What Is It?
You can look at the coming Kia K900 luxury sedan in two ways: 1.) Kia is following in the tire tracks of its owner/big brother Hyundai in moving upscale at a graduated pace, allowing current buyers somewhere to go as they gain income and look for prestige; or 2.) Kia is ignoring what happened to Volkswagen when it introduced the way upscale Phaeton to rave reviews but disastrous sales. Kia claims answer No. 1.
While there is everything luxury buyers might want on the spec sheet of the new K900 sedan, the question is, do buyers in the BMW 5-series/Mercedes E-class/Audi A6/Lexus GS class want a prestigious nameplate as much as they want radar adaptive cruise control? That is the $64,000 question, or rather, the $66,400 question in the case of the V8, which includes destination.
The K900 is basically a current-gen Hyundai Genesis/Equus with a new Kia body and “unique” chassis tuning, though Kia is a little vague about what makes it unique. The drivetrains are identical to the Genesis, with a 311-hp 3.8-liter V6 and a 420-hp 5.0-liter V8, both with direct injection. Both engines drive the rear wheels through an eight-speed automatic (yes, it's the same ZF eight-speed that's in seemingly every car, truck, SUV and weed-whacker on the market today).
What Is It Like To Drive?
We just spent a day driving a K900 with the 5.0-liter V8. We drove it over back roads of California's Central Coast. Indeed it does have all those luxury features you find on competitors, from LED headlights and napa leather seats to a full-length panoramic sunroof and 900-watt, 17-speaker sound system. On smooth pavement with the suspension in Normal mode, it was isolation-chamber quiet inside. In sport mode, it got maybe a little louder and there was maybe a little more response from the steering. Sport also quickens the shifting algorithm in the eight-speed transmission and increases throttle response, though the difference will be hard for most drivers to notice. A third, Eco mode, just seemed to cut out the first part of throttle response.
On uneven pavement in any mode, the car tended to float a bit more than it did on smooth surfaces, especially when the shocks rebounded off larger bumps and undulations. We only managed to find a few curves on the prescribed drive route, and while the car held on nicely and the steering pointed the wheels in the proper direction, a little more time on a little tighter course will reveal the car's true handling nearer the limit. So far the K900 felt a bit floatier than we'd like in a 5-series competitor.
The radar-based smart cruise control got on and off the throttle and brakes too abruptly as it followed other cars up Hwy 101. We finally just switched it off. We sat in the back seat while someone else drove the same way the home-market middle managers for whom this was designed do. We noticed our noggin brushing up against the suede headliner. No problem, just recline the rear seat, electrically slide the front seat out of the way and you're styling. It was nice enough luxury, but not quite sporty enough compared to others in the mid-luxury class.
Do I want One?
The V8 launches first, with sales starting on the West Coast about the same time Kia's expensive Super Bowl ad debuts in the third quarter of that game. The 3.8-liter V6 follows “later.” Kia says that with the new Optima and Cadenza as stepping stones in the market, this is not too far a leap of faith for the faithful. But you can get into a V8-powered BMW 550i for about the same price, and it might handle a lot better. More drive time will tell.
2015 Kia K900 Price and Specifications
On Sale: Late February starting on West Coast.
Base Price: $66,400
Drivetrain: 5.0-liter front-longitudinal V8, RWD, 8-speed automatic
Output: 420 hp at 6,400 rpm, 376 lb-ft at 5,000 rpm
Curb Weight: 4,277 lb
Fuel Economy: 15 city/23 hwy/18 combined
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