2015 Kia K900 Expert Review:Autoblog
Let's be honest, Rich America. When you drive your fullsize luxury sedans, you don't clock any laps of the Nürburgring. You don't view your car as an alternative to air travel, ready to wheel between countries at triple-digit Autobahn speeds. Heck, you don't even take the long way home. Instead, you commute in fender-to-fender gridlock looking to be assuaged by sybaritic luxuries, your ride serving as a four-wheeled extension of your living room. Yet when it comes time to vote with your pocketbooks, you overwhelmingly skew toward European driving values – German ones, more specifically. You favor the firm rides, firmer seats and quick steering of cars like the BMW 7 Series and Audi A8. What gives? That's what Kia is clandestinely asking with its new 2015 K900.
According to Kia PR director Scott McKee, this 200.6-inch bruiser of a sedan is all about "at-ease luxury." That's a notion that was once very much synonymous with American automakers' approach to big high-end sedans – effortless comfort above all other considerations. Sprawling room in every direction. Fine materials no matter where the hand falls. The automobile as an isolative cocoon. Once upon a time, Cadillac and Lincoln owned the Comfort First game, but these days, there's almost nobody playing – the Lexus LS and Hyundai Equus are the only cars in this end of the market, everyone else is busy aping German values.
Kia planners could claim that the K900 has been intentionally targeted at a different sort of customer – and indeed, during the press conference ahead of our first drive in Santa Barbara, there was some discussion of "a different kind of luxury" and seeking "confident individualist" buyers. But the truth is, the Korean premium car shoppers that this car was primarily designed for crave exactly the sort of plush luxury experience the K900 dispenses. In other words, Kia is hoping that there are a few thousand like-minded Americans willing to overlook the badge on its nose and give this car a chance.
And give it a chance they should. The K900 has a lot to offer, and it does so at a steep discount to its ostensible rivals. To wit, V8 models start at $60,400 delivered. Our all-boxes-checked K900 V8 tester with optional VIP package rang up at $66,400 with freight. That's a lot of money, but it's positively skinflint by European luxury car standards. A Mercedes-Benz S-Class starts at $93,825, a BMW 7 Series warms up at $74,925, a Jaguar XJ commands $74,200. Heck, even the Lexus LS 460 starts at $73,050, and none of these base models are anywhere near as well equipped as the K900.
No other base models are anywhere near as well equipped as the K900.
But starting by comparing MSRPs is a rational exercise in what is, at its heart, an irrational end of the market. Better to start with what attracts one's interest in the first place – looks. Aesthetically, the K900 checks a lot of boxes, with an imposing stance and a piercing stare thanks to its standard LED active headlamps. Even Kia's signature 'tabbed' grille looks good in this scale. But the details are less convincing, namely a couple of superfluous nods to traditional American luxury touchstones – a pair of unnecessary faux fender vents and mandatory chrome on its 19-inch alloys. Thanks to its slabbish sides and high beltline, the K900 sits somewhat heavily upon those wheels, too. Overall, though, it exhibits a far more modern shape than the baroquely styled Hyundai Equus, a car with which this Kia shares a number of unseen parts. In fact, the K900 appears sufficiently luxurious that we were interrupted on a couple of occasions during our photography session by passersby who wanted to know what it was, including one admirer in a new 5 Series.
One trait that luxury customers like regardless of their driving style is an abundance of power underfoot, and the K900 delivers thanks to its direct-injected 5.0-liter V8's 420 horsepower and 376-pound-feet of torque. That power is routed exclusively to the rear wheels via a silky-smooth version of ZF's ubiquitous eight-speed automatic transmission – no all-wheel drive system is offered. We've had previous exposure to this Tau V8 in the Equus, and it's a pleasingly well-behaved, burr-free device from idle to redline. In K900 guise, it's been tuned more for the effortless accumulation of speed than it has been for a particularly charismatic soundtrack, but that suits the relaxed character of the car just fine.
Topping the list are the K900's rear-seat accommodations.
What also suits the relaxed character of this car is its cabin. An expansive dashboard with head-up display and what appears to be several cows' worth of hides covering the seats, instrument panel and trim initially greet the driver. In the case of our V8 tester, the leather is of a higher-grade Nappa variety, and even darker-toned cabins are bathed in light thanks to the standard panoramic moonroof. It all feels appropriately posh, from the large 12.3-inch TFT display masquerading as a configurable gauge cluster to a by-wire gear selector whose operation will feel familiar to anyone who has driven a modern BMW. Topping the list are the K900's rear-seat accommodations, which on our VIP-spec car included individual AC zones as well as heated, cooled and power-articulated reclining seats. Even the doors close with a thoughtful power-assisted soft action. Plutocratic extras like a rear-seat refrigerator, fold-down wooden tray tables and rear-seat entertainment screens are all conspicuously unavailable, however.
