The most expensive Kia yet. | Kia’s power to surprise can claim victory once again.
Kia has always liked to talk about its ability to surprise. Its slogan, “The Power to Surprise” has been a thing to keep in mind when looking at nearly all the new vehicles they’ve launched in the past few years. Most people have associated the Kia nameplate with value-oriented cars for the everyman. Now that quality control doesn’t seem to be much of an issue (cue the images of Korean-built cars of the 1980s), people have welcomed Kia (and Hyundai, by extension) with open arms. They really started to attract positive attention and buzz once designer Peter Schreyer (of former Audi fame) came onboard. Design was made a priority, and sure enough, the strong sales figures spoke for themselves.
What Kia and Hyundai both needed to work on is changing the perception that most people had towards both brands. Being recognized for building the best of the best is a goal pretty much everybody in and out of the automotive industry strives for. Hyundai has enjoyed remarkable success with the high-end Genesis and Equus sedans. This time, it is Kia’s turn to take on the premium game. I picked up the keys to a Sterling Metallic Silver 2015 Kia K900 V8 Elite with all the bells and whistles.
Called the K9 back home in Korea, the K900 shares a good portion of its underpinnings with both the Genesis and Equus. The K900 features the trademark “Tiger Nose” grille and a great many other items that luxury cars should have. The K900 leads the way in terms of lighting – every single bulb that I could find is of the LED variety. The cool-white light output is a nice modern touch, and is in direct contrast with many of its competitors still stuck with old-school incandescent lighting.
While the K900 channels its familial lineage with the rest of the Kia lineup, some have brought up some points of contention. The rest of Kia’s lineup has done a pretty good job coming up with a unique style for themselves, but the K900 can’t help but look a little uninspired in a few places, inside and out. The front-end with its trademark Kia grille isn’t the issue here, but the rear end styling – the lighting configuration in particular – reminds me of the current Lexus LS flagship sedan.
The proportions are of a typical modern luxury car, as seen in the long rear door – thanks to the long wheelbase. The headlights are very eye-catching, with their multi-projector LED beams. Think of it as a modern interpretation of the third-generation Infiniti Q45’s “Gatling gun” style headlights. The 19” wheels (staggered fitment; 245-section up front and 275-section in the rear) feature a chrome finish but are fairly conservative in styling. These wheels hide larger front brake rotors on V8 models.
Inside, the K900 seriously impresses with a laundry list of features that one would not normally expect at this price point, let alone from the Kia nameplate. It became quickly apparent that the interior specification would be a top priority. Build quality is excellent, and the dark real wood finishes combined with the soft-touch leather leave a great first impression. Full Nappa leather surfaces pretty much everywhere, and space to spare in every direction. Power adjustments for every seat in every direction, all of which can also be heated or cooled. The K900 is the kind of car for the discerning owner who spends a lot of time in the right rear seat. If you’re fortunate enough to be able to hire a driver for your daily grind, the K900 makes a good case for itself. From that seat, should you feel it ever getting in your way, you’re able to adjust the front passenger seat by way of a comprehensive controller that doubles as the rear centre armrest. Unfortunately, you’re unable to make any adjustments if there is somebody sitting in said front passenger seat (we tried). The rear seat headrests can fan out – just like in business class on an airplane.
Plush accommodations aside, you also get fancy toys like the “power pull-in doors”. All you need to do is to gently latch the door onto its catch, and the K900 will quietly pull the door fully closed for you – very discreet. The 17-speaker Lexicon audio system sounds great and is well tuned for all types of music or easy listening. There’s the usual inclusion of satellite navigation, but the K900 gets a large 12.3” screen that acts as the centre of all inputs and outputs to and from the car. Controlling it is a now-commonplace rotary dial with several quick-access buttons. Fun fact: we make it a point to clear debris off the floormats when test cars get returned, so it was a nice surprise to find some of the thickest mats I’ve seen around – they’re about an inch thick and super plush.
The instrument cluster builds on the setup seen in the Cadenza by going all-digital – the whole cluster is one big LCD screen. The default set of gauges is fairly traditional – easy to read with lots of information (including navigation) between the large speedometer and tachometer. When you enable the Sport mode down by the gear selector, the whole cluster changes. I found this layout a little less intuitive than the traditional gauge layout. The upside is that this is all virtual, so you’ve got the choice. If you don’t feel like looking down at the gauges, the heads-up display will take care of you.
Under the hood lives a choice of two engines. A 3.8L V6 and a 5.0L V8 – both shared with the Hyundai Genesis and Equus. My tester came with the 5.0L V8, good for a hearty 420 horsepower and 376 lb-ft of torque. Both engines are mated to an 8-speed automatic with power being sent to the rear wheels. The V8 moves the K900 with good authority and makes good V8 sounds. The transmission lags a little behind ZF’s excellent 8-speed automatic – upshifts aren’t as fast or as crisp, and downshifts are not rev-matched. For the comfort-oriented driver (or passenger), the unobtrusiveness of this transmission will be the most important item.
Naturally, with so many features and a large V8 engine, I went into this week expecting generous fuel consumption, and I was mostly right. Kia rates the K900 at 15.7L/100km in the city and 10.3L/100km on the highway. Moving all that weight around takes a lot of power. I was expecting worse, but thankfully I managed to squeeze out an average of 13.0L/100km in mixed driving. The Lexus LS, by comparison, is rated at 8.2L/100km on the highway.
Pricing has always been a talking point with cars that hail from our friends in South Korea. The value quotient is important as ever, but the K900 looks at things a little differently than a base-model Kia Rio would. The K900 V8 Elite is priced at $69,995 and comes fully loaded – no additional options are available. The aforementioned Lexus LS starts at over $84,000, and that’s before you check some of those option boxes. The BMW 7-Series starts at $99,800. It’s almost more prudent to compare to the midrange Lexus GS and BMW 535i. Both of these are not only smaller inside and out, but lack the premium feel you can only feel with a V8 under the hood. How about some sticker shock: Adding options to the four-cylinder 528i xDrive actually makes it more expensive than the K900. Kia really does promote its value-added image, but as far as features and gadgets go, the K900 is simply on another level.
What I liked about the K900 is that it doesn’t make any apologies for what it is, and what it isn’t. Pretty much all of its competitors – namely Lexus, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz – all offer “Sport” packages on their flagship luxury barges that can dramatically alter the way the car looks, in addition to the way they drive. It is generally accepted in the enthusiast’s circle that most 5000lb. luxury sedans simply cannot and should not pursue the sporting angle. It’s also generally accepted that these sedans are purchased with the goal of maximum comfort and amenities in mind.
I’ve mentioned a few times how conservative the K900 looks and feels – this is the nod toward the traditional luxury market. In the K900’s case, this is a good thing. The Lexus LS in 1990 shook up the market – old players were resting on their laurels and were taken by surprise by the new kid on the block. It almost feels like the K900 is trying to channel some of that “surprising new kid” image of nearly twenty-five years ago. The difference here is that the premium full-size luxury market is so saturated and competitive nowadays.
The K900, save for the “Sport” mode, focuses only on comfort, especially for the right-rear occupant. When you’re being chauffeured around, you do not need or want a “sporting” configuration to remove the feel of luxury on your way to the country club. Rolling up to the parking lot full of ultra-premium German and Japanese luxury cars would be a little interesting. In places like that, the fact that you paid “less” doesn’t really matter. It’s the fact that you’ve gotten way more for the money that counts. If your colleagues can get over the badge and have a closer look, Kia’s power to surprise can claim victory once again.