2015 Kia K900 Review

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John Voelcker John Voelcker Senior Editor
May 4, 2015

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.

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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.

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2015 Kia K900

Styling

The 2015 Kia K900 has classic sedan proportions but isn't particularly distinctive aside from its Kia grille.

The 2015 Kia K900 extends current Kia design themes into a much larger vehicle than the Optima mid-size sedan, but breaks no new ground in styling. That may well be the safest course for a new entrant, but the downside is that it fails to make the K900 stand out in any way.

The K900 is a long car, with the classic proportions of a rear-wheel-drive luxury sedan, including a long hood, a shorter and high trunk, and short overhangs. It rides on large 19-inch chrome multi-spoke wheels and tires. Like most new sedans, both the windshield and the rear window are steeply raked. At the front, Kia’s signature chrome-ringed grille is low and almost upright above a band of air inlets in the bottom of the front fascia, with a pair of quad-LED headlight arrays swept back under a clear lens in each fender on the V-8 model—perhaps its nicest single detail. A strong shoulder line at the rear leads into a slightly upswept lip on the trunk lid, with wraparound LED lights below it and a pair of chrome-outlined exhaust ports in the lower bodywork.

From many angles, the K900’s styling produces echoes of other vehicles: the front is something like that of a Tesla Model S, which has an oval grille and swept-back lights, and the rear carries distinct echoes of the most recent Lexus sedans. Save one crisp accent line on the flanks, the forms are largely soft and rounded, especially at the front end—as opposed to the mix of rounded and crisply lined design found on the latest German models. It all works fine, but absent the distinctive grille, you might be hard-pressed to identify what brand produced the K900. The K900’s one truly dissonant exterior note is a chrome-trimmed “vent” on each front fender between the front wheelwell and door. Not only does it have no function, it’s shallow enough to be visibly fake.

Inside, the Kia K900’s cockpit is comfortable and stylish, largely fitted with soft-touch materials and luxury surfaces like wood and matte silver metal. There’s quite a lot of glossy piano black plastic in the dashboard, a material we fear is quickly become a cliché. On the high-end V-8 model of the K900, the seats and certainly other surfaces are covered Nappa leather in black or white with contrasting piping (it’s optional on the V-6 model). High-gloss walnut or poplar wood trim are matched to the two colors, respectively. The usual luxury touches—a heated, leather-wrapped steering wheel, LED ambient lighting, dual-zone climate control—are all present, as is a console-mounted knob to navigate through the menu options on the large central touchscreen display.

It’s all pleasantly straightforward and easy to use, but the effect falls somewhere between premium and luxury. A few surfaces are still hard plastic, in places passengers likely won’t touch, and there’s nothing remotely extravagant compared to the features found in German sedans or various Lexus models. Perhaps the best way to view the design would be quiet luxury, for those with little need to show off a prestige brand and a desire to get value for their luxury-car dollar.

8

2015 Kia K900

Performance

The 2015 Kia K900 with the V-8 engine performs adequately, with some throttle lag, and handles decently if dispassionately.

At its first drive event for the K900, Kia offered only the top-of-the-line VIP model, featuring a 420-horsepower direct-injected V-8 engine—Kia’s first—that produces 376 lb-ft of torque. It’s paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission that drives the rear wheels. This is a similar powertrain to that of the Hyundai Genesis and Equus models, and it provides suitable power to move this relatively heavy car expeditiously.

We noticed some lag in throttle and shift response when flooring the accelerator, more so than in the Jaguar XJ sedan, which uses the same eight-speed transmission paired to a V-8 engine. The K900’s shift lever could be moved into a manual-shift mode to control the transmission, but oddly, paddle shifters behind the steering wheel are not available, even as an option. When pressed hard, the exhaust note rises perceptibly, but it’s a generic mechanical sound rather than the distinctive sound you might find in a Jaguar or Maserati.

A second powertrain, consisting of a 311-hp V-6 engine with the same transmission, will follow shortly after the launch of the V-8 versions. We have not been able to drive that model. We’d also note that all-wheel drive, an option on both medium and large luxury sedans from Audi, BMW, Jaguar, Lexus, and Mercedes-Benz, is not offered at all in the Kia K900.