Yet even without such high-grade options-list tinsel, there are a couple of small but notable missteps that betray the idea of total luxury. Mainly, it's the absence of a heady aroma of leather inside as well as the distractingly cheap-feeling all-in-one infotainment controller mounted just south of the gear selector. In a car of this ambition, a major touchpoint like the latter must operate with well-oiled precision and feel substantial to the touch – this one doesn't. At least the plastic knob is otherwise intuitive in operation, affording easy access to the 9.2-inch center display screen's navigation, audio, climate control, Surround View Monitor cameras and related functions. We've lauded Kia's navigation systems and UVO e-services before and our impression is still favorable here, but we do wish Kia had retained the touchscreen functionality available in lesser models not fitted with the multi-controller.
We wish Kia had retained the touchscreen functionality available in lesser models not fitted with a multi-controller.
On the move, the K900 calms its occupants with the Tau's steady hand of power and a supremely hushed comportment that smothers road imperfections and wind and road noise with equal faculty. Its stiff chassis, copious amounts of sound deadening and laminated glass all conspire to blot out what's happening below the tires and ahead of the windshield like few other luxury sedans at any price. It's a serene experience unencumbered by occasional stiff-legged moments that can mar cars like the BMW 7 Series and its run-flat tires, yet its front and rear multi-link suspension isn't so spongy that undulating and gently winding roads will cause occupants to unexpectedly revisit their ceviche.
That's not to say that the K900 is particularly athletic – compared to the Germans and the English, it doesn't have a sporting bone in its steel-chassis'd, 4,555-pound body. Oh, Kia engineers have paid the whole 'sport' thing a bit of lip service – prod the "Drive Mode" button below the electronic parking brake a few times to get past Eco mode and into Sport, and the K900 will respond with modestly more aggressive shift mapping and a bit more effort from its electro-hydraulic steering rack, but it's not a convincing transformation.
In the latter mode, the gauge cluster also changes its appearance, losing its analog speedometer in favor of a mph speed readout. That's fine, but the traditionally needled round tachometer has also been inexplicably replaced by a numerical rev counter that reads in 10-rpm increments. Do you really need to know that the engine is humming at precisely 4,670 rpm? With so many numbers to cycle through, the RPM telltale is constantly changing, and it's too busy to be useful when driving hard. It's a novel bit of graphics work, but it's also a step backwards in terms of utility. And as there are no paddle shifters available, if you want to work the gearbox yourself, you'll have to take your hand off the wheel and use the manual gate on the console shifter.
The K900 comes across as an excellent road trip car.
We dutifully pushed the K900 on winding roads for brief stretches over a couple days' driving, but each time, we quickly dialed things back before the Hankook Optimo all-season rubber protested too much. It was simply easier and more pleasant to revert to the golf-shirt-and-khakis driving style this car favors. That might sound like a slam, but it's not meant to be – unruffled travel in the lap of luxury is its own reward, and the K900 comes across as an excellent road trip car.
Regardless of how it all shakes out, Kia is smart enough not to bet the franchise on the K900 – officials won't talk firm sales targets, but it's clear the company only expects to move perhaps three to five-thousand units a year. That's a reasonable goal, especially when the entry-level 3.5-liter V6 model comes on line shortly after the V8 goes on sale. MSRP for the latter hasn't been announced, but it's likely to be around $50,000. For those keeping track, that's the price of an options-free 528i – and remember, base BMWs are hopelessly threadbare in terms of standard equipment, a cold reality compounded by their shockingly expensive options lists.
Our Southern California saunter confirmed our initial suspicions about this Kia: on the spec sheet, the K900 may stack up competitively against the legions of S-Class and 7 Series models of this world, but we don't really see it as a threat to Europe's luxury hegemony. Instead, it's aimed squarely at would-be Lexus buyers and those customers who might otherwise be shopping a rung or two down the lux ladder. There's nothing wrong with that approach at all, but with a little more attention and money lavished on the cabin, the K900 could, in fact, be a better all-around luxury car for the way Rich America actually drives, full stop. Of course, that still doesn't mean Kia would sell 'em in big numbers; minivans may provide better real-world transportation than crossovers for most families, but that doesn't mean their sales will ever reflect it. Consumers just aren't that analytical and pragmatic, especially in this end of the market.
