EDITOR WES RAYNAL: This 2015 Kia K900 has everything a luxury car buyer might want. Good-looking exterior (I’m a Peter Schreyer fan), very nice, roomy and well-built leather interior, rockin’ stereo, better than decent power, cosseting ride, tons of toys to play with (there’s got to be a microwave oven in here somewhere)… The $66,400 question, of course, is does the K900 give BMW/Benz/Audi any heartburn? Conversely, are we looking at a Korean Phaeton?
The marketplace decides such things. Driving the K900 reminds me of the first time I drove the first-gen Lexus LS 400. The Kia is like a sensory-depravation chamber. It’s quiet, isolated from the road, and has a smooth, lull-me-to-sleep ride. In fact it might be too floatish and too distant from what’s happening beneath. That’s especially compared to the Germans -- much easier to have a more-intimate relationship with them. Not so much the K900. If Kia really wants to play with the big boys, it needs to tighten up the ride -- at least a little. For now, it’s a good cruiser and a not-so-good hustler. Think of it as sort of a modern Sedan de Ville and you might not have issues.
I mention the price above not because I think it’s too high -- in fact I believe the car is a bargain. Do buyers agree? Or care? Kia has sold 950 K900s have sold so far this year, while the Mercedes-Benz E-class moved 41,000, the Audi found 14,000 A6s new homes and BMW 5-series have had 34,000 in sales. Kia’s 950 K900s puts the car about on a par with the Ford Transit van. So, no; not yet anyway…
Kia’s long suit is value; inexpensive, get-what-you-pay for wheels. Should it even be playing in the luxury game? Nice car, but it feels out of place to me.
The Kia K900 has everything a luxury car buyer might want, on paper at least.PHOTO BY KIA
EXECUTIVE EDITOR RORY CARROLL: Everyone wants to know why Kia made the K900. I can’t imagine it’s because they expected to sell a whole bunch of them in the U.S. So far, my guesses are that they plan to sell a lot of them in other countries and that they want to prove that they can build a car like this. And why not? The chassis and engine were developed for that other Korean luxury car that we can’t wrap our heads around, and that’s most of the expensive stuff. For the K900, you just let Peter Schreyer’s guys make it look pretty and put together a Kia-fied version of a top-shelf interior. And, yes, the interior really is that good. Take a look at the quality of the stitching in there -- I’ve certainly seen worse sold for more.
And, yes, the ride is comically floaty, but what were you expecting from a V8, rear-drive, Korean luxury car?
The K900's interior is roomy and well constructed.PHOTO BY KIA
WEST COAST EDITOR MARK VAUGHN: When this platform-partnered product first came out, I was guzzling the Kool-Aid like everyone else. It was tasty stuff, so delicious and satisfying. Kia said the K900 would compete with the BMW 5-series, Mercedes-Benz E-class and Audi A6 and I thought, well, why not? Sure I had reservations -- buyers of Bimmers, Mercedes and Audis usually make those purchases in order to impress the neighbors, right? I said that cynically. Why couldn’t a K900 do all the things a 5-series/E-class/A6 do? Who needs prestige?
But now that I’ve had one in the real world for a bit of a longer drive, I might just lower the K900’s bond rating by about two or 14 notches. Sure it has most of the boxes checked on the options list: electrostatic this, thermonuclear that, but so does a Buick. Heck, so did the Mitsubishi Diamante. So did about 4 million other cars the makers of which claimed were 5- or 3- or 7-series competitors. That’s like me saying I’m a Hunter S. Thompson/Jack Kerouac/James Joyce competitor. Maybe in my warped and tortured mind I am, but not in the real world.
In the real world, the K900 feels like a smaller, less consequential car than its more established midluxury competitors. It feels smaller and lighter, not lighter as in sportier, just lighter as in there’s not as much holding it together. It sits on the Hyundai Genesis platform. Not the new, exciting Genesis, the old one that they’re no longer making.
While the ride (straight line, driving-down-the-street stuff) is not bad, once you push it a little bit it inspires less confidence at the limit than others it lists as competitors, especially the 5-series. The throttle was too touchy and the steering generally felt overboosted. And while our test car had everything from three-zone climate control, Lexicon Logic 7 Surround Sound Audio and Kia’s UVO eServices connectivity to lane departure warning and beeping parking sensors, so do a lot of less-expensive cars.
Our test car in California had the optional $6,000 VIP Package, the value of which I may have called into question more than once during my first drive six-months ago. For instance, the Advanced Smart Cruise Control was still just as maddening as it was on my first test drive. It would take too long to react, especially when offered a chance to speed back up. It took so long that invariably I would impede those behind me while cars next to me would dive into the lingering space ahead. I finally shut it off completely and used my foot. In fairness, other similar cruise controls are also slow to react, but not quite as slow as the one on the Kia. The Surround View Monitor, another VIP item, is available on the Nissan Rogue, for goodness sake. And power door latches? It takes a $6,000 option package to get power door latches?