The driver can select among Normal, Sport, and Eco drive-mode settings, which remap the transmission’s shift points and also change the feel of the electric power steering. The sport setting made the powertrain slightly more responsive, without notably changing the K900’s road feel, and the Eco mode downgraded the performance without the wet-blanket effect such settings often induce on smaller cars. In the end, we left the K900 in Normal mode for the bulk of our test drive—as we suspect all but a handful of likely buyers will do.

The large Kia’s suspension is well-damped, but tuned more toward the comfort end of the scale than for roadholding. The big car corners flat, to its credit, and the combination of traction control and stability control made it well-behaved even on lumpy and cracked country roads. The traction control can be turned off, allowing the driver to spin the rear wheels—but why?

9

2015 Kia K900

Comfort & Quality

The 2015 Kia K900 is comfortable and quiet to ride in, with a spacious rear compartment and seemingly good build quality.

The 2015 Kia K900 is easy to enter and exit, with the 16-way power adjustment on the driver’s seat of the VIP model offering comfortable positions for two quite differently shaped adults during our day-long test drive. (Standard models have 12-way driver’s seat adjustment.) The cabin is fairly bright, with a full-length tinted glass sunroof standard on V-8 models.

The driver and front passenger accommodations are adequate but not expansive: A tall front-seat passenger found that even with the front seat moved as far back as it could go, the glove-box lid hit his knees when opened. The saving grace is that the Kia K900 provides a lot of space and a very comfortable rear seat for passengers riding in the back. The V-8 VIP model we tested included rear-seat climate control, adjustable heated individual seats with lower cushions that slides forward as the seat backs recline, and adjustable winged headrests. The VIP model also includes the ability to reposition the front passenger seat from a control console built into the wide fold-down armrest.

From the driver’s seat, the dashboard is logically laid out, and we’re particularly fond of Kia’s crisp, clear digital graphics, which are among the easiest to discern of any car we’ve tested. Kia also gets credit for providing large rotating knobs for things like audio volume to supplement both steering-wheel controls and the touchscreen/pointer-control knob combination. The Nappa leather feels good, and wood is used on top-end models both on the console and parts of the steering-wheel rim—though not on the dashboard itself.

Certain interior trim elements of the interior, however, speak “premium” rather than “luxury”. Large swathes of the dash are piano black plastic—a material that no longer signifies elegance, given its use in compact crossover utility vehicles among others—and the instrument-binnacle sides are made of plain black plastic rather than matte silver as on German models. A round analog clock in the center of the dash is particularly unfortunate, with molded plastic fins clearly visible through the plastic glass. In the trunk, the handle to lift up the cargo floor looks like chrome, but turns out to be lightweight chrome-surface plastic, rather than the metal found in some other luxury sedans. They’re little touches, but they’re important in cars costing $60,000 or more.

The K900 is quiet and comfortable on most road surfaces, courtesy of any number of noise-reduction measures that include underbody trays to reduce air noise (and improve aerodynamics) and laminated front and side windows. Again, it falls in the middle of the segment. It has neither the removed feel of the cushiest luxury sedans nor the sports-car handling of the best German models. It’s a comfortable car that toes the line without a hint of passion either for extravagant luxury or high-performance travel. And in that, perhaps it mirrors the taste of many middle-aged Americans who want comfort and quiet along with predictability.

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2015 Kia K900

Safety

The 2015 Kia K900 hasn't yet been rated for crash safety; it comes with a few advanced safety systems, but nothing distinctive.

Thus far, neither the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)  nor the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has issued crash-test safety ratings for the Kia K900. Company executives at the initial launch event said they expected the large luxury sedan to do well, but wouldn’t predict specific ratings from either organization.

The large Kia is fitted with eight airbags as standard, along with electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes, and a tire-pressure warning system, all now essentially standard equipment on any new car.

The K900 comes with several electronic safety systems, including optional adaptive cruise control and an advance collision warning system with last-minute automatic braking. It also offers blind-spot proximity warning, rear cross-traffic alert, and a surround-view system with parking guidance. But while the K900 offers a camera-based lane-departure warning system, it doesn’t add lane correction to steer the car back into its lane—a feature offered on a number of other high-end luxury sedans.

