With more than a few pundits and onlookers rolling their eyes, the premium-luxury-sedan fray -- the elevated domain of such icons as Audi, BMW, Lexus, and Mercedes-Benz -- now includes Kia. Yes, that Kia, the same South Korean automaker whose U.S. showrooms hawk $14K Rio econoboxes and $15K Soul crossovers. But walk right in and, there on the same floor, its adaptive LED headlights irradiating the steel wheels of a nearby base Forte, can now be found the 2015 Kia K900 V8 VIP -- a high-tech, Nappa-leathered, four-door flagship more than quadruple the entry price of a Soul.
When a recent trip to Michigan offered a chance to drive such an audacious stab at upward mobility, I jumped.
Right away, let's answer the Big Question: Has luxury-upstart Kia knocked the big wigs off their thrones? Short answer: Of course not. Even if the 2015 Kia K900 were as every bit as good out of the box as an A8 or an S-Class, the Germans simply have too much hard-won status and panache to worry about losing customers to a brand that also sells crossovers favored by hamsters. As for that other once-upstart Asian marque … the Lexus LS delivers too refined and smooth and pampered an ownership experience to be overly concerned by the newcomer -- at least for now.
But, this new 2015 Kia K900 is not to be easily dismissed. A close relative of the Hyundai Equus and a spiffier version of a sedan that's been sold in Asia since 2012, the K900 is certainly equipped to play in rarified air. The 32-valve, 5.0-liter V-8 is refined and smooth, delivering genteel though not dazzling acceleration. An eight-speed automatic dices up the torque, albeit with no paddle shifters. There's no air suspension, but the conventional setup isolates the road extremely well. The K900 feels big and expensive. For sure, Kia has aimed the K900 at buyers who enjoy polished cruising as opposed to energetic hustling -- but the former the car does extremely well. The cabin is conspicuously quiet, even at speed. This is pampered motoring.
Every passenger who climbed into the K900's rear seat immediately gushed about the extravagant room and electronic goodies (the $6000 VIP package adds, among other amenities, power-reclining rear seats with ventilation on the outboard cushions). There's so much space (the airiness enhanced by a huge glass sunroof), you'll want to call any driver "Jeeves."
That driver is well-treated, too, benefitting from such standard niceties as a fine Lexicon surround-sound audio system, front and rear cameras, every imaginable electronic safety system (including blind-spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert), and ventilated front seats. The VIP package enhances the glitz with a giant 12.3-inch nav/systems screen, a head-up display, a surround-view monitor for effortless parking, and more. The wood veneer isn't nearly up to class standards, and much of the switchgear looks sub-premium. But all the tech is there, the Nappa leather is rich and creamy, the overall character is one of quality and refinement.
Given Kia's status deficit, it's highly unlikely buyers in the segment will cross-shop a K900 with an S-Class -- or even an LS 460. But Kia, as Lexus did in 1990, has to start somewhere, and the automaker has made massive-enough strides in recent years to warrant respect -- even wariness from rivals. Plus, right now the K900 represents a sensational return on expenditure, the fully loaded VIP undercutting a base LS by some $6000. Similarly equipped Lexus and German models are easily $10K-$20K more.
For buyers not seduced by famous badges, the 2015 Kia K900 is a compelling entry -- and an impressive first step.
2015 Kia K900 V8 VIP
Base price$60,400 (incl. $900 dest.)
Price as tested$66,400
Power420 hp @ 6400 rpm
Torque376 lb-ft @ 5000 rpm
Cargo Capacity15.9 cu-ft
Fuel Economy15/23 city/hwy
0 To 60 mph5.5 sec
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