2018 Kia Cadenza Review: Could This Be the Best Luxury Car for the Price?

Kia Cadenza Best Luxury Car

Less money. More “Me” time. I like it!

SUV or sedan, I don’t care when I’m in traffic. I just want comfort and technology. If you drive as many miles as I do (30,000+ a year shuttling my kids around — and more when I write about cars!) you know: comfort and luxury are an investment in your quality of life.

And this is one of the reasons I love Kia: Intuitive features that turn drive time in to ‘Me’ time.

The 2018 Kia Cadenza takes it up a notch with luxury and performance you typically only find in a much more expensive luxury sedan.

Further Reading: The Stinger takes the sting out of the price of a performance car – and a bite out of the road

Kia Cadenza Best Luxury Car

The Panoramic sun roof makes all the difference in the world. Just try putting on your lipstick in the dark! Photo: Scotty Reiss

Who This Car is For

  • Drivers who value luxury and style
  • Buyers who want the most features and style for the price, especially in the base model
  • Buyers who value quality and reliability
  • Buyers who regularly have, and want to pamper, back seat passengers—and value rear seat leg room!
  • Drivers who want a V6 but want eco and sport drive modes, too
Kia Cadenza Best Luxury Car

The 2018 Kia Cadenza’s front cabin. Photo: Scotty Reiss

What This Car Costs

  • Premium (base) model, which includes heated leather seats, Apple Car Play, Android Auto, Uvo touch screen infotainment system, smart key with push button starter, a suite of active safety features and Kia’s “smart trunk” which opens automatically when the key fob is nearby, $32,900
  • Technology model, which adds a panoramic sunroof, wireless phone charger, Harman/Kardon premium sound system,  upgraded Uvo system, blind spot monitors, adaptive cruise control, lane change assist, vented front seats and a heated steering wheel, $39,290
  • Limited model, which adds head up display, quilted leather seats, heated rear seats, 19” wheels and sunshades, $44,690

Further Reading: Not ready for so much luxury? The 2019 Kia Forte is an elegant sedan, moderately priced

Kia Cadenza Best Luxury Car

Isn’t she pretty? The Kia Cadenza wins fans every where it goes. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Cadenza Starts with Design, But It’s Details, Not Price, That Are the Key

I have to confess:, I’m a sedan girl. Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE SUVs. Truly love. But since I first got my license I’ve wanted a car that says I mean business. I drooled over sedans that oozed success, luxury and that certain image that says “I might be in the highway next to you but I’m negotiating a deal while I head to my country club.” Or my resort, or my home overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Attaining life’s rewards is a selective process: What are your goals and what are your rewards? Your luxury car doesn’t need a country club budget; it can be more on par with your dream kitchen or spa budget. And, it can let you have both.

And that is the beauty of design: A distinct sophisticated look that says the designer was deeply engaged—and rewarded— for creating this design, and if done smartly, the expense isn’t prohibitive.

Cadenza brings a classic European luxury sedan look to a South Korean brand, and in a very world-class way: The sedan’s lines flow, starting with a sculpted front end and culminating in a demurely pert rear spoiler that add up to classic elegance. This car fits in anywhere… country club, executive parking lot, Neiman Marcus valet.

We took a look at the Cadenza and answered your questions; see the live stream here:

Further Reading: Can’t get past the need for an SUV? See why Christa bought the Kia Sportage 

Kia Cadenza Best Luxury Car

The front cabin of the 2018 Kia Cadenza. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Is This the Best Kept Secret in Luxury?

One of the things to love about Kia is that its models are priced from the high teens/low $20,000s to just under $50,000 for the Stinger, a world class performance sedan.

Kia has been on this track for a while. An upstart in the auto world since it entered the US market 20 years ago, the brand had an epiphany a decade ago: offer more features, more luxury and better quality than its competitors for less money and win customers for life.

The Cadenza takes that idea to its hilt: Great details, great technology, but a lot less pricey. It bridges the divide between nicely equipped value cars and sublimely outfitted luxury cars.

