2017 Kia Cadenza First Drive

“Garbanzo? Costanza? Credenza?” I can’t tell if the guy at the bakery is trying to be funny or if he’s genuinely forgetting the name of the car – I’ve told him twice; it’s the 2017 Kia Cadenza. But you know, maybe the miscommunication is just fine. Like the Cadenza itself. It’s fine.

2017 Kia Cadenza

You shouldn’t read that negatively. Every now and then in this job, you drive a car and simply come away thinking, “it was fine.” And if you’re building a car in this particular segment, that’s practically the response you hope to elicit. A comfortable jack-of-all-trades at a price that isn’t going to bankrupt the owner. Consider the Cadenza’s competition: Toyota Avalon, Nissan Maxima, Chevrolet Impala, Buick LaCrosse. These aren’t groundbreaking luxury vehicles, masters of utility or fuel economy, or Nürburgring-smashing sports sedans; they’re… fine. You almost feel bad saying it – from a very reasonable angle it’s a great segment, populated with cars offering a lot of the same equipment and a little more bang for the buck than a full-on luxury sedan, and tending to be roomier, too. And yet it’s that dilution of dedicated purpose that keeps these models stagnant in showrooms compared to the more luxurious – and certainly to the more economical. It’s hard to raise an eyebrow here.

So it goes with the Cadenza. Despite looking a heck of a lot like the previous car, the new Cadenza has been reworked significantly – the use of high-strength steel has doubled, to over 50 percent; the use of hot-stamped steel has tripled; the doors are 16 percent more dent-resistant; the chassis has 35 percent greater torsional rigidity; there’s a new subframe (similar to that of the Optima); the front windows are now laminated and there’s 13 percent more sound insulation in the A-pillars; there’s a full underbody cover and wheel air curtains; it has a new eight-speed transmission – developed in-house; there are 40 fewer pounds of unsprung weight thanks to aluminum parts; the brakes are bigger; and there’s a bevy of upscale tech features – but we lost you halfway through that paragraph.

Want to guess how the Cadenza drives? Fine. It drives fine. The electric power steering has been redesigned to offer “almost hydraulic-like feedback,” thanks to an upgraded, 32-bit processor. The extra bits are meant to offer better on-center feel, but you can wiggle the wheel right to left pretty significantly at speed before getting a reaction from the big sedan. That said, it’s not all bad, particularly compared to the overly artificial feel of too many electric power steering systems on the market. Here, there’s not the need to correct constantly – it’s a solid 7 out of 10 as electric racks go – especially given the vehicle class. Hydraulic-like, though? It’s not even in the same zip code.

The Cadenza can be equipped with the requisite flock of advanced driver-assist systems, but none of them are going to mess with the steering wheel: There’s the blind-spot detection system, which has the ability to intervene by braking the opposite side front wheel if your Norah Jones playlist has lulled you to sleep on the highway; adaptive cruise control with stop and go functionality if your knees are going; forward collision warning if your brain is; and autonomous emergency braking if both are already gone. Then there’s an almost unbelievably sensitive lane-departure warning system, which will beep at you when the first thought of deviating from your course begins to form in your subconscious, but then, bizarrely, not correct your course. There’s an around-view camera for parking maneuvers and a head-up display, too.

Kia says the new car will start about a grand cheaper than its predecessor, at “just under $32,000,” and climb all the way to “just under $44,000,” which is a full 37 percent bump to the base model’s price. The striking factor here is that the core ingredients remain the same – in all trim levels, the Cadenza is front-wheel-drive and powered by the 3.3-liter V6. Credit a lot of that difference to the dynamic driving systems offered on the higher-end Technology and SXL trims.

So while it’s easy to understand – and even like – the what and the how, the tricky part might be the “why.” Why build the Cadenza? The segment isn’t exactly booming, and even in the relative sense, the Cadenza, which has been in production since 2013, sells in extremely small numbers compared to competitors like Avalon, Maxima, and LaCrosse. Still, though, if you think those cars are fine, you owe it to yourself to check out the Cadenza.

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