Cheap Stigma

Remember when Kia was synonymous with cheap disposable transportation? The K-cars from Korea? Then everything changed when they debuted the redesigned Kia Optima and made the automotive world stand up and say, “This is a Kia?” Since then Kia has been working hard to distance itself from its early days like a teenager deleting photos of when they used to wear braces. Even though Kia has made a comeback worthy of a Rocky movie the stigma of being seen as a “cheap” means of transportation can still linger in the air.

My mother, for example, is Kia loyalist. She has owned 4 different Kia models in the last 13 years. Last winter my father was shopping for a new truck. At the dealership a salesman was explaining some of the cool features a particular truck had as standard. My mother, making conversation, mentioned that her 2015 Kia Optima Turbo also had those same features. The salesman responded by saying, “Yeah, but it’s a Kia.” Naturally, my mother felt offended by his idiotic remark on her beloved Optima turbo. It cost the salesman his commission.

That story showed me that there are still people out there who can’t look past Kia’s old reputation. I could hear the disgust in my mother’s tone when she told me the story of the rude salesman in my head when I saw the 2017 Kia Cadenza for the first time. During my week with the Cadenza I found myself taking 2 hour drives around the city for no reason and dressing up when I had nowhere to go. Why? Because the Cadenza had me under its spell. The Kia Cadenza gave me a taste of the future.


The 2017 Kia Cadenza falls in peeking order between the intermediate Optima and the full size K900. It is sold as a mid-size luxury vehicle. The word Cadenza is Italian for describing a difficult piece of classical music that is performed by one person, a solo. With a name like that, and being the “middle child” in Kia’s sedan line up, the Cadenza has to stand out from the pack.

Park it next to an Optima and the difference in size can only be seen in fine detail. Looks, on the other hand, is obvious. For 2017, the second generation Cadenza received a face lift to get rid of its doe eye headlights and awkward shaped grille. The improvements give the Cadenza a much more stern appearance. Best looking Kia, to date.

The grille on the 2017 Kia Cadenza reminds me of a well-groomed mustache that makes you want to stand up straight and practice good manners. The lightning bolt LED lights on the headlights only add to the Cadenza’s business class demeanor. The model shown here was sporting a Gravity Blue paint job that I really enjoyed staring at. The 19 inch dark satin alloy wheels was the cherry on the top that gives the Cadenza is crisp look like a recently pressed three piece suit. The Cadenza is a professional looking vehicle. No nonsense, all class.


The Cadenza is supposed to be an upgrade from its little sibling, the Optima. At first glance the two interiors appear to be similar, but it’s the details that begin to justify the slightly upgraded price bag. I like that Kia is trying to be taken seriously by other luxury car manufactures. It wants to be a contender, and it does so with well-made interiors. Nothing feels cheap, and everything is well arranged so you don’t feel like you’re searching for Waldo when trying to lower the radio.

The 8 inch touch screen is easy to navigate and displays the backup camera beautifully. The Nappa leather seats are firm but soft to the touch. Duel climate control, heated/cooling seats, Harman Kardon premium audio, are just a taste of what the Cadenza has to offer.

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I had to pick up my parents from the airport during my week with this car and I did not tell them I was going to be using the Cadenza. When I pulled up they were taken but by how upscale the car looked as it rolled gracefully to their feet. All three large suitcases, and my mother’s travel bag, fit inside the trunk with ease. I was actually surprised how roomy the trunk was. The trunk lid also has a push button that closes the trunk for you. Something you need to get used to because it won’t allow you to close the trunk manually.


My brother and I got out to open the rear door for our parents, to give them the full VIP treatment. The Cadenza may not look like a long wheelbase sedan but the rear seat has extra leg room. Sitting in the back makes you feel like an executive, CEO, celebrity, or anyone of status who is being driven and not simply riding in the back. You’re sitting position is slightly reclined and you feel like you’re sitting in a limo while enjoying the view from the panoramic sunroof. Climate controls and heated seats are at your fingertips. I was surprised the Cadenza didn’t come with a retractable partition.


The Cadenza’s heart is a 3.3 liter V6 that produces 290 horsepower through an 8-speed automatic brain. It gets an average of 23 mpg with 20 mph in the city and 28 mph highway, but light-footed driving in ECO mode can increase the average mpg up to the high 20’s. Paddle shifters are available on the Cadenza, but they seem out of place in a car that is not trying to set lap times.

The Cadenza is quiet. Put your foot down in the 2017 Kia Cadenza and your neck won’t snap back into the headrest. Instead, the Cadenza pulls away at a brisk pace as to not disturb your passengers. It’s fast, but it doesn’t feel quick. Even in sport mode, the Cadenza will not misbehave. But that is not a bad thing because this is a luxury vehicle, why do would you want it to feel like a race car? You want it to feel like a cloud on wheels at 100 mph.


You have the option of choosing from four different drive modes: SPORT, ECO, COMFORT, and SMART. The differences between each setting is not overwhelming as the transmission and steering adjust slightly for each mode. SMART mode will actually monitor your driving style and adapt the transmission and steering to accommodate the way you drive. I love that.

Pricing for the Kia Cadenza starts at $33,000 for the base model. The Cadenza shown here was the limited, top of the range, trim level which came with a retail of $45,290.

Final Thoughts

Earlier I said that the Cadenza had given me a taste of the future. The details is what made me realize how advance cars are getting. When you walk up to the Cadenza, with keyless entry, its side-mirrors fold out to greet you as if it’s saying “Hello, sir, fancy a drive today?” Automatic windshield wipers dab away any raindrops that may obscure your vision like a butler. The LED headlights can be adjusted to your tailored needs. “This is a Kia?” I know, right?


The main drawback with the 2017 Kia Cadenza is that it does not handle as well as it could. If you want a vehicle that excites you when you take it on a twisty canyon road this is not the car for you. However, I did go for drives in the Cadenza more than any other vehicle I’ve tested so far. Why? Because it’s a big comfortable car. I spent hours driving around the city at night just to enjoy the luxury of riding around in a leather interior in total comfort. For what the Cadenza cost compared to what it can deliver it shows you that Kia’s are no longer “cheap cars”, they’re affordable automobiles.



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