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Executive Wheels: A winner. Hands down

Few, if any complaints, for this full-size sedan, the 2017 Kia Cadenza Limited


For my annual sojourn to Michigan I was once again blessed by the car gods with a test-drive/review vehicle for the week, and once again it proved to be amazing. On my usual Denver and environs test-drives, I do my best to put review cars through their paces – test them out in the city, on the highway and when possible in the mountains. But in Michigan each year, these test-drives really assay the mettle of the vehicles. I pick it up in Detroit and drive north, often in heavy traffic, to the shores of Lake Michigan, and then usually well beyond. This year was no different, as we spent a wonderful day deep into the Upper Peninsula at the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore way up on Lake Superior. The Lakeshore park is one of the most incredible places I have ever been – desolate, beautiful, featuring sandstone cliffs and azure water like the Caribbean ... but more to the point, the drive there is long, on winding two-lane back roads, and it’s not a drive you’d want to make in an uncomfortable car lacking in performance.

Lucky me.

I drove the newly redesigned 2017 Kia Cadenza Limited, a luxury (to the max!) performance vehicle so responsive and such a great road car that I made the drive there and back (three hours each way) with ease, and arrived each time feeling refreshed. This is a drive that demands performance, because the sleepy U-P, as they say in Michigan, has a lot of old clunkers and RVs that need to be quickly passed. Each time I asked the Cadenza to deliver me around a snail’s pace vehicle, it rocketed up to the desired speed in milliseconds, and handled like a dream. Everything required – smooth and quick acceleration, excellent visibility with all of the mirrors, superb handling, roomy seats and legroom, a huge trunk for all the gear we brought and a wonderful sound system – made the travel for five of us in this five-passenger sedan a pleasure. As much as I like to hike and sight-see, I love to drive, and I loved driving the Cadenza. I came home wishing I had one in my garage.

I didn’t really think of it at the time – which is key to the point I am about to make – but never once throughout the test-drive week in the Cadenza did I feel as though I didn’t have a handle on all of its technology, and I also never felt that the technology (and, importantly, accessing it) ever distracted me. Just about every car these days, even low-priced ones, but especially these luxury vehicles, comes with 10 times more technology than NASA used to land the first man on the moon, so it’s redundant to go through all of the now-ubiquitous tech features.

What is important is how one operates that technology and how much of a distraction it is for driving. I can honestly say that the Cadenza – chock-full of the latest technology – offered all of its features in an easy-to-operate, intuitive manner. It’s a very smart, drIver- and driving-centric vehicle, and should be a model for all carmakers in minimizing distraction.

Having said all that, I did have one technological problem – with the Bluetooth phone connection. Oh, I hooked it up easily enough, and used it, and found the speaker and microphone excellent. But every time I started the car it gave me a message that the phone connection couldn’t load my contacts, even though it always did, and every time I had to deal with a screen message and turn it off. It wasn’t a distraction, just annoying.

Other than that, everything was wonderful.

The Cadenza is a full-sized sedan and, as such, has plenty of rear-seat passenger room (quite comfortable for three adults on a long trip), ample shoulder room for the front passenger and driver, and a nice size trunk for plenty of gear. In spite of its size, however, the car is especially nimble and fun to drive – it is a driver’s drive, as I like

It all begins with the engine, a 3.3-liter direct-injection V6 putting out 290 horsepower. This is a quick car, off the line, and especially from 55 mpg to 85 mph for passing on those tricky two-lane country roads where you want to make the move fast.  Couple with an 8-speed automatic transmission as smooth as silk, there is very little surge jolt as one accelerates, and it is tough to notice the shifting of gears. It goes when you want with no lag. I must say it’s nice to drive a vehicle of this type without turbo – just a normally aspirated gasoline engine with enough size to flat out fly without superchargers. And it is rated at 20 mpg city/28 mpg highway/ 23 combined, which is pretty much what I experienced, so it is not a gas guzzler.

The handling is enhanced by a traction control system in this front-wheel-drive vehicle, as well as electronic stability control, what they call vehicle stability management, and absolutely great anti-lock brakes. It strikes me as I write – and it seems odd – but this Cadenza is old school: no turbo, no fancy control management system, just good old fashioned expert design and manufacturing. It’s actually very refreshing.

As for all that aforementioned technology – everything is here. There’s blind spot monitoring, cameras all around (with bird’s eye view), autonomous emergency braking, forward collision warning and lane departure (not annoying). And, of course, the control panel on the 8-inch color screen, has everything; phone, all the latest apps, diagnostics, etc. The air conditioner worked great, and the radio (satellite, etc. in a Harman/Kardon® QuantumLogic™ Premium Surround Sound system with Clari-Fi™, featuring 630 Watts and 12 Speakers) was awesome.

About the only negative, other than the phone snafu, was that an otherwise totally beautiful white leather interior – quilted Nappa leather seat trim, heated/ventilated seats, heated rear seats – had woodgrain accents that were very limited and hard to see, so I didn’t get the point. It didn’t distract from the overall beauty, but it could have been enhanced with some cool wood trim that stood out.

This 2017 Cadenza is the first model in the second generation of this sedan, which was introduced in 2010. There are several trims, starting at $31,990, all with the same engine by the way, so I guess the differences are in the standards as options kind of things. This top-of-the-line Limited carried a base price of $44,390, and the only thing they added on – the only thing they could have added on – was a $900 destination charge, bringing the bottom line to $45,290.

I have driven a lot of cars, and a ton of luxury cars, and I can think of nothing better unless you double the price. At this price, the Cadenza is the winner. Hands down.


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Jeff Rundles

Jeff Rundles is a former editor of ColoradoBiz and a regular columnist. Email him at jrundles@cobizmag.com.

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