Santa Barbara, California--The sleek center fielder Curtis Granderson added power hitting to his game in mid-career, the Clash started as punks but attained some elegance and sophistication, and, of course, Thomas Edison groomed his filament to perfection. Welcome now the 2015 Kia K900. Entering the American market twenty years ago, Kia was reviled for its crude cars, and earned customers who were eagerly sought by payday loan companies.
The K900 obviates all that ugliness. Prepare to be amazed by this unexpected, stately, substantial sedan. Settle into the 16-way, Nappa leather driver’s seat of the K900 V8 VIP, which goes on sale with backseat accouterments in late-February for $66,400, and rest your sensible head. (The standard Kia K900 V8 starts at $60,400 with destination.)
Yes, this is a Kia. Behold the dashboard’s marquetry. Peer over the cowl that obscures windshield wipers, presenting instead a sensuous undulation of sheetmetal with its high-quality paint job--all that separates you from the road. Press the start button and watch two rings meet in the center of the 12.3-inch cluster and populate with graphics that will indicate the car’s speed and inner labors. Lay your thumb over the shapely e-shifter’s lever to command eight speeds.
And get ready, because the 5.0-liter direct-injection DOHC V-8’s variability is at your bunion’s command. In fact, the need to nudge into the throttle may be a blessing, for it’s easy to make these 4555 pounds lurch. The K900 surges forward, and gears are exchanged as tracelessly as derivatives on international markets. Meanwhile, the chassis displays Churchillian rigidity. Very far away, the exhaust note displays a hint of wrath. But tune out completely if you want: 900 watts and 17 speakers render Arcade Fire almost listenable.
Conventional aspects are met to perfection
We drove the K900 V8 VIP from a base camp at Santa Barbara’s recently refurbished El Encanto Inn to the college town of San Luis Obispo, and it was fitting that we had started out the morning on floors of heated marble: it helped us ease into thrones that are warmed, cooled, and power-adjustable at four positions. (Five people can be seated in all.) The steering wheel with its wood insert is also heated. In fact, every relevant creature comfort and safety feature we can think of is included in this harbinger of Kia’s future.
Sweeping through turns between hills and dashing over narrow byways through vineyards and along river benches, the car was excellent--especially when we remember that the Cadenza Limited was the company’s most ambitious effort until now.
With three driving modes (and a Snow setting), the 2015 K900 is semi-dormant in Eco, rubbing the sleep from its eyes in Normal (Comfort), but quite alert in Sport. Even more steering assist in Sport would be nice, but putting on our Lexus hat was the quick fix. On those occasions when we operated the transmission manually, we found ourselves grasping in vain for paddle shifters, which are not included. Otherwise, everything makes sense and operates easily, and the amount of carefully crafted details--the metal trim around each button and control, for example--overwhelmed us.
The morning after our wine country test, we stopped fifty-five miles into the trip home from Santa Barbara, showing the car to a friend who raved about the beauty of the analog clock. “Somebody spent some time putting that together,” he said.
Kia says the 2015 K900 is for brand loyalists who have made their way from indenture to partnership. We say it’s a big, rear-drive stud, measuring 200.6 inches long, 74.8 inches wide, and 58.7 inches tall. Blake Griffin will fit in any seat except the rear-center without feeling that a zone defense is collapsing on him.
Outside, the 2015 Kia K900 shows the hint of a Jaguar’s schnozz. It wears a high beltline and flaunts a symmetrically tall tail with just a cusp of spoiler. The 19-inch wheels are elegant. The car commands attention and exudes dignity. Dress well; everyone will be looking, and you’re on display for truckers who can gaze through the panoramic roof, read the 9.2-inch central screen, and know you’re playing the Bangles.
LED lamps are used at all positions, including lovely U-shaped indicators on each side mirror and the elevated rear stop lamp’s broad inscription. With tubes agleam and adaptive headlamps blazing imperiously, the 2015 K900 looks sensational at night, one part Vegas, the other part contemporary museum installation. Inside the cabin, courtesy and accent lighting create warmth, which counterbalances the leather upholstery’s disappointing lack of leathery aroma. Pull up next to an S-Class and rev your illumination: there might be hasty dimming in response.
Gourmet or Goulash?
By the K900’s on-sale date a few weeks from now, a V8 model without all the backseat amenities will join the V8 VIP at a presumably lower price, which is yet to be announced. Kia says a few more than 200 of its 700-plus dealers will offer the car. Look for initial rollout on the West Coast and in Southern states.
Meantime, the Acura RL and Volkswagen Phaeton are reminders of how to belly flop in premium luxury waters. And the Hyundai Equus hardly abounds on roadways. Then again, the premium sedan class isn’t that big.
Besides Hyundai, no mass-market automaker -- Kia, with more than 500,000 units again last year, far outsells the previously named niche brands -- has attempted to paddle out to the shipping lane where Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW are steaming along. (The exception is pickups that threaten the $60,000-barrier.) In fact, every time we looked hard at the Kia nameplate on this fine car, it was like beans for dessert. Will it sell in Beverly Hills or Rancho Cucamonga?
Kia officials say people must experience the 2015 K900 for themselves. We know from our own reaction, and that of a discerning friend, the wow-factor is insuppressible. We imagined an S-Class owner’s sneers turning to smiles upon being invited inside, but the only other stopping point on the 200-mile drive home from Santa Barbara was an old Kia haunt, Walmart (this one near Irwindale Speedway), where premium luxury sedans were not in abundance.
Too bad, for it would have been an appropriate place for the sneering upper crust to receive the message that emanates from the 2015 Kia K900: you overpaid.
2015 Kia K900 V8
On sale:February 2014
Price as tested:$66,400
Engine:5.0L V-8, 420 hp @ 6400 rpm, 376 lb-ft @ 5000 rpm
Fuel economy (est):15/23 mpg (city/highway)
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