By Steve & Tami Laser
Kia has earned its stripes in the U.S. market by offering a lineup of affordable cars, crossovers and SUVs. The funky box-on-wheels Kia Soul with its cute hamster commercials grabbed the spotlight away from the aging Scion xB while Nissan abandoned the niche in the U.S. market by canceling the Cube. Emboldened by its success, Kia decided to take its hamsters upmarket last year with the new rear-drive, V8-powered K900 luxury sedan.
This is one of the boldest moves yet by the automaker since entering the U.S. market 20 years ago. Kia has been doing very well with its midsize Optima sedan that was joined last year by the Cadenza, an even larger front-drive sedan. Yet the flagship K900 is a true luxury class competitor worthy of consideration by those who might be shopping the likes of the Lexus LS, BMW 7 Series or Audi A8.
We’re not kidding – and neither is Kia. The hamsters didn’t jump off the treadmill one day and decide to conquer the luxury market. Hyundai owns a large slice of Kia so the two brands share their platforms and technology. Hyundai moved into luxury territory when it introduced the rear-drive Genesis sedan in 2009, now in its second generation. The even larger and more luxurious Equus followed in 2011. While Kia’s K900 isn’t a copy of either model, it’s closer to the Equus in size and driving character.
The first thing we noticed when we took delivery of our K900 test car was its impressive size. With an overall length of 200.6 inches it’s a fraction of an inch longer than the Lexus LS with a 119.9-inch wheelbase that’s three inches longer. That translates into limo-like legroom for rear seat passengers surpassing the LS.
K900 is dressed with sportier styling compared to the Equus. Credit Kia’s Chief Designer, Peter Schreyer, the former head of Audi design, for leading the automaker’s styling in a bolder direction. Most Kia models share this family look with its distinctive “tiger-nose” grille. Styling still sells cars so Schreyer was recently promoted to President and Chief Design Officer of the Hyundai Motor Group, responsible for both Hyundai and Kia’s design strategies.
While the K900 looks big, impressive and sporty, it doesn’t carry the brand mystique or charisma of Mercedes-Benz, BMW or Lexus. Is this a potential pitfall for someone willing to part with the $66,400 sticker price of our fully loaded test car? We don’t think so. Like the Equus, the K900 is a stealthy luxury sedan for those who don’t want to flaunt their wealth. It’s the perfect car for dentists, real estate brokers or business owners who want to look successful – yet not too successful.
In return for the investment, the K900 delivers the goods. Let’s start with the powertrain. Under the hood is a longitudinally mounted 5.0-liter DOHC V8 engine with Gasoline Direct Injection (GDI). It puts out an impressive 420 horsepower and 376 ft-lbs of torque. The standard 8-speed automatic transmission transfers power to the rear wheels. While the K900 weighs about 4,500 pounds, there’s ample power in reserve for accelerating into fast-moving freeway traffic, zipping up steep hills and arriving at the country club for an early tee time.
We drove our tester on our favorite country road that we usually reserve for sporty cars. The K900 handled hairpin turns and changes in elevation with ease. Ride quality is on the soft side with good control over bumps. All the while passengers are treated to a supremely quiet cabin that reminded us of the whisper-quiet ride in the Lexus LS.
Elegant exterior cues on our test car included 19-inch chrome alloy wheels, LED headlights with an Adaptive Front Lighting System that adjusts the beams to follow bends in the road, plus separate LED positioning and fog lights. The oversize panoramic sunroof tilts open over the front row for increased ventilation while the fixed rear glass panel brings extra light into the cabin. A power trunk lid is a handy feature that makes it easy to load cargo when hands are full.
The K900’s interior is a very pleasant place to do business or simply stretch out and relax. Our tester was trimmed with supple Nappa leather seats, genuine wood accents, heated and ventilated front seats, and push-button start with a smart key and a credit-card-style valet key.
Those who want it all can opt for the K900’s VIP Package. This adds advanced smart cruise control, power door latches that pull the door closed so there’s no need to slam it, a 12.3-inch full LCD instrument cluster, Head-up Display that projects critical information onto the base of the windshield for easy viewing, driver’s seat cushion extension, front seat power headrests, power reclining read seats, lateral adjusting rear headrests and rear seat lumbar support.
The top-flight 900-watt Lexicon audio system on our test car included a trunk-mounted 12-channel digital amplifier plus 17 speakers with an inverted subwoofer in the rear parcel shelf. Kia says the speaker arrangement is a bespoke design for the K900’s interior that helps improve sound quality for every seat in the car.
A standard Driver Information system control knob on the lower center console provides easy access and control of the audio system and Kia’s UVO eServices telematics displayed on the bright and easy to read 9.2-inch display screen. The navigation system works like a charm and can be accessed via voice command.
As expected of a car in this class, our K900 was also loaded with safety features including Kia’s first Rear Cross Traffic Alert system that provides a warning sound if a car is detected crossing behind the vehicle when backing up. The Surround View Monitor includes small cameras mounted in the front, rear and sides that provide a nearly 360-degree view of objects close to the car.
The sophisticated Lane Departure Warning System uses camera-based monitors to alert the driver if the car drifts too close to lane markers. Radar-based Advanced Smart Cruise Control adjusts vehicle speed to help maintain a set distance to the car in front and also has the ability to bring the K900 to a complete stop then automatically resume when traffic permits.
K900 prices begin at $54,500 for the Premium trim. Our Luxury model tester started at $59,500, adding the VIP Package and destination for a bottom line of $66,400. Yes, that’s a lot of money for a Kia. However, shopping around for other vehicles in this class reveals the fact that the K900 is a relative bargain. For example, the Lexus LS 460 starts at $72,520, the BMW 740Li with its twin-turbo six starts at $78,000 while the V8-powered 750Li lists for $91,000. The Audi A8 L is $81,400 with the supercharged V6 or $90,400 with the turbo V8. The K900 even has a lower starting price than its cousin the Hyundai Equus that starts at $61,500 with the Signature Package or $68,750 with the Ultimate Package.
If you’re in the market for a flagship luxury car from Lexus, BMW, Audi or others, be sure to put the Kia K900 on your shopping list.
Kia K900 press fleet vehicle provided by Kia Motors America (Prices and vehicle information applies to models sold in the U.S. at the time of publication. All information from the manufacturer including prices, specifications and warranties is subject to change without notice.)
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