Since Kia launched the Cadenza for 2014, roughly 28,000 have found homes in the US. That's hardly a sales-chart-shattering number of cars, but Kia execs say they see extra value in those buyers because they were new customers to the brand who otherwise wouldn't have been drawn into showrooms by offerings like the quirky Soul or Optima family sedan. In light of that perspective, the introduction of the second-generation near-luxury sedan earlier this year at March's New York Auto Show makes sense.
What doesn't seem to make much sense is Kia putting me behind the wheel of the new Cadenza on twisty, undulating roads through Virginia's countryside. The drive route would be amazing in something lightweight and rear-wheel drive like, say, Roadshow's long-term Mazda MX-5 Miata, but seems less than ideal for a near-4,800-pound front-wheel-drive sedan.
In reality, the Cadenza handles quite well in the Old Dominion State. It's not an understeering pig going through the tight stuff, nor does its body flop around like a 1995 Buick Park Avenue. Instead, the Cadenza feels reasonably sharp, with good turn-in response, controlled body motions and it exhibits respectable grip through turns. Larger brakes also help to confidently slow the big sedan down.
Chalk the Cadenza's surprising handling reflexes up to a new chassis that's built with 51 percent high-strength steel, more hot-stamped steel and additional structural adhesives, all of which help to improve torsional rigidity by 35 percent over the old car. Other improvements include a suspension with more aluminum components to slash unsprung weight by 40 pounds, an upgraded electromechanical steering system and 19-inch tires on my range-topping SX Limited test car.
I'm not saying the Cadenza is a full-fledged sports sedan now, though, because it certainly isn't. Comfort still takes priority, with a well-damped ride over Virginia's generally smooth roads. (Seeing how well the suspension deals with much bumpier Midwest surfaces will have to wait until we spend more time in one for an in-depth review at a later date.)
The Cadenza's second-generation 3.3-liter V6 engine delivers 290 horsepower and 253 pound-feet of torque, which is oddly slightly down from 293 horsepower and 255 pound-feet in last year's model. Fuel economy is up a little with a new eight-speed automatic transmission for an EPA city fuel economy rating that goes from 19 to 20 mpg. On the highway, the rating holds steady at 28 mpg.
Power isn't torque-steer-inducing strong, nor is it underwhelming. It's sufficient to pull the Cadenza off the line in a brisk manner and allow for easy expressway merging. The V6 is smooth, with power building gradually to redline, while Kia's in-house developed transmission cracks off slick, well-timed shifts.
For its target audience, the Cadenza's handling and drivetrain should be just what they are looking for. However, I would prefer tighter steering on center, because even with the car in Sport mode, there is still a dead spot. That Kia couldn't get a more substantial fuel economy improvement with the new engine and going from a six-speed to an eight-speed transmission is disappointing, too.
What isn't disappointing is the work the Kia's design team has done with the Cadenza's exterior. It's a handsome-looking piece, with a concave version of the company's trademark "Tiger Nose" grille dressing the front, subtle side character lines and some apparent styling inspiration from BMW sedans at the rear.
Heading inside, an airy interior greets you lined with Nappa leather, piano-black trim and real accent stitching on the seats, dashboard and center armrest. Space isn't a problem, either. There's 107.8 cubic-feet of passenger room, bettering key competitors like the Toyota Avalon, Chevrolet Impala and Ford Taurus.
With hardly any road or wind noise penetrating the cabin thanks to a laminated windshield and front windows, more sound insulation and full underbody covers, the Cadenza delivers a serene driving environment. Throughout my half-day drive, the seats stay comfortable, with enough support in the right places, and the cooling function proves welcome on this hot and humid summer day. Center-stack controls consist of clearly labeled physical switchgear, which are always nice to see instead of having to jockey through on-screen menus.
Kia's UVO infotainment system remains one of the more intuitive systems on the market, with a clear, eight-inch touchscreen that's responsive to inputs and offers standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capabilities. The Harman Kardon 12-speaker audio system sounds crisp whether rocking out to music on satellite radio or from a device connected via USB or Bluetooth. As a Samsung Galaxy S6 owner, the Cadenza's wireless charging dock also comes in handy.
As with any respectable modern entry-level luxury car, optional advanced driver-assist systems are plentiful on Cadenza. A smart blind-spot detection system helps keep you in your lane if there's a car approaching from behind, while forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking helps avoid possible frontal impacts. Adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, high-beam assist and a head-up display are also available.
Parking is made easier with Kia's Surround View Monitor, which affords the driver a bird's-eye view of the area around the car, while a rear cross-traffic alert system warns of oncoming side traffic when reversing out of parking spaces and driveways.
The 2017 Cadenza arrives in dealers at the end of October, where it should continue bringing new customers into the Kia fold with its bigger helping of style, luxury and performance. Without a doubt, the 2017 model is big improvement over its mostly forgettable predecessor.
To top things off, Kia says the 2017 Cadenza will start at below $32,000, making it roughly $1,000 cheaper than the outgoing generation. Of course, buyers looking for all the bells and whistles found on my SX Limited tester should expect a steeper price of admission -- around $44,000. That's still not bad for a handsome, refined near-premium sedan that's loaded to the gills with tech. Kia officials may not say so, but it's fair to assume they're hoping for more than 28,000 takers with this second-generation model. The good news is, the new Cadenza is worth the attention.