On the 2017 Kia Cadenza

Many OEMs would do a refresh after three years. Kia has come out with a new generation, instead.

The Kia Cadenza had its U.S. debut at the 2013 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. It was an all-new car, model year 2014, that moved the brand up-market. (It went even higher with the 2015 K900.)

But here’s an interesting thing about  the Cadenza, and an interesting thing about what is clearly the culture at Kia.

As a company, Kia started selling cars in 1994. As Michael Sprague, Kia Motors America executive vice president and COO, admits, when J.D. Power announced the results for the 2001 Initial Quality Study (IQS), Kia was in last place. Yet in 2016 it finished at the top of the J.D. Power IQS.

Kia was the first non-luxury car brand to attain that position in 27 years. The only other one had been Toyota.

Oh, and the IQS study has existed for 30 years.

This is a company driven by improvement.

Which brings us back around to the Cadenza. It is now model year 2017. The norm in the industry is that at the three-year period a car undergoes a refresh to some extent.

The 2017 Cadenza is a new car.

According to Orth Hedrick vice president of Product Planning, “We doubled the use of advanced high-strength steels to over 50 percent; there is a 6.5-time increase in the use of structural adhesives; we tripled use of hot-stamped steel parts; and there is 18 percent more dent resistance in the doors.” He said that overall there is a 35 percent increase in torsional rigidity compared to the first-generation Cadenza.

Hedrick goes on to say that they wanted to make the full-size car quieter than its processor, so the windshield and the front side windows are laminated glass; they’ve increased the amount of sound insulation in the A-pillars by 13 percent; and, to help minimize wind noise, there is a full underbody cover and wheel air curtains (small passages in the front fascia that allow air to pass through, breaking up vortices that can form in that area).

Hedrick acknowledges that the engine—a 290 hp, 3.3-liter V6—is a “revised” version of an existing engine.

However, the front-drive car features an eight-speed transmission. This transmission, Hedrick points out, is not sourced, as is often the case for other OEMs, from Aisin or ZF. Rather, this is the first application of the front-drive eight-speed for Kia of the transmission that was engineered and being built by Kia. The previous generation Cadenza has a six-speed transmission. The new transmission, the two additional speeds notwithstanding, is lighter.

The 2017 Cadenza was styled at the Kia studio in Irvine, California. Ray Ng, principal exterior designer for the car, says that the initial design was created three years ago, and because it was so well liked the team traveled to Korea for the production version of the design. (The car is built at the Kwaseong Plant near Seoul; this is a massive facility, measuring some one-million-square meters and having an annual capacity of 600,000 cars and crossovers.)

Ng, an Art Center grad, has been with Kia since 2007, which he says allowed him to be part of the transformation of the brand. He also worked on the 2014 Kia Soul and the 2013 Sorento crossover. He also spent time at GM, where he was the principal designer on the first-generation GMC Terrain.
Speaking of the design development of the 2017 Cadenza, Ng says that the team of designers who worked on it had a “pure vision” of what they wanted to accomplish. That is, “We had a small group of designers—interior and exterior—that had the opportunity to design a car inside and out with the same kind of approach, shapes and feel.”

Ng explains that sometimes there are separate teams working on the design of a vehicle. One might be dealing with the front and another group the rear. “And the interior might be done in an entirely different region.”

But because they all worked in the same studio, there is a cohesiveness to the design.

An objective that they had was to make the car more premium in appearance, and to make it sportier.

“Our signature,” he acknowledges, “is the tiger-nose grille, the two tabs. But on this car there is another interpretation.” An interesting aspect of the 2017 Cadenza is that there are two grilles. There is a “Diamond Butterfly” pattern on the base model that is similar to that found on other Kia vehicles. But there is the Intaglio grille, which consists of a series of concave, vertical blades. Speaking to the concavity, Ng says, “The car is quite big, so to take a little bit of visual weight out, we decided to scoop out the grille, to take the look of heaviness out.”

One characteristic he says that the Cadenza shares with other recent Kia designs is “a simplicity in surfacing. There are not a lot of lines. We wanted to make a clean statement—but without being too Germanic.”

He says, “We always emphasize the simplicity of a straight line.” So there is a single line that stretches along the body side from the LED headlight to the LED tail lights.

There is also somewhat more sportiness to the exterior: “We wanted to make it sleeker,” Ng says, “so we pulled the glass back, but it still feels like the passenger space is there.” (It not only “feels” like it’s there, but it is: the interior volume of the first-generation Cadenza is 112.7-cubic feet; the new one provides 123.8-cubic feet.)

As mentioned, the 2017 Cadenza is a front-drive car. (Why isn’t all-wheel-drive offered, as is the case with other sedans with that layout? Hedrick points out that the take-rate for an all-wheel-drive tends to be south of 10 percent. Consequently, the investment is better made elsewhere in the vehicle, like in providing a luxurious interior package or a better dynamically handling setup.)

Front-drive cars tend to present a greater challenge to designers than rear-drive cars. Ng explains that part of it is the size of the front overhang required for powertrain packaging, but also because due to crash-related regulations there are structures under the skin there can be a higher hood than might be desired. But the Cadenza team worked hard at stylishly covering the hard points.

“We embrace challenge,” Ng says. Good is never good enough. So we worked to be bold and to stand out.”