It's aimed squarely at would-be Lexus buyers and those customers who might otherwise be shopping a rung or two down the lux ladder.
On some level, the K900 is nothing less than Kia attempting to climb Olympus at the tender age of 20. The Korean automaker is but two decades removed from shipping us its first boatload of frankly lousy Sephia econoboxes, and it's taking on the European and Japanese luxury gods with a sedan that's decidedly different in character from what sells here these days. It's a move likely to be seen as both brave and hubris-filled, but it would be a serious mistake to dismiss the K900 (and its Equus relative) as some sort of off-brand dog and pony show. If you're not a badge snob and can see embracing the "at-ease" lifestyle, the K900 proves there's real substance, value and luxury available at the unlikeliest of showrooms.
New Car Test Drive
New luxury sedan aims for the big leagues.
The Kia K900 is Kia's first rear-wheel-drive luxury sedan brought to the North American market. Proven in the home market where it's called K9 (like Audi A6, etc.) it comes here wearing the K900 alphanumeric moniker favored by most competitors. It isn't twice as good as a Lexus 460 nor nearly on par with a Porsche 911 but it makes a compelling argument for room and gadgets–per-dollar.
The 2015 Kia K900 will be available with a 420-hp V8 engine and a 311-hp V6, though the V6 joins the lineup a few months after the V8. Every K900 comes with fully independent suspension, rear-wheel drive, 8-speed automatic transmission, leather upholstery and three-zone climate control. Derived from the same basic structure as Hyundai's Equus flagship, the K900 is shorter than that car outside but roomier up front. We liken it to the relationship between Rolls-Royce and Bentley, where the Equus (Rolls) is the owner's driven car and the Kia (Bentley) is driven by its owner.
Family resemblance is obvious, the K900 appearing for most intents and purposes a slightly larger Cadenza with the bulk of bodywork slid rearward a few inches. We find it handsome enough, though the only styling elements that really stand out are the 2x4 LED headlight arrays. Save the backup lights, every light on a K900 is LED.
Inside it's all leather, wood and chrome highlighted black lacquer finishes. The carpet actually feels like one, the mats are thick, lower door pillars are not hard plastic and the scuff plates are illuminated. Room is abundant, generally more than a mid-size or standard-wheelbase luxury car, not quite as spacious as long-wheelbase luxury rides.
Kia heaps on loads of standard features as well, including their extensive warranty and things like heated rear seats that are $600-$800 options on pricier competitors. And there is one option package for the V8 model, not an endless a la carte page that can add 50 percent to the price at the check of a few boxes.
The K900 does not offer air suspension, adjustable ride firmness or other whiz-bang chassis electronics, instead relying on a capable, quiet, cruiser chassis. Other cars may ride better or handle better, or do both, but they'll cost significantly more, a K900 V8 is $13,000 less than a Lexus LS460, $14,000 less than Jaguar XJ V6, $15,000 less than Audi A8 V6, $18,000 less than a six-cylinder BMW 740, and $33,000 less than a Mercedes-Benz S550.
We won't directly compare a K900 to those cars but the room is similar, the luxury ambiance close. What you give up is a degree of refinement, anything from how quiet and smooth the seat adjuster or trunk closer is, to how well it absorbs a mid-corner bump diving into a corner. But if you don't drive it like a hot-rod sports sedan, and don't actually notice things like seat motor sounds, does it make any difference to you?.
The 2015 Kia K900 comes with a choice of V6 or V8 engines, both with an 8-speed automatic transmission and rear-wheel drive.
The Kia K900 V6 uses a 311-hp 3.8-liter V6 engine and 18-inch alloy wheels. Standard features include leather upholstery and trim, three-zone climate control, 12-way driver with memory/8-way passenger heated and ventilated power seats, heated rear seats with pass-through, aluminum cabin trim, adaptive HID headlights, LED fog, tail and running lamps, power trunklid, smart key remote/pushbutton start, rain-sensing wipers, power-folding auto-dimming outside mirrors, illuminated scuff plates (4), 900-watt 17-speaker Lexicon AM/FM/HD/CD/XM sound system with USB/aux in and UVO eServices, Bluetooth, navigation, front and rear cameras, power tilt/telescope steering wheel, electro-luminescent instruments, front/rear park sensors with park guidance, and manual side and power rear window shades. V6 options include a panoramic moonroof, soft-close doors, Nappa perforated and piped leather, heated leather/wood steering wheel, blind spot/rear cross traffic alerts, smart cruise control with full-stop, advanced vehicle safety management system, 16-way power front seats and wood trim.
