- Comfortable interior
- Rear-seat room
- Quiet ride
- Unremarkable styling
- Few distinguishing features
- Acceleration lag
The 2015 Kia K900 reaches for the luxury stars--and grabs a little Lexus and old-school Cadillac, though it falls well short of Audi.
If you haven't been paying much attention to Korean brands, the arrival of the 2015 Kia K900 may come as something of a shock. The large luxury sedan is at the opposite end of the scale from the inexpensive small economy cars that first defined Kia in the U.S. But the brand's been transforming itself, with more elegant European-inspired styling and a far richer feature set for all its new models.
The K900 sedan is actually reading from a familiar script, the one that allowed a more pedestrian carmaker 25 year ago--Toyota--to create the Lexus brand and make a lasting impact on the luxury market with ultra-reliable cars and a sales experience second to none. Whether Kia can wrap luxury into the same brand and same dealers as $14,000 subcompacts, however, remains an open question.
Kia has priced the 2015 K900 for value, just as it did the more expensive and more luxurious Optima Limited mid-size sedan. That model succeeded, and led directly to the larger Cadenza and Cadenza Limited--just as Kia's corporate sibling Hyundai did a few years ago with its Genesis and Equus luxury sedans. The idea is to launch a more luxurious and larger model than ever before--but price it for value, undercutting the traditional competitors in the segment, so as to bring new buyers into the brand's showrooms.
The Kia K900 carries the brand’s signature chrome-ringed grille at the front, but its external design carries echoes of some other cars in the segment, from the Tesla Model S at the front to recent Lexus sedans at the rear. Lined up with its smaller Cadenza and Optima stablemates, it can be an initial challenge to tell them apart, aside from their size. That’s not necessarily a bad thing—brand identity is necessary for any car—but it prevents the K900 from standing out in a crowd of upscale sedans. Kia says the car’s buyers are more about the experience and don’t need to make a visible statement.
Kia had only its highest-end V-8 VIP model of the K900 available for the initial media drive, but there will be two versions. The more powerful model uses a 420-horsepower V-8 engine—Kia’s first—paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission driving the rear wheels. There is also a base model powered by a 311-hp 3.8-liter V-6 engine, using the same transmission. All-wheel drive, now virtually a requirement in the large luxury-sedan segment, is not available, nor are diesel or hybrid powertrains for improved fuel economy. Fuel economy is only average, with the V-8 rated at 18 mpg combined (15 mpg city, 23 mpg highway) and the V-6 slightly better but hardly class-leading at 21 mpg (18 mpg city, 27 mpg highway).
Inside, the big new Kia is comfortable, offering wood and leather trim, and a set of features that’s fairly standard for upscale sedans—but no unique features or capabilities that set it apart from the crowd. On the road, the Kia K900 is pleasant enough to drive but doesn’t particularly stand out for any one aspect. It’s heavy and high-quality, but doesn’t have the bank-vault solidity of the largest Mercedes-Benz—nor does it have the sporty feel and roadholding of a BMW. It corners flat but without evincing any particular driving passion.
At a price of $65,500 for the top-of-the-line K900 V-8 with VIP package, it will likely find some buyers willing to forego the prestige brand by focusing on value for money. It’s notable that Kia doesn’t have the lengthy option lists that most of the Germans use to bump up their bottom lines significantly, whatever the base price may start at.
And that raises the question of exactly what the K900 competes with. In a presentation, Kia suggested that it falls between the mid-size luxury sedan segment (Audi A6, BMW 5-Series, Lexus GS, Mercedes-Benz E-Class) and their full-size counterparts (Audi A8, BMW 7-Series, Lexus LS, Mercedes-Benz S-Class). It’s quite clear that the K900 doesn’t go head to head with the S-Class, for example, which offers numerous technology features missing from the Kia. Nor will it attract customers who value the sportier driving character of BMW’s big sedans—and the same goes for the Jaguar XF and XJ, which Kia didn’t name.
In the end, Kia’s new K900 luxury sedan is comfortable, predictable, easy to understand, quiet, and seems to be well-built (though only time will tell on that front). It's a decent opening salvo in a lengthy effort to put "a stake in the ground," as one executive said--a first effort to highlight the brand’s upmarket aspirations. And it's light-years away from the simple, affordable models with which Kia built its brand in the U.S.
Kia says it plans to compete in the luxury segment over the long haul. Today, the car itself falls somewhere between a premium model and a genuine luxury sedan that can compete with the Germans. That’s how Lexus started, and we won’t count the K900 out—but we wish it had a few more distinctive aspects or features. Kia's not there yet, but it will likely find buyers for its new luxury sedan.