The Kia K900 is Kia’s first rear-wheel-drive luxury sedan brought to the North American market. Proven in the home market where it’s called K9 (like Audi A6, etc.) it comes here wearing the K900 alphanumeric moniker favored by most competitors. It isn’t twice as good as a Lexus 460 nor nearly on par with a Porsche 911 but it makes a compelling argument for room and gadgets–per-dollar.
The 2015 Kia K900 will be available with a 420-hp V8 engine and a 311-hp V6, though the V6 joins the lineup a few months after the V8. Every K900 comes with fully independent suspension, rear-wheel drive, 8-speed automatic transmission, leather upholstery and three-zone climate control. Derived from the same basic structure as Hyundai’s Equus flagship, the K900 is shorter than that car outside but roomier up front. We liken it to the relationship between Rolls-Royce and Bentley, where the Equus (Rolls) is the owner’s driven car and the Kia (Bentley) is driven by its owner.
Family resemblance is obvious, the K900 appearing for most intents and purposes a slightly larger Cadenza with the bulk of bodywork slid rearward a few inches. We find it handsome enough, though the only styling elements that really stand out are the 2×4 LED headlight arrays. Save the backup lights, every light on a K900 is LED.
Inside it’s all leather, wood and chrome highlighted black lacquer finishes. The carpet actually feels like one, the mats are thick, lower door pillars are not hard plastic and the scuff plates are illuminated. Room is abundant, generally more than a mid-size or standard-wheelbase luxury car, not quite as spacious as long-wheelbase luxury rides.
Kia heaps on loads of standard features as well, including their extensive warranty and things like heated rear seats that are $600-$800 options on pricier competitors. And there is one option package for the V8 model, not an endless a la carte page that can add 50 percent to the price at the check of a few boxes.
The K900 does not offer air suspension, adjustable ride firmness or other whiz-bang chassis electronics, instead relying on a capable, quiet, cruiser chassis. Other cars may ride better or handle better, or do both, but they’ll cost significantly more, a K900 V8 is $13,000 less than a Lexus LS460, $14,000 less than Jaguar XJ V6, $15,000 less than Audi A8 V6, $18,000 less than a six-cylinder BMW 740, and $33,000 less than a Mercedes-Benz S550.
We won’t directly compare a K900 to those cars but the room is similar, the luxury ambiance close. What you give up is a degree of refinement, anything from how quiet and smooth the seat adjuster or trunk closer is, to how well it absorbs a mid-corner bump diving into a corner. But if you don’t drive it like a hot-rod sports sedan, and don’t actually notice things like seat motor sounds, does it make any difference to you?
The Kia K900 comes across as a larger version of the Kia Cadenza with the weight shifted slightly aft on its wheels. Luxury cars are all about material between the front wheels and dashboard, and while the K900 has more of that than the Cadenza, the longer, sleeker front overhang doesn't have the bluntness of a Rolls-Royce or 7 Series. A rear side window dimension nearly twice the length of the front illustrates the priority here.
In profile the chrome lower door strip slopes down markedly in front mirroring the rear door angle at the other end. The front fender vent is actually a dummy, purely cosmetic, and the haunches remind of Infiniti's ex-G now Q50 sedan.
V8 models use chromed alloy 19-inch wheels, wider in back than front; V6 models skip the chrome on 18-inch wheels like-size all around. That and badging (and headlights) are the main exterior distinctions between V8 and V6.
Kia's family grille outline houses chrome lattice-work, the single lower grille aperture more luxury car than sports sedan. LED running and fog lights come on all models, and the V8 gets distinctive LED headlights; only the back-up light bulbs are not LED.
A short decklid that powers open and closed from the driver's seat hides about 16 cubic feet of trunk space, more than an Audi A8, not as much as a Lexus LS 460. With trapezoidal exhaust outlets, tube and rectangular lighting elements and a modicum of chrome, anyone not reading badges may mistake the tail for a BMW, Lexus or maybe even a Hyundai Genesis.
Big chairs, cushy leather upholstery, soft-touch panels, suede headliner, plenty of wood and gloss-black with chrome accents, dense floor mats and a slew of features impart a luxury car ambiance. Overhead assist handles are leather wrapped, the pillars covered in materials that won't rattle vacant seat belt buckles and there is plenty of room.
