Not so many years ago, the idea of a luxury sedan from Korean brand Kia would have been utterly baffling. But the new 2015 Kia K900 large luxury sedan follows a well-known path that has elevated car makers before, including Kia's corporate sibling Hyundai. The script calls for the up-and-coming brand to launch a larger, more luxurious model than anything it's previously offered, but to price it aggressively--below traditional competitors--to lure buyers who wouldn't otherwise set foot in the dealerships. The sales pitch: good value for less money. That path has been trodden by Hyundai with its Genesis and then Equus luxury sedans, but more importantly, it’s the path that Toyota followed when it launched the Lexus brand 25 years ago with the LS sedan.
So what's the result? The K900 now on sale at selected Kia dealers is a good first effort that the brand's executives called “a stake in the ground” during the first media drive, indicating that they're in the segment for the long haul. It’s the first truly high-end effort from Kia falls somewhere between a premium model and a genuine luxury sedan to compete with the Germans. The introduction follows the brand's recent success with the Optima Limited mid-size sedan, and more recently the somewhat larger Cadenza and Cadenza Limited.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
In the end, Kia’s new K900 luxury sedan is probably most comparable to those from another formerly upstart make, Lexus. It’s comfortable, predictable, easy to understand, quiet, and seems to be well-built (though only time will tell on that front). Just as Kia said, it’s a stake in the ground, a first effort to highlight the brand’s upmarket aspirations—and light-years away from the simple, affordable models with which Kia built its brand in the U.S. 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.
The V-8 and V-8 VIP models of the Kia K900 will go on sale before the end of March 2014, with the V-6 models following a few months later. More complete details on pricing and features for all models will be provided in the spring, closer to the on-sale date of the later models.
- Comfortable interior
- Rear-seat room
- Quiet ride
- Inoffensive styling
- Reasonable price
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- Unremarkable styling
- Few distinguishing features
- Acceleration lag
- Unknown safety scores