2017 Kia Cadenza review: A spacious boat of a car with great value

CNBC | Mack Hogan
Key Points
  • The Kia Cadenza offers great value for the price.
  • It's a bit of a boat and some corners were cut, however

The Cadenza is Kia's attempt to strike a blow to the German luxury sedans, and was I excited to get behind the wheel.

Lined with quilted leather and faux-wood, I was under the impression that the Koreans had set their sights on Munich. And since I had the BMW 530i on hand, how fun I thought it'd be to document how they had missed the target.

Come to find out, this wasn't Kia's target at all.

Look through the press materials, and you'll find at no point does the company say that the Cadenza is gunning for anything but its plebeian competition.

No, Kia is not trying to bring the luxury sedan segment downmarket. It's bringing the full-size sedan segment upmarket...and doing a damned good job of it.

CNBC | Mack Hogan

Exterior: Svelte style in massive package

Looking at the car, you can see why I thought Kia had attempted to build a giant slayer. It certainly looks the part. It wouldn't be embarrassed in a crowd of the best looking vehicles from Audi, Mercedes, BMW and Maserati.

But it's not in that class of cars. No, it's a full-size sedan, and while I happen to really enjoy this group of cars they certainly aren't known as style pieces. I mean, the Taurus is a boat. The Avalon is a yacht. And the 300 might as well be the U.S.S. Nimitz.

Sure, the Cadenza can't quite shake the side-angle frumpy-look car this long, but it does a lot better than the class.

Mack | Hogan

The first-generation Cadenza was already a wonderfully designed car, but the big difference here is in identity. While the old version was handsome in a generic way, this car is uniquely a Kia design. Visual identity is important, and Kia's done a good job with that here.

Interior: Look, don't touch

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Climb aboard and you'll quickly see that the interior designers clearly worked as hard as the folk who did the sheet metal. The white leather, which according to the online configuration tool isn't available with the brown exterior anymore, complements some pretty convincing faux wood on the dash.

CNBC | Mack Hogan

There are sprinkles of Audi and BMW styling cues in the interior, but it's different enough to be distinctly Kia. Also notable is Kia's UVO infotainment system; it's one of the best touch-based systems I've used.

Everything that appears to be metal is actually gray plastic and the leather is a bit too stiff for my taste. The same could be said of the seats the leather covers, which in a comfort-focused class is a severe red mark.

Still, the white leather and panoramic sunroof come together to make the cabin look airy and quite spacious. There's enough room in the back to stage a parade, with room left over for bystanders.

In order to make the cabin and exterior this premium without inflating the price, corners had to be cut in terms of minute details.

CNBC | Mack Hogan

One-touch windows are only for front-row occupants. The passive entry system requires you to push a button on the door to unlock it, rather than detecting your hand. Instead of using a kicking-under-the-bumper motion to open the trunk without your hands, you just have to stand behind the car for a couple seconds. Conversations in the parking lot just got a lot more awkward, as your trunk will probably open about 6 seconds into them.

Finally, there's no one-touch access to Android Auto/Apple Carplay. You'd think the "media" button would accomplish this, but the folks at Kia have other plans. All of these things are extremely small, easy-to-miss omissions and flaws. But if you notice them, there are enough to drive you mad. Luckily, most people won't.

Driving Experience: Comfortably numb

CNBC | Mack Hogan

The entire class is a collection of floating, comfort-focused barges. Don't expect much in terms of handling or driving fun, because if you care about those things you shouldn't be buying a 16-foot-long sedan.

In terms of achieving that class-hallmark comfort, the Kia does a reasonable job. Body motions are more controlled than many full-sizers, and handling is at least reassuring if not impressive. The car is certainly comfortable, but the ride can get a bit busy at highway speeds as both ends start to move around a bit. Again, par for the class.

Power comes from a 3.3-liter V6, delivering 290 horsepower to the front wheels via an eight-speed automatic. That's enough so you never really have to dip too far into the gas pedal to get up to speed, contributing to the Cadenza's relaxed demeanor. Since it makes the best of all eight cogs, you also get up to 28mpg on the highway.

Value: Perfect score

CNBC | Mack Hogan

No surprises here, the Kia is a great value. My $45,290 tester came with radar cruise control, lane keeping, 360-degree cameras, panoramic sunroof, heated and cooled seats, a power sun shade and a heated steering wheel.

That's a massive amount of standard kit for the money, especially when you get a huge hunk of metal and a powerful V6 with it. They may have cut a few corners, but the end result is still a terrific value.

Final Thoughts: A great car, for some people

CNBC | Mack Hogan

If you're an owner of a luxury vehicle and think you can shrink your payment and get the same experience, that's not what this is for. Genesis makes that car.

The Cadenza is for people who want to step up in the world. They may need more space or features than their money can get them in the luxury market, so they end up here.

And I think they'll love it.

If you've tasted the forbidden fruit at your Lexus or Audi dealer, you may see the Cadenza as a low-fat version of a luxury car. It's not. It's actually the fattening, full-size sedan we haven't had seen since the Town Car.

Exterior: 5 stars
Interior: 3 stars
Driving Experience: 3 stars
Value: 5 stars
Overall: 4 stars

Price as configured: $45,290