The Kia K900 V8 ($59,500) gets a 420-hp 5-liter engine and staggered 19-inch chrome alloy wheels with lower-profile tires. It comes with most of the V6 equipment, Nappa leather, wood trim, LED headlights, panoramic moonroof, heated leather/wood steering wheel, blind spot/rear cross traffic alerts and credit-card size smart key. A VIP package ($6000) adds soft-close doors, 12.3-inch TFT instrument cluster, around view monitor, advanced vehicle safety management, 16-way power front seats, ventilated power-reclining rear seats, power 60/40 reclining rear seats and head-up display.
Safety features standard on all models include front, front side-impact, rear side-impact and side curtain airbags, front belt pretensioners, front and rear cameras, electronic stability and traction control, brake assist and tire pressure monitors. Available or standard on higher trims are four-camera monitor and advanced safety vehicle management.
The Kia K900 comes across as a larger version of the Kia Cadenza with the weight shifted slightly aft on its wheels. Luxury cars are all about material between the front wheels and dashboard, and while the K900 has more of that than the Cadenza, the longer, sleeker front overhang doesn't have the bluntness of a Rolls-Royce or 7 Series. A rear side window dimension nearly twice the length of the front illustrates the priority here.
In profile the chrome lower door strip slopes down markedly in front mirroring the rear door angle at the other end. The front fender vent is actually a dummy, purely cosmetic, and the haunches remind of Infiniti's ex-G now Q50 sedan.
V8 models use chromed alloy 19-inch wheels, wider in back than front; V6 models skip the chrome on 18-inch wheels like-size all around. That and badging (and headlights) are the main exterior distinctions between V8 and V6.
Kia's family grille outline houses chrome lattice-work, the single lower grille aperture more luxury car than sports sedan. LED running and fog lights come on all models, and the V8 gets distinctive LED headlights; only the back-up light bulbs are not LED.
A short decklid that powers open and closed from the driver's seat hides about 16 cubic feet of trunk space, more than an Audi A8, not as much as a Lexus LS 460. With trapezoidal exhaust outlets, tube and rectangular lighting elements and a modicum of chrome, anyone not reading badges may mistake the tail for a BMW, Lexus or maybe even a Hyundai Genesis.
Big chairs, cushy leather upholstery, soft-touch panels, suede headliner, plenty of wood and gloss-black with chrome accents, dense floor mats and a slew of features impart a luxury car ambiance. Overhead assist handles are leather wrapped, the pillars covered in materials that won't rattle vacant seat belt buckles and there is plenty of room.
Black upholstery generally goes with a more traditional wood finish, while the cream leather cars use a dark charcoal burled finish; the latter perhaps more contemporary but will show dirt much earlier. Both colors use a light-gray headliner and full-length moonroof for spaciousness, the latter with a genuine power shade rather than a semi-transparent screen or net.
With a driver's seat cushion that lengthens from the rear and power adjustments from tilt/telescope wheel to the headrests most people can find a proper, comfortable driving position. The wheel controls are logically arranged and easy to use, but the black lower trim section, especially on the walnut-trim cars, gives an awkward two-spoke appearance.
VIP cars use a TFT instrument cluster with clear, Volvo-like fonts on digital representations of analog displays. There's some needle ratcheting when they move quickly, and in dynamic drive mode they revert to big digital readouts with small bar graphs rotating clockwise around the speedometer and counterclockwise around the tachometer. It's a counter-intuitive arrangement for quick glances dynamic mode would imply.
The far left switch bank has blind spot, park sensors, traction off and trunk open/close all adjacent with some indicator lights on the switch and some in the dash. Beware you don't accidentally hit the wrong one dropping someone with luggage.
A 9.2-inch display handles all infotainment chores, not affected by polarized shades or sunlight washout; some found the full-color head-up display affected by polarizers but we did not have any issues with it. Below that are climate controls framing an analog clock, and basic find-fast audio controls. The 17-speaker, 900-watt Lexicon sound system covers all media including DVD audio and sounds very good, though we'd say Lexus 19-speaker 450-watt system is at least as capable.
