When Volkswagen revealed its Phaeton luxury sedan to the world in 2003, Forbes asked professor of advertising James Twitchell just who would buy it. He paused a moment to ponder the question.
“It’s the people who go into Starbucks because they like the coffee,” he said, “But pour it into a generic cup because they don’t like the label.”
We all know how well that philosophy worked for Volkswagen.
Consumers, particularly Americans, are remarkably predictable. Sure, they like their coffee, but the label is what they like most about it. So it goes with cars. Comfort, performance, and technology are all well and good, but how will you impress the neighbors without a blue propeller or three-pointed star on the bonnet?
It’s that mentality that dooms cars like the Cadenza before they even come to market. But Kia, undaunted, brought it to America anyway. And I am so glad they did.
I’ve owned this 2017 Kia Cadenza Limited for six months now, and it shares a garage with one of those aforementioned ill-fated Volkswagens. I don’t drink coffee, but if I did, let’s just say I wouldn’t care what label was on the cup.
First, the exterior. Despite being a pretty sizable car—more than 16 feet long and tipping the scales at 3,800 pounds—the Cadenza looks deceptively svelte, thanks to a streamlined design penned by Peter Schreyer. Not surprising when you consider this is the man who brought us the Audi A6 in 1997 and the first-generation TT a year later. Schreyer introduced the “tiger nose” grille to Kia, and no car in the company’s lineup wears it better than Cadenza.
That grille design differs slightly based on trim level. The Cadenza is available in three trims: Premium ($31,990), Technology ($38,990), and Limited ($44,390). If you want your Cadenza to sport the faceted blades of Kia’s Intaglio grille, then you need to shell out for one of the latter two trims.
Which brings us to the interior. Sit inside the Cadenza, and you’ll appreciate just what the higher trim levels provide, especially the range-topping Limited. This particular Limited model, finished in metallic Gravity Blue, includes the (Limited-only) White Quilted Nappa Leather package. The diamond-stitched bolsters provide a touch of refinement you wouldn’t expect in a car under $50K—indeed, no other car in this class offers diamond-stitching, save for the Nissan Maxima Platinum. The Black Pearl “wood-style” trim is synthetic, but it looks as close to the real deal as you can get without felling an actual tree. The 19-inch Dark Satin alloy wheels help to further separate the Limited from lower trim levels.
The real ace up the Cadenza’s sleeve is its technology. Those raising an eyebrow at the Limited’s $45K price tag should start to understand when they see just what they’re getting. Ventilated front seats and heated rear seats. Heated steering wheel. Power rear sunshade. Eight-inch LED heads-up display. A 630-watt, 12-speaker Harman Kardon audio system. Adaptive cruise control. Adaptive high beams. An expansive panoramic sunroof. A 360-degree “birds-eye” camera view. In Limited trim, the Cadenza easily rivals entry-level luxury competitors like the Lexus ES, Lincoln MKZ, and Acura TLX. But it doesn’t wear the luxury badge—without that, there’s not much it can offer to woo those consumers seeking brand prestige. Lower trim levels compete more directly with premium-class sedans like the Buick Lacrosse, Chrysler 300, and Toyota Avalon.
The Cadenza is powered by a 3.3-liter V6 making 290 horsepower, which is historically the most ironclad of Kia’s current range of power plants. The eight-speed automatic is smooth, but hardly thrilling. If a sports sedan is what you’re after, Kia has an answer for that in the name of the Stinger GT. There are paddle shifters if you really want to feel like you’re rowing your own, but they seem a bit out-of-place in a car like this. The car handles predictably and reliably. It’s responsive but not high-strung. Perfect for the Monday-Friday commuter, but not for the track-day weekend warrior.
For everything it offers, the Cadenza is a fabulous value proposition, especially in the used marketplace. My car stickered for $45,290 new, and I bought it CPO three years and 46K miles later for $20,500. In that time it depreciated by an eye-watering 55%. And for roughly 20 grand, it’s a whole lot of car for the money. The only downside to buying used is missing out on the full warranty benefits of a new Kia. Any Kia purchased new comes with a 10-year, 100K-mile warranty—one of the best in the market. As the second owner, I purchased this Cadenza with a 5-year, 60K-mile warranty, which I’ve needed once to date. The metallic paint on the wheels was flaking when I bought the car, and Kia replaced all four under warranty. Good thing too, because the set would have cost $1,560 from the manufacturer.
Six months in, I am extremely happy with this car. I’m one of those people who browses listings for months or years before he finds exactly what he’s looking for. I live just outside of Washington, DC. This car was for sale in Chicago. And I was crazy enough to put down a deposit and fly 800 miles on a blustery November day to drive it home. I’m very glad I did.
Engine: 3.3 liter V6
Power: 290 HP at 6,400 RPM/ 253 LB-FT at 5,200 RPM
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
0-60 Time: 6.5 seconds
Top Speed: 148 MPH
Drivetrain: Front-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight: 3,770 pounds
Seating: 5 people
MPG: 20 City/28 Highway
Original MSRP: $45,290