Kia's well-documented renaissance has included audacious moves such as poaching Audi's lead designer, reworking their lineup into a series of cars and SUVs that are virtually unrecognizable from their former incarnations, and targeting an upmarket position that belies the stereotypes usually associated with Korean carmakers.
We've been pleasantly surprised by our long-term Kia Sorento's trouble-free ownership experience, and the easy-to-live-with crossover has also made us reevaluate our previously established notions about Korean cars. But the 2015 Kia K900 pushes even further past the average car buyer's comfort zone with its high-end luxury aspirations, putting the likes of BMW's formidable 7 Series, Lexus' proven LS models and Mercedes-Benz's mighty S-Class in its cross hairs.
Starting at $60,400, the K900 pushes the automaker responsible for the Rio and Forte into previously uncharted territory, especially in the U.S. market where perceptions can be slow to change. Given the multitude of options in the high-end market, is this rarified realm really where Kia needs to position itself?
Let's take a closer look at the Kia K900 to see how this ambitious luxury sedan aims to carve out a niche.
What's New for 2015?
Though the K900 has been available since 2013 in its native Korea (dubbed the K9 over there), the 2015 Kia K900 is an all-new entry for the U.S.
What We Like
Incredible drivetrain; smooth ride; plenty of power from the V8; quiet cabin encourages long-distance cruising; VIP package offers limolike rear-seating arrangement
What We Don't
Some center console buttons feel less than premium; 360-degree parking-monitor views are grainy; multimedia interface could use a more thorough redesign befitting the price point; sporty enthusiasts will be disappointed by soft handling
The Kia K900 currently comes with only one powertrain combo: a direct-injected 5.0-liter V8 producing 420 horsepower and 376 lb-ft of torque, mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission. There will be a 311-hp V6 announced following the car's official launch.
The K900 is rated at 15 miles per gallon in the city and 23 mpg on the highway for a combined Environmental Protection Agency fuel economy estimate of 18 mpg.
Standard Features & Options
The Kia K900 only comes in one standard and rather well-equipped trim level.
The off-the-shelf K900 ($60,400) features a lengthy laundry list of features including a panoramic sunroof with a power sunshade, LED headlamps and a power trunk. A 900-watt, 17-speaker Lexicon sound system is also standard, along with a blind spot monitoring system, Napa leather seating surfaces, heated and ventilated front seats, and a heated steering wheel with real leather and wood.
The only available K900 option is a VIP Package ($6,000), which adds adaptive cruise control, a 12.3-inch LCD display, head-up display, a surround-view monitor and power reclining rear seats with ventilation and lumbar support.
The 2015 K900 comes standard with dual front and rear-mounted side airbags, side-curtain airbags and active headrests. Traction and stability control, electronic brake force distribution and brake assist are also standard, while the VIP Package ($6,000) adds Automatic Vehicle Safety Management (which automatically applies the brakes when a collision is imminent) and a seat belt pretensioning safety function.
Both the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have yet to release official government crash-test data for the Kia K900.
Behind the Wheel
From the moment you feel the weight of its driver-side door as you tug it open, you realize the K900 was built to defy expectations, and it certainly does that. Sliding into the driver's seat of Kia's first V8-powered sedan, you're greeted with a fairly convincing virtual representation of analog instruments, a logically laid-out center stack of buttons and a wheel-operated multimedia controller.
The 5.0-liter V8 is so smooth you can barely hear it as it fires up. Though some competitors' nontraditional gearshift selectors can be annoying and/or counterintuitive, the Kia's operates easily enough, clicking into gear with a grip and functionality that's similar to BMW's. In this application, the lever is pleasantly wrapped in leather, aiding the sedan's premium cause.
You'll likely be surprised by the amount of thrust on tap when you stab the right pedal: The K900 loves to go, making it easy to trigger traction control when accelerating from a standstill. Equally impressive are the seamless shifts from the 8-speed transmission, which make the power flow as if there's an endless supply of torque from the engine.
Unlike many luxury pretenders, the K900's cabin feels blissfully devoid of wind or moving noise at highway speeds. Similarly, there's excellent suspension damping over rough surfaces, revealing an impressively adaptable suspension. When it comes to pitching the K900 into corners, this sedan comes across as bigger and heftier, making it feel more like an early Cadillac or Lexus and less like a modern BMW or Mercedes-Benz.
But as a contemporary cruiser, the K900 delivers a solid, smooth and powerful ride that's comfortable enough for cruising all day.
Other Cars to Consider
BMW 7 Series -- Starting at $74,000 for a 6-cylinder model (and $87,300 for a V8), the 7 Series offers less standard equipment but a considerably higher starting price (not to mention a more stern personality) compared to the cushy Kia.
Lexus LS -- Lexus was once the new kid on the block, offering bargain-basement pricing with surprising amenities and refinement. Now that Lexus has stepped up its game (and its starting price) with the LS, the old guard has taken closer notice of this $72,140 Japanese competitor. It may lack Lexus' legendarily impressive reliability record, but the LS could be the K900's biggest competitor when it comes to (relatively) affordable big-car luxury.
Mercedes-Benz S-Class -- The newly refreshed flagship from Mercedes-Benz commands a steep premium ($92,900) but also delivers an impressive combination of luxury and performance. Unless you're completely averse to the Kia brand, however, you'll find it hard to justify the $22,500 premium, unless money is no object.
The questions about the Kia K900's potential success have more to do with brand perception than they do with the car's actual merits. Sure, the K900 has a couple chinks in its armor -- namely, its less-than-nimble handling and the fact that some of its controls and switchgear can't compete with its high-dollar competitors. But the K900's $60,400 starting point makes it considerably more affordable than some of its foes while delivering a surprisingly quick, comfortable and smooth drive.
It doesn't tick all the boxes for everyone, and the idea of an upmarket Kia will certainly be hard to swallow for many. But the K900's tempting starting price and extremely capable skill set just might help this attractive sedan find a small but dedicated group of luxury enthusiasts ready to break from the herd and settle down with this attractively priced underdog from Korea.