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2015 Kia K900: First Drive Review

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author photo by Brian Moody January 2014

Leave it to Kia to spark a controversy about the true nature of luxury. This may or may not be Kia's intent with the all-new 2015 Kia K900 luxury sedan, but it sure has us talking.

The basic argument goes like this: Is a luxury car just a collection of high-end features, excellent engineering and stunning design, or do perceptions about the brand add up to real luxury? Whatever you think, the Kia K900 will challenge your notion of luxury.

Gets Luxury Right

The K900 has the luxury essentials exactly right. The car is big, roomy inside but still attractive on the outside. The Kia K900 is more attractive than the Lexus LS460, and under the stretched tight skin is a rear-wheel drive, V8-powered, full-size sedan that can easily run with the best from Japan and Europe.

The K900 is available with a V6 engine, but it's the V8 we sampled. The V8 makes 420 hp and is Lexus-smooth. Thanks to an 8-speed automatic transmission, there's always plenty of power on tap, and passing is effortless.

Kia also gets many of the details right inside. There's real wood trim, gloss black accents, a 16-way power driver's seat (as part of the VIP Package) and an amazing 17-speaker Lexicon audio system that sounds so lifelike you'll swear you're sitting in the recording studio. Lexicon is the same brand of audio system used in Rolls-Royce cars.

Luxury Labels

So, the K900 is impressive on paper. It has the features and options you'd expect from a true luxury car. But is that enough?

Let's say the K900 looks, drives and feels every bit as good as a BMW 7 Series. Does the fact that the 7 Series is a BMW give it any extra credibility?

We say no. The very fact that a certain car has a well-known label on the hood isn't enough to matter. The car has to be tangibly better than other large luxury cars to make it truly desirable.

But Kia, along with Mercedes-Benz and BMW, isn't dumb. They know their audience.

We've seen first-hand how brands such as Honda, Kia, Lexus, Mazda, Chevrolet and Toyota go out of their way to put cars and info in the hands of consumer-focused publications like AutoTrader. German luxury brands, not so much. Keep a careful eye out and you'll notice a lot of BMWs and Benzes in enthusiast magazines. That's not an accident.

It's Just That Good

Thankfully, Kia didn't get lost in the big picture. The company isn't trying to force a philosophical debate and then convince us they have a good car. Instead, Kia simply built a spectacular sedan with all the features, quality materials, engineering and stellar design you'd expect in a $90,000 car. The debate just naturally follows.

You'd expect all this in a $90,000 luxury sedan, only Kia won't let you pay that much. A base V8-powered K900 is $60,400. If you really want to see your CEO neighbor's face turn red, opt for the $6,000 VIP Package that includes heated, cooled and reclining rear seats with lumbar adjustment, color head-up display, soft-close power rear doors, 12.3-inch display screen/gauge cluster, adaptive cruise control and a 360-degree-view parking monitor.

Total price is just over $66,000.

But even the standard V8 K900 comes nicely equipped with such features as adaptive LED headlights, as well as LED taillights, a power trunk, heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats all covered in soft Nappa leather, a leather wrapped dashboard, a 17-speaker, 900-watt Lexicon sound system, front and rear parking cameras, a heated steering wheel, panoramic sunroof, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and lane-departure warning.

Ride and Handling

On the road, the K900 feels every bit like a full-size luxury sedan. It's solid, quiet, powerful, comfortable and soaks up bumps the way Bounty paper towels soak up kitchen spills.

Handling is decent, but this is where a car like the Audi A8 outclasses the big Kia. The Audi perfectly balances a comfortable ride with entertaining athleticism, and the Kia K900 does too. However, the Kia runs a little more on the comfort side of the equation. It's the right choice -- Kia even describes the K900 as exhibiting "relaxed" luxury. Think jeans and a sport coat rather than a tuxedo.

By comparison, the K900 is right in the middle of the pack when it comes to better-known large luxury sedans. We like the K900's look and handling better than the Lexus LS460. It also strikes a better ride/handling balance than the BMW 7 Series. The BMW feels jumpy and almost too sharp by comparison. Plus, the average shopper would be shocked at what kind of features a $75,000 BMW sedan doesn't offer as standard equipment.

But compare the Kia K900 to the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and the comparison kind of falls apart. The recently updated S-Class feels like a cut or two above the Lexus LS, BMW 7 Series and the Kia K900. The S-Class now feels more like a Bentley competitor than a BMW rival.

For example, while the Kia has the luxury of heated and cooled front and rear seats, the Benz adds the opulence of heated door panels and armrests. The S550's V8 also makes more power than the Kia's V8.

Plus, there are a few buttons and switches inside the Kia that feel like they belong in a less expensive car.

Also, we like the K900's console-mounted control knob for nav and auto functions, but we wish the screen was also a touchscreen like in the Kia Cadenza.

Then again, the S550 costs about $27,000 more than the V8-powered Kia K900.

But that may be missing the point. Doesn't the real victory belong to Kia? The fact that this is even a real discussion is such a coup for Kia, it almost doesn't matter which car has the softer leather.

Truth is, the Kia K900 is more than just in the hunt -- it's shockingly good. Philosophical discussions of luxury aside, the 2015 Kia K900 gets luxury right in a big way. If you're in the market for a large Acura, Audi, BMW or Lexus, you have to give the Kia K900 a test drive.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2015 Kia K900: First Drive Review - Autotrader