The cost of this thing just seems out of line with what you get. $66,400 for the previous Genesis platform? I’m not against the idea of stealth luxury, of ignoring the brand name and planting an unknown in the market. I loved and still love the Volkswagen Phaeton, and if I was ever in the market for a car in that class, I wouldn’t hesitate to get a used one (one of the best bargains in the U.S. at around $14,000!). That whole “rethink luxury” Super Bowl ad seemed like a good idea and a clever way to introduce this car, but it comes across as disingenuous now that I’ve spent some time in one. Especially considering that you could get a BMW 550i turbo V8 for $65K, a Mercedes-Benz E550 Sport 4Matic turbo V8 for $62K and an Audi A6 for $56,000. I think anyone who cross-shopped all those cars would agree.
The K900 comes equipped with a 5.0-liter V8 making 420 hp and 376 lb-ft of torque.PHOTO BY KIA
ASSOCIATE WEST COAST EDITOR BLAKE Z. RONG: So, this is Kia’s most luxurious sedan, which is like saying this is Harley’s loudest motorcycle: a bit unnecessary, don’t you think? It certainly ticks all the boxes: it’s got the silly hockey-stick shifter that BMW invented in 2002 and that we all thought would be a fad. It’s got digital gauges, which serve to do nothing but replicate analog gauges and occasionally display large numbers in sport mode (more on that later). It has a knob. It has a million buttons nonetheless. It has a big back seat (heated, cooled, but not massaging, sadly) with its own controls to the front seat, token of all the world’s most coddling luxury cars: my girlfriend said, “God, my bratty little brother would have so much fun with this!” Fortunately, he didn’t ride in the back of the 2015 Kia K900.
Kia certainly got the luxury parts right in the mechanics. The big 5.0-liter V8 is smooth, quiet, and thirsty (14.1 mpg around town). Its throttle is touchy from a start: if you’re not used to it, you can spin the tires from a dead stop with the slightest pedal application, as if Kia thought an NHRA launch for no particular reason was the best way to show off the V8’s 420 hp. It’s mighty quick. Imagine stunning your fellow stoplight denizens with the fact that you’re not only blowing their doors off with a limousine, but a Kia limousine. If said V8 actually produced a sound, I couldn’t hear it at all.
That’s how quiet the Kia is: it’s a very comfortable town car, in lieu of an actual Lincoln Town Car. The world comes at you from a distance. The suspension, smooth and floaty, reflects this, while the brakes operate in two distinct modes: gentle braking nearly to a stop, and then a forceful slam up to it. They hardly seem adequate to manage the 4,555 pounds that they’re required to stop. Eight-speeds are certainly unnecessary, operating with a gap of 400 rpm, but nonetheless imperceptible with their shifts. Ensuing acceleration is never visceral, but merely competent—it’s not a hot rod sedan, but it certainly could be. Press the Drive Mode button into sport, which serves to introduce even touchier throttle response, a cool digital readout with an impossible-to-read backwards tach.
Alas, some criticism lies within the things that aren’t associated with forward momentum. Bizarre square LED headlights aren’t terribly bright. The UVO system is finicky to input addresses (lots of scrolling) and refuses to acknowledge radio station presets without a series of complicated, distracting menus (even more scrolling). That touchy throttle annoyed my girlfriend, and it will probably yours. The K900 is a pleasant enough car to look at, but that H-shaped fender vent is Pep Boys level of tacky.
In the end, it’s a very nice luxury sedan, especially for the $60,000 range -- but, frankly, there’s not much in here that a fully loaded $42,400 Cadenza -- or heck, an Optima Limited -- could contain. If you want anything more luxurious, you should probably keep cross-shopping. Mercedes will be happy to sell you an entry-level CLA with all the luxury appointments of a Rio, for example. There’s a question about why this car is in America, but there’s a question about why Kia developed this car in the first place; Kia may have its own Peter Schreyer, but he’s no megalomaniac Ferdinand Karl Piëch. The former doesn’t need his ego stroked with building the world’s most frivolous luxury car. Is the K900 another Phaeton? That’s giving it too much credit. With the Hyundai Equus across town, does the Hyundai Automotive Group really need two underdog luxury cars?
Somehow, I can stomach that Equus more than Kia’s attempt at the same thing. It must be a brand strategy thing: an Elantra is a decontented Equus, sure, but no way in H-E-double hockey sticks that a Soul is a cheaper K900. Shouldn’t Kia be cheap n’ cheerful? Was Morpheus ever cheery in the “Matrix” movies?
Ultimately, the deciding factor of luxury-car cachet is the ringing endorsement that comes with a misplaced traffic digression: if you commit a minor vehicular sin, will people hold your car in contempt first? “Ugh, I can’t believe that guy cut me off in his BMW. I was on my way to your place, and this Mercedes was tailgating me the entire time…you know what they say about Lexus drivers. I nearly got hit by an Audi.”
Will they say the same about the Kia? “Can you believe that guy who cut me off? He was driving a Kia…wait, hold on, yeah, a Kia. Don’t laugh, it was a really nice Kia.”
This, then, is a really nice Kia. Nobody will recognize you, or realize it’s a Kia. Therefore, feel free to drive like a jerk.
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