One safety feature we’d like to see more often is the head-up display (HUD), which projects numeric speed, lane-departure graphics, and routing information in full color up to a point on the windshield just below the driver’s field of vision. After a brief period of acclimatization, the HUD becomes a standard part of driving—and considerably reduces the time a driver has to spend looking down at the dash and refocusing eyes from 100 feet to 18 inches ahead and back.

9

2015 Kia K900

Features

The 2015 Kia K900 offers a comprehensive set of features at a reasonable price, but little that's distinctive in the segment.

Not all the details are available just yet on standard and optional features found in the various models of the 2015 Kia K900. At the initial media drive event, Kia had only the highest-spec version, the V-8-engineed VIP model, and the company said it would provide more complete details closer to the time the various models arrive at dealers—with the V-8 models coming first by the end of March 2014.

The lineup includes a base model with a 311-horsepower 3.8-liter V-6 engine, a V-6 Premium trim level above it, and then the 420-hp V-8 model, with a V-8 VIP Package as the very top model in the range—and the only one to be priced so far, with an MSRP of $65,500. There’s also a V-6 Technology Package that includes some of the higher-trim features as well.

All models have a mix of luxury and technology standard features. The technology ranges from LED headlights with 4 LEDs per beam on each side to powered and heated rear-view mirrors with automatic dimming and the indicators for the car’s blind-spot monitors. One nice feature is a credit-card-size proximity key that can be kept in a wallet, considerably smaller than the usual bulky fob with multiple buttons on it.

All models have standard privacy shades on the door, rear-side, and rear windows, and a power trunklid. In the rear compartment—one of the K900’s strengths—the outboard seating positions have multi-stage heating built in, along with controls for rear-compartment ventilation and for the position of the front passenger’s seat.

The V-6 Premium and standard V-8 model shave a 12-way power adjustable driver’s seat with power lumbar support; the V-6 Premium and both V-8 models feature a lane-departure warning system. Adaptive cruise control is offered within the V-6 Technology Package, and as part of the V-8 VIP Package. All V-8 models have a full-length panoramic glass roof with a power retractable sunshade.

The top-of-the-line VIP Package, fitted to the V-8 cars offered for media testing during the launch drive, includes a driver’s seat with 16-way power adjustment, a power adjustable headrest, and a lower cushion extender (it will also be part of the V-6 Technology Package). In the rear, individually reclining seats with multi-stage heating and cooling include power lumbar supports and adjustable headrests. In the dash, a 12.3-inch thin-film touchscreen monitor replaces the standard 9.8-inch display fitted to standard K900 models.

6

2015 Kia K900

Fuel Economy

The 2015 Kia K900 gets about average fuel economy for V-6 and V-8 luxury sedans, but offers no hybrid or diesel option.

In its most luxurious form, the 2015 Kia K900 large four-door sedan with a 5.0-liter V-8 engine and an eight-speed automatic transmission receive a combined rating of 18 mpg (15 mpg city, 23 mpg highway). While we haven’t yet test-driven a K900 fitted with the smaller 3.8-liter V-6 and the same eight-speed automatic, it receives a higher combined rating of 21 mpg (18 mpg city, 27 mpg highway).

Those fuel-efficiency numbers aren’t bad for a large four-door sedan, but they’re far from spectacular. Kia has neither hybrid nor diesel models of the K900—unlike Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz, each of which offers one or the other on its mid-size and large luxury sedans.

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July 13, 2017
2015 Kia K900 4-Door Sedan Luxury

So far so good

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Just purchased a used K900 at a deep discount. Extreme value for what you get. Have VIP Package and so far love the car. My initial complaint would be the ride. I do love the silkiness of the ride but at times... + More »
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November 11, 2015
2015 Kia K900 4-Door Sedan Premium

Outstanding car for the price

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I really love my new Kia K900. It is really really comfortable and well thought out. I'm a previous Porsche owner and had considered the Turbo Panamera but when evaluating the two price and style won out... + More »
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September 1, 2015
2015 Kia K900 4-Door Sedan Premium

Not ready for prime-time; Worst luxury car ever made! You get what you pay for with Kia.

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I have had the car for 30 days and it has been in for the AC 3 times and the LED headlight assembly died on my home one night. The headlight and windshield wiper's are not able to be seen or found in the dark... + More »
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