $995.
Comparatively, the Toyota Avalon ranges between $35,650 and $42,350 while the Buick Lacrosse ranges between $29,570 and $44,870.
The Cadenza range is composed of three trims: Premium, Technology, and Limited. They are all powered by a 3.3-liter V6 engine with 290 hp and 253 lb-ft on tap, mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission.
The Premium comes standard with 18-inch rims, a black leather interior, seven-inch touchscreen with a rearview camera, Kia's UVO eServices, Bluetooth connectivity, eight speakers, two USB ports, an AUX port, Android Auto and AppleCarPlay, AM/FM Radio, SiriusXM Satellite radio with three months' subscription, and steering wheel-mounted audio controls. It has cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, dual zone climate control, heated front seats, and keyless ignition.
The Technology adds 19-inch rims, LED headlights, lane departure warning, accident avoidance system, adaptive cruise control, and a universal transmitter. It also upgrades the infotainment system to a 12-speaker Harman Kardon premium audio system with an eight-inch touchscreen, while equipping a panoramic sunroof.
At the top of the line-up, the Limited trim gets a 360-degree monitor, power tilt and telescopic steering wheel, head-up display, steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, power rear windows and rear side window sunshades, ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel, and a 14-way power-adjustable driver's seat, along with premium Nappa leather upholstery.
There are no additional packages available with the 2019 Kia Cadenza as the features are all incorporated into the different trims. The only options available are accessories such as the bumper applique at $75, the cargo mat at $95, cargo net at $50, wheel locks at $55, paint protection package at $200, and cargo tray at $80.
With three trims and no options packages to bridge the gap, what you see is what you get, and you've only got one chance to make sure you get all the Cadenza you need. As such, the Technology trim is the option to buy as it has most of the features of the Limited model, but at a much better price. For the mid-range price, buyers get the full eight-inch infotainment system with Harman Kardon premium audio, a panoramic sunroof, LED headlights, and a full suite of driver assistance features including lane keep assist, lane departure warning, driver attention warning, and adaptive cruise control. You miss out on ventilated front seats and heated rear items, but for that, you need the Limited trim, and the price of $44,100 seems a bit high.
Although both these cars have outstanding interiors, the Cadenza has more passenger space, including rear legroom. However, the redesigned Avalon feels like a junior Lexus, while the Kia is luxurious but not at the same level. The V6 in the Toyota makes 310 hp compared to the Cadenza's 290 hp, and also has better gas mileage estimates than the Cadenza. On the Cadenza, the driver's aids are only available on the higher trims, but adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, and automatic emergency braking are standard on the Toyota. Toyota has also endowed the Avalon with sportier driving dynamics, but sacrifice little of the comfort required to dominate this segment. With a starting price of around $2,400 cheaper than the Avalon, the Kia is definitely worth taking a look at, but is it the better large sedan? Arguably not.
Both of these cars are comfortable and have great features, but the Buick has a couple of tricks up its sleeve that the Cadenza just can't match. The Buick Lacrosse is available in all-wheel drive, as well as having a more powerful V6 motor that makes 310 hp. The Cadenza is only available in front-wheel drive and its V6 engine only makes 290 hp and provides drivers with tepid performance. The Lacrosse is also available with an adjustable suspension, and 20-inch wheels, while the Cadenza focuses on a plush ride without that element of adjustability. While the Buick has less cargo space at only 15 cu-ft compared to Kia's 16.1 cu-ft, the rear seats of the Buick fold forward to drastically increase cargo space while the Kia's don't. The Kia has a better interior and longer warranty, but it's just not enough to take on the Lacrosse, which is more of an all-rounder suited to a wider variety of buyers.