This all-new Cadenza goes up against the likes of the Avalon, Maxima, Taurus, 300C and Impala. Now, that is a tough crowd to say the least as those five are firm favourites here, so should this second-generation Kia be worried about being left in the corner?
Well, Kia isn’t a fledgling brand that makes bicycles and motorcycle parts anymore. Established in 1944 and building cars since the Sixties, it has come a long way (as has its sister brand, Hyundai) and shaken off the early stigma that was attached to it thanks to models such as the Optima, Sportage and especially, the Cadenza. Heck, according to JD Power’s annual report card on vehicle quality in June, it was ranked even higher than Porsche.
It was the first time in 27 years that a non-premium brand topped the list and it’s not too difficult to see why. For instance, this 2017 model isn’t just refined and good to drive, but perhaps best of all is the fact that it can be had for a starting price of Dh85,000. Our top-trim tester costs more at Dh130,000 but for the extra cash you get a lot of extra features that might just make more luxurious brands raise an eyebrow.
It has been reworked under the guidance of design lead Peter Schreyer, but not significantly so; Kia has doubled the use of high-strength steel to more than 50 per cent and as a result the doors are a very specific 16 per cent more dent-resistant than the previous generation (good news when you park up at the mall...) while the chassis torsional rigidity has been improved by 35 per cent – it feels far sturdier on the move. The A-Pillars have 13 per cent more sound insulation and this does a fine job in keeping wind and tyre noise from entering the cabin, and although it looks sharper than the model it replaces and features the trademarked quad-LED lights (the taillights have been updated too), this new Cadenza doesn’t look strikingly different to the one it replaces. But then again, it doesn’t have to, as the predecessor looked fine..
The single contour line running along the length of the car’s profile that connects the Z-shaped motifs in the headlights and the tail lights is a nice touch, as is the subtle ducktail spoiler and dual exhaust outlets.
The cabin is very smart and affords more than enough leg- and headroom for both the front and rear passengers – even though it appears the sloping roofline, which has been pulled back to give the car a more fastback-like look, must be shaving off a few millimetres. The cockpit has an airy feel to it and that is thanks to our tester’s cream leather seats but more pertinently, the large panoramic roof that lets lots of natural light in.
Overall, it is a very pleasant place to be, and looks the part with lots of piano black trim and soft-touch materials throughout – and it is loaded with kit, too. For instance, it packs 12-way adjustable front seats while those at the back get their own air-conditioning and audio controls. The 12-speaker Harman Kardon system sounds crystal clear and some of the other goodies include a 8.0in infotainment system with sat-nav, reversing camera (with around-view), front and rear parking sensors, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go functionality, forward collision warning, lane-departure warning system, blind-spot warning and a head-up display.
So far so good – as is the way it drives. The 3.3-litre V6 may not exactly be a powerhouse but it sure isn’t lacking in grunt either when called upon. It produces 284bhp and has 336Nm of torque, which is more than sufficient to easily undertake overtaking manoeuvres, but it is its creamy smooth nature that really shines. Mated to a new eight-speed automatic that powers the front wheels (the two extra cogs help keep the six-cylinder at peak power and allows the car to accelerate quicker while being more efficient than the outgoing one) the Cadenza would give the pricey Lexus ES 350 sleepless nights, let alone the Avalon.
The chassis and the softly sprung suspension (MacPherson struts in front, and a multi-link set-up at the back) do a fine job in ironing out the irregularities on the road (the electric power steering has been upgraded and doesn’t feel as artificial as other systems) but don’t push this one too hard in the corners. If you do, it’ll dive and roll, but handle it with a little more care and it rewards you with a very plush ride. That is how the majority of buyers in this segment treat their vehicles and they’re all cruisers, but none of them really stand out in terms of driving dynamics.
That doesn’t mean they’re not good. On the contrary, they’re brilliant at what they’re designed to do – but since the Cadenza’s chassis is lighter (thanks to an extensive use of aluminium) and that it has retuned front and rear subframes it drives far better than the predecessor. It even has paddle shifters and a Sport mode but you never feel the need or the desire to engage either. Stick this in Drive, leave it in Comfort and roll merrily along. You won’t be disappointed.
Should Kia be concerned about the new Cadenza’s ability to leave a mark in this segment? Not at all; with those handsome looks, a smooth ride and an arsenal of kit, Korea’s large saloon may just blow the competition away. It’s definitely the others that ought to be worried.