Even at its top price, just about $44,000, Cadenza includes all the critical elements that define a luxury car: top-notch interior including leather seating, wood and chrome trim, super shiny piano black surfaces; luxe features like heated and cooled seats, head up display and multiple drive modes; superior rear seat leg room, lots of touch screen options and everything at your fingertips. But top of the line isn’t always necessary.

Kia Cadenza Best Luxury Car

The 2018 Kia Cadenza’s rear view camera. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Entry Level Awesomeness For a Luxury Sedan

While Cadenza’s price fully loaded is great, it’s pretty astounding what you get at the entry level: Apple Car Play or Android Auto, heated leather seats, lots of standard safety technology and Kia’s smart trunk, which opens when you’re standing nearby with key fob on hand.

And then, that engine: A 290 HP 3.3 L V6 with multiple drive modes. This is more engine and more horsepower than many luxury sedans priced $20,000+ or more.

Kia Cadenza Best Luxury Car

Controls on the center console include heated steering wheel, camera angles, drive mode selector, heated and cooled seats and the rear sunshade. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Driving in the City, Cruising in the Country, Happily in the Lap of Luxury

This is what I need most in a luxury car: An engine that means never sweating the on-ramp, praying when passing a truck or feeling like your drive is a chore. Responsive when you hit the accelerator, responsive when you hit the brakes, and enough technology to make sure you’re always safe on the road.

I loved this about driving the Cadenza: the car’s performance gives you the confidence behind the wheel that you can hit whatever performance you need. On my drive I went from Los Angeles through the mountain pass to Coachella Valley on a fun but narrow, hilly highway. I was able to zip along, pass trucks and keep up my speed thanks to a tight suspension and responsive steering that gave me great control.

And when I was ready to relax, I popped the Cadenza into cruise control and the adaptive system took over, regulating my speed behind traffic ahead of me, keeping me a safe distance from the cars ahead. Lane departure warning beeped if I drifted over the road’s lines but didn’t intrude on my drive experience, and  blind spot monitors let me know when a car was in the spot, especially if I’d signaled to change lanes. And when traffic slowed, so did the Cadenza, though at low speeds the system gave me a warning and then turned off, forcing me to take over— and that’s fair enough; I realize I need to be the one in charge!

And that’s just how I like it: In charge, comfortably and fashionably so, in a car that makes my time in it rewarding. 

Kia Cadenza Best Luxury Car

Door panels are elegantly finished with wood grain and leather; the bottle pockets are tilted to ‘present’ your bottle to you. Photo: Scotty Reiss

What We Loved

  • The head up display, which displays speed limit, radio station, navigation, blind spot detection and more (YAY for this!)
  • Wireless charging pad, so no need to pull out your cords on short trips!
  • Those quilted leather seats. Yum.
  • Premium sound system from Harman/Kardon
  • The pearl white paint color of our test model
  • Heated and cooled seats; we used them BOTH on our test drive
  • The smart trunk— this came in handy more than I’d have expected
  • Smart key and smart settings: The car beeps when you’re in proximity but only unlocks when you hit the unlock button on the key fob
  • Smart active safety features including adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and assistance, blind spot monitors
  • USB ports everywhere. No complaints from back seat passengers!
Kia Cadenza Best Luxury Car

More than enough leg room in the back seat of the Kia Cadenza means comfortable passengers. Photo: Scotty Reiss

What You Need to Know

  • Fuel Economy: 23 City/ 28 highway, we averaged about 24MPG
  • 5 year bumper to bumper warranty, 10 year power train warranty
  • Seating for 5 but more comfortable for 4
  • Rear seats do not fold down (though there is a pass-through door between the rear seats)
  • The smart trunk is automatic and when activated can open when you don’t want it to
Kia Cadenza Best Luxury Car

Doesn’t my handbag look lovely on the rear seat? However, the seat is so wide it makes it hard to reach my handbag. Photo: Scotty Reiss

What We listened to in the Kia Cadenza

Me time demands a great playlist. Songs I can sing to, songs that set the tone for quality time alone. This is what I listened to as I cruised in the Kia Cadenza.

Disclosure: Kia provided the Cadenza for this review; all opinions are my own.

Journalist, entrepreneur and mom. Expertise includes new cars, family cars, 3-row SUVs, child passenger car seats and automotive careers... More about Scotty Reiss