The 2015 Kia K900 feels like a Kirkland brand luxury sedan from Costco — tasty and much less expensive than a name-brand model, but falling short in sophistication, refinement and cachet.
Outside of South Korea, the idea of a super-plush, full-size, rear-wheel-drive Kia luxury sedan seems like the answer to a question nobody asked. The company has made amazing strides in the past decade with its smaller economy cars (a Kia Forte won our 2014 Compact Challenge, and the latest Soul is awfully good), and even the midsize Optima (Cars.com's Best of 2011 Award winner) has been selling well. But crafting a car to go up against the likes of Lexus, Mercedes-Benz and BMW? The question isn't whether Kia can do it or not, it's is it really necessary?
Kia seems to think it is, and that's why the new-for-2015 Kia K900 is being brought to our shores. A long, V-8-powered flagship sedan that shares its chassis with the last-generation Hyundai Equus, the K900's mission in the U.S. market isn't exactly clear. An expensive luxury sedan from a mass-market brand hasn't been a successful concept here (see: Volkswagen Phaeton). Not to mention, Hyundai already has two perfectly good luxury cars for sale in the Genesis and Equus (compare all three here). So while we can't quite determine why it's here, we can at least determine if it's any good.
Exterior & Styling
In eight years of taking home new automobiles to test, something happened with the K900 that I have never experienced before. One night, during dinner, a man rang my doorbell and begged to be allowed to see the car in my driveway. He then gushed over how gorgeous the K900 was. This hasn't happened with any Rolls-Royce, Porsche, Bentley or Maserati I've driven. I can't entirely disagree with him — it's attractive, in a generic luxury car kind of way. The styling certainly bears a resemblance to other Kia products, with the distinctive hexagonal grille and C-pillar design aping the smaller Optima sedan. But it breaks no ground in any dimension, aside from just looking like a really big Kia. The technology is here — full LED headlights and taillights are standard — but the front camera and radar assembly look like an afterthought in the middle of the chrome mesh grille.
How It Drives
While definitely pleasant to look at, the Kia K900 is less pleasant to drive. As a passenger, especially in the rear, you're likely to enjoy the space provided by the long wheelbase and deep leather seats, but from the driver's seat things are less than stellar. The fault is not with the powertrain; Kia's 5.0-liter V-8 is a fully modern power plant, a smooth and torquey mill that delivers seamless power and is perfectly matched to the car's standard eight-speed automatic transmission. It moves the K900 off the line with the ease of 420 horsepower and operates on the highway at a muted hum that's as refined and polished as any Lexus. The K900 gets top marks for its motor and transmission combination.
Unfortunately, that's where the polish and refinement ends. While the car is quiet, the ride, handling and steering all need another generation to be properly worked out. On smooth pavement the K900 does fine, but introduce rough asphalt or concrete and the steering wheel dances in your hands while chatter filters into the cabin through the suspension, sending up creaks and squeaks in the interior trim that are very un-Lexus-like.
I was able to compare the K900 back to back with an Audi A7, a comparably sized and priced luxury car, which reaffirmed my conclusion that the steering is the main culprit in the disappointing driving experience. Over the same pavement, the Audi experienced none of the unpleasant steering-wheel tremors that were so prevalent in the K900.
The K900 is available only with that 5.0-liter V-8 engine, although the EPA has certified a 3.8-liter V-6 that may be coming later. The V-6 has better fuel economy, rated 18/27/21 mpg city/highway/combined, while the V-8 checks in at 15/23/18 mpg. My testing netted about 20 mpg thanks to a few longer highway trips, which isn't bad for such size, comfort and power.
The K900 is a mixed bag inside, which is where a luxury car is supposed to truly shine and coddle its occupants. The equipment is very good, especially the big, multi-adjustable seats. Covered in cream-colored leather with contrasting piping, the seats in my test car stood out as being extremely comfortable for all occupants, but especially for rear passengers, who have amazing amounts of legroom to explore.
That rear compartment is where the K900 is best enjoyed, especially in cars, like my tester, featuring a $6,000 VIP package that brings fully adjustable, power-reclining, heated and ventilated back seats that even have a power lumbar adjustment. The front seats don't feel nearly as spacious, however, with headroom strangely compromised due to a steeply raked windshield.
Dash materials are also mixed, and some quality-control issues are evident, such as wood trim on the center console that looks and feels warped and wavy. Lots of shiny black plastic is meant to feel like rich piano-black lacquer, but instead just feels like fingerprint-magnet shiny black plastic. Outward visibility is good. The low belt line and light-colored leather made for an airy cabin, aided by the standard, massive panoramic moonroof overhead. It's also very quiet in the K900, even at full throttle or highway speeds.