To avoid a long reach to a touch-screen, a center console controller with seven hard keys runs the infotainment display. Once we remembered the tabs forward of the controller correspond to those on the bottom of the screen we got what we wanted out of it. Kia's UVO system with eServices (telematics including but not limited to auto 911 connection, curfew alert, geo fence and maintenance reminders) is standard but no situations arose where we needed it.
As the controller mimics Audi's MMI and BMW's iDrive, so does the stubby spring-loaded shifter. We found it no more or less frustrating than the others' and note the forward-upshift, backward-downshift motion since there are no steering wheel shifter buttons. Curiously, drive mode, parking brake and auto hold switches are in the shifter frame while snow mode is further back next to the camera switch.
Rear seats are quite comfortable, especially with the VIP pack's ventilated, power recline and winged headrests. Manual side and power rear shades are standard, as is rear climate control, and al the controls are in the center armrest. We'd call the proportions mid-way between a standard-wheelbase competitor from Lexus, Audi, or BMW and their long-wheelbase brothers and the S-Class, spacious enough for a 6-foot, 3-inch rider to recline in back behind a 6-foot navigator in front. The only thing that seems out of place is the black center armrest latch on the cream upholstery background.
Laminated side windows front and rear help make the K900 very quiet, and the rear cabin feels even quieter than the front. However, we have found road surface and tire choice make a much bigger difference than which luxury car you're in.
As the first to arrive, the V8 is so far our only experience with the Kia K900, but if you like the package and are considering the V6 you could do the engine comparison driving V6 and V8 versions of a Hyundai Genesis. All of our experience is based on K900 V8 VIP models.
The 5-liter V8 is near-silent until given the boot, offering up 420 horsepower with which to test the limits of traction. Slightly smoother than the V6, the V8's biggest advantage isn't the 109 extra horsepower, it's the torque that by 1500 rpm is already ahead of the V6's maximum output. Extra costs include the purchase premium and 3-4 mpg lower EPA ratings than the V6.
An 8-speed automatic is the sole transmission offered. It works well as a luxury conveyance but needs a good prod of the gas pedal to get into the meat of the engine's thrust. The dynamic driving mode lessens that need somewhat, but shifting doesn't feel as fast as the German triumvirate.
K900 is rear-wheel drive; there is no all-wheel drive available.
A V8 K900 is no slouch, able to echo its Smoky Blue color simply by defeating traction control and roasting the back tires. The suspension is tuned more for comfort than agility and the hydraulic-assist steering is direct with a bit more feel than many electric-assist arrangements, the entire package a nice drive that doesn't mind taking the winding road. Cruising down an interstate it's all quite serene.
If the winding road isn't favored it could be because of weight, the K900 V8 tipping in at more than 4500 pounds. At 52 percent on the front axle, the K900 V8 is reasonably well balanced, but only European cars with AMG or M or RS in their nameplates do well to make weight like that feel much lighter, and they all cost a ton more. There is no getting around the rear-wheel-drive K900 V8 weighs almost as much as an all-wheel-drive long-wheelbase Audi A8 or Mercedes-Benz S-Class, more than a V8 rear-wheel-drive BMW 7 Series and more than 300 pounds more than a long-wheelbase Lexus LS.
Where the K900 does not compare to some of its intended targets is in suspension adjustability, most competitors offering systems that allow a softer or firmer ride. The K900 does not use air suspension, active antiroll bars or torque-biasing differential, so while the others may go faster and ride better (or both), they feel more like a computer is piloting than the K900. One or two big awkward bumps brought more impact to the cabin than many competitors would.
There's a good view from any seat, the driver's augmented by a backup camera and front camera that remains on at low speed, blind-spot warning and adaptive headlights. Higher-trim models also have surround view camera, a full-color head-up display and adaptive cruise control with full-stop and a vibrating seatbelt warning if audible and visual warnings go unheeded.
Kia's first foray in the rear-drive V8 luxury market is a good effort: Spacious, comfortable, nicely finished, effortlessly propelled, feature-laden for the price. Toyota did it with Lexus, Nissan did it with Infiniti, Mercedes-Benz is doing it in reverse, and sister-brand Hyundai has already done it, so consider Kia's K900 a worthwhile addition to your shopping list.
G.R. Whale filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after his test drive of the 2015 Kia K900 V8 in Southern California.
Kia K900 V6; K900 V8 ($59,500).
Options As Tested
VIP package ($6,000).
Kia K900 V8 ($59,500).
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