Virginia's colonial hills and woodsy charm are balanced out by a distinct counterpoint of uneasiness for an auto journalist like me as I carefully put the revised 2017 Kia Cadenza through its paces on the rural roads that link the state's small towns and villages to more modern civilization. You see, Virginia happens to boast the most oppressive speeding laws in the U.S., with 24 km/h or over guaranteeing you a spot in a local jail cell for at least a night.
Not that I'm all that tempted. If anything, the Cadenza has me completely relaxed behind the wheel, letting me soak in the American heritage as it slowly rolls by my window. This is entirely by design: Kia intends for the second generation of its full-size sedan to flirt with the luxury segment while keeping its pricing grounded and affordable for a fairly wide swathe of new car buyers.
The 2017 Kia Cadenza is the chariot of choice for evading the watchful eye of local law enforcement, simply because Canadians have yet to really cotton to the car, keeping sales below 200 examples a year since it was first introduced in 2013. In fact, we really don't buy many large sedans at all, with even luminaries such as the Toyota Avalon and Nissan Maxima underperforming in comparison to more frugal compact options ― and of course the mighty SUVs and crossovers that now dominate the family transportation demographic.
Still, it's hard to fault Kia for trying, especially when the end result turns out to be as pleasing as the redesigned Cadenza. My day with the car began at the Salamander Resort, an equestrian-oriented facility sprawled across 340 acres roughly 40 minutes away from Washington, D.C. Located within Middleburg, Virginia's limits, Salamander leverages both the Civil and Revolutionary War history of the area (by way of the re-enactors who accompanied us at dinner) and the strong culture of horse breeding and competition associated with the Blue Ridge Mountain region. In fact, later that day we would be treated to an Olympic-level display from a horse and rider boarded and trained at the Salamander's extensive array of stables and paddocks.
All that and affordable, too
The 2017 Kia Cadenza itself isn't after any comparisons to wild stallions or well-groomed thoroughbreds. Rather than put on airs about its lineage, the Cadenza is content to be judged on its merits. This is a car that can be ordered with the same level of content as its Lexus and Acura competitors, without requiring you to dig nearly as deeply into your pockets to get it. No loss leader, the Cadenza instead continues Kia's embrace of value within a premium context, which helps snag the attention of buyers who might otherwise have only been able to afford a smaller luxury model.
The redesign for 2017 puts an emphasis on moving the sedan's looks farther away from the Optima and Forte at the mid and lower reaches of the lineup, a feat most effectively achieved by way of its new front fascia and unusually scalloped grille. Inside, the new Kia Cadenza also manages to surpass its stable mates not by flash, but rather through the careful use of high-quality materials ― predominantly quilted leather and aluminium-look trim in high-end models ― and a well-appointed cabin design that sees front and rear passengers enjoying both excellent leg and shoulder room and a very quiet ride.
Well-sealed doors and insulated floorboards don't do much good if they aren't matched with a chassis that can handle the rough stuff. The 2017 Kia Cadenza's platform has been strengthened and stiffened as compared to the original version, which helped it feel well-planted while cruising down the roads that snaked alongside the many small rivers cutting through Virginia's forests.
With a keen eye peeled for radar guns and red-and-blue lights, I was able to push the 3.3L V6 under the hood of the Cadenza to the point where all 290 of its ponies were pressed into action. Combined with the also-new 8-speed automatic transmission that comes standard with the car, straight-line performance was smooth and sufficient. Fuel economy is also said to be better for the current model year, although Kia remained tight-lipped about exactly how much of an improvement has been made at the pump.
The 2017 Kia Cadenza is a mile-eating automobile that can stand tall as a price-conscious alternative (with a starting sticker in the low $40,000 range) to more established luxury fare. Still, the thunder and lightning that were a constant fixture at the periphery of my time in Virginia's hot, muggy climate reminded me that storm clouds are gathering on the Cadenza's horizon as well, what with the general lack of interest from Canadian families in anything that doesn't offer all-wheel drive and ride 6” off the ground.
It's a shame that one of the best-executed cars in the Kia lineup will most likely not get the opportunity to significantly improve its sales position, regardless of how many upgrades have been made to its new platform.