Ergonomics & Electronics
One area where the K900 doesn't skimp on luxury goods is in the electronics department. The car features one of the most advanced head-up displays I've yet seen in an automobile as an option: a full-color display that has options for text color, size, position and graphics content. The multimedia equipment is Kia's top-spec UVO system, which features all the connectivity options you can imagine, plus a full suite of apps to keep you entertained. The interface is a bit busy, but the clickwheel and button control layout is similar enough to other systems that using it doesn't require a steep learning curve.
A navigation system is standard, as is a Lexicon premium surround-sound audio system. The display is a 9.2-inch LCD, but it's not a touch-screen, so you'll never get fingerprints all over it. Inputting navigation addresses and the like, however, is less straightforward. Another 12.3-inch full LCD resides behind the steering wheel, replacing the traditional gauges with fully electronic ones, and they look slick.
The K900 is quite well-equipped with features people expect in luxury cars, such as a power-closing trunk, a powered rear sunshade, LED headlights — even optional powered, soft-closing doors, and all for just about $66,000. This Kia luxury sedan is better equipped, much better equipped, in fact, than size-competitive vehicles from BMW or Mercedes-Benz that cost tens of thousands of dollars more.
Cargo & Storage
Storage pockets and cubbies abound in the K900, but its trunk isn't the biggest among competitors. At just 15.9 cubic feet it's certainly sizable, but it's not even as big as corporate sibling Hyundai Equus' trunk, at 16.7 cubic feet. The Lexus LS 460 has a very large 18.0-cubic-foot trunk, while the long-wheelbase BMW 750 Li offers up an equally big 17.7-cubic-foot trunk. The Kia's rear seats fold in a 60-40 split to extend long items into the passenger compartment.
The new-for-2015 K900 has not yet been crash-tested. As befits a modern luxury car, the K900 has a multitude of advanced safety technology, much of it standard equipment. A front and rear parking camera display is standard, as is lane departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert, blind spot detection, automatic rain-sensing windshield wipers and full-length side curtain airbags. Optional are things like a surround-view monitor and adaptive cruise control with automatic full-stop capability. See all the K900's standard safety equipment here.
Value in Its Class
This is where Kia makes its play for the K900's existence. Maybe you want a Lexus-like, coddling, full-size luxury sedan without the wallet-draining effects with which such large cruisers tend to come? The K900 starts at just $60,400 (including destination charge), which won't get you even close to its primary size competitors. My test car included the one and only option available: the $6,000 VIP package, which brings adaptive cruise control, powered door closers, electronic gauges, the head-up display, powered front headrests, power-reclining ventilated rear seats, and more. The total tab for this cushy cruiser came to just $66,400 — considerably more than your average Optima, but dramatically less than competitive full-size luxury cars with similar equipment. Spec one to your tastes here.
Ironically, the K900's biggest competitor may be the car on which it's based from Kia's sister company, Hyundai. The Equus rides on the same platform, has similar interior space, an identical wheelbase, the same 5.0-liter V-8 engine, and even costs within a couple thousand dollars of the K900. The K900 basically is an Equus, with different suspension tuning, very different styling and an even less prestigious nameplate. Hyundai's own updated, less-expensive, and slightly smaller Genesis sedan doesn't have the legroom that the K900 does, but it has a more formal style and better interior materials, making it a potential competitor, as well.
Competitors from actual luxury brands are decidedly more expensive, yet offer a more refined motoring experience for both driver and passengers. The long-wheelbase Lexus LS 460, that brand's latest flagship, offers up a considerably less powerful V-8, comparable safety equipment and a much nicer interior, but a multimedia system that feels a generation behind the Kia. It also requires significantly more money to get into: The Lexus' starting price is $79,365, and it goes up from there. Even that, though, pales in comparison to a V-8-powered BMW 740 Li, the long-wheelbase flagship model from the German automaker. You'll need a whopping $91,950 to get in the door there, and that won't even get you equipment like blind spot warning, a powered rear sunshade and ventilated seats, all of which push the BMW's price over $102,000. See how the K900 compares with competitors here.
That gets us looking at the Kia's value proposition again. It may not be as refined as some of its high-priced competitors, but the generic K900 offers an amazing amount of technology, equipment and comfort for tens of thousands of dollars less than name-brand luxury cars. And just like that box of Tasty O's Oat Ring breakfast cereal, it's good enough for cost-conscious consumers who don't absolutely need Cheerios.
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