Black upholstery generally goes with a more traditional wood finish, while the cream leather cars use a dark charcoal burled finish; the latter perhaps more contemporary but will show dirt much earlier. Both colors use a light-gray headliner and full-length moonroof for spaciousness, the latter with a genuine power shade rather than a semi-transparent screen or net.
With a driver's seat cushion that lengthens from the rear and power adjustments from tilt/telescope wheel to the headrests most people can find a proper, comfortable driving position. The wheel controls are logically arranged and easy to use, but the black lower trim section, especially on the walnut-trim cars, gives an awkward two-spoke appearance.
VIP cars use a TFT instrument cluster with clear, Volvo-like fonts on digital representations of analog displays. There's some needle ratcheting when they move quickly, and in dynamic drive mode they revert to big digital readouts with small bar graphs rotating clockwise around the speedometer and counterclockwise around the tachometer. It's a counter-intuitive arrangement for quick glances dynamic mode would imply.
The far left switch bank has blind spot, park sensors, traction off and trunk open/close all adjacent with some indicator lights on the switch and some in the dash. Beware you don't accidentally hit the wrong one dropping someone with luggage.
A 9.2-inch display handles all infotainment chores, not affected by polarized shades or sunlight washout; some found the full-color head-up display affected by polarizers but we did not have any issues with it. Below that are climate controls framing an analog clock, and basic find-fast audio controls. The 17-speaker, 900-watt Lexicon sound system covers all media including DVD audio and sounds very good, though we'd say Lexus 19-speaker 450-watt system is at least as capable.
To avoid a long reach to a touch-screen, a center console controller with seven hard keys runs the infotainment display. Once we remembered the tabs forward of the controller correspond to those on the bottom of the screen we got what we wanted out of it. Kia's UVO system with eServices (telematics including but not limited to auto 911 connection, curfew alert, geo fence and maintenance reminders) is standard but no situations arose where we needed it.
As the controller mimics Audi's MMI and BMW's iDrive, so does the stubby spring-loaded shifter. We found it no more or less frustrating than the others' and note the forward-upshift, backward-downshift motion since there are no steering wheel shifter buttons. Curiously, drive mode, parking brake and auto hold switches are in the shifter frame while snow mode is further back next to the camera switch.
Rear seats are quite comfortable, especially with the VIP pack's ventilated, power recline and winged headrests. Manual side and power rear shades are standard, as is rear climate control, and al the controls are in the center armrest. We'd call the proportions mid-way between a standard-wheelbase competitor from Lexus, Audi, or BMW and their long-wheelbase brothers and the S-Class, spacious enough for a 6-foot, 3-inch rider to recline in back behind a 6-foot navigator in front. The only thing that seems out of place is the black center armrest latch on the cream upholstery background.
Laminated side windows front and rear help make the K900 very quiet, and the rear cabin feels even quieter than the front. However, we have found road surface and tire choice make a much bigger difference than which luxury car you're in.
As the first to arrive, the V8 is so far our only experience with the Kia K900, but if you like the package and are considering the V6 you could do the engine comparison driving V6 and V8 versions of a Hyundai Genesis. All of our experience is based on K900 V8 VIP models.
The 5-liter V8 is near-silent until given the boot, offering up 420 horsepower with which to test the limits of traction. Slightly smoother than the V6, the V8's biggest advantage isn't the 109 extra horsepower, it's the torque that by 1500 rpm is already ahead of the V6's maximum output. Extra costs include the purchase premium and 3-4 mpg lower EPA ratings than the V6.
An 8-speed automatic is the sole transmission offered. It works well as a luxury conveyance but needs a good prod of the gas pedal to get into the meat of the engine's thrust. The dynamic driving mode lessens that need somewhat, but shifting doesn't feel as fast as the German triumvirate.
K900 is rear-wheel drive; there is no all-wheel drive available.
A V8 K900 is no slouch, able to echo its Smoky Blue color simply by defeating traction control and roasting the back tires. The suspension is tuned more for comfort than agility and the hydraulic-assist steering is direct with a bit more feel than many electric-assist arrangements, the entire package a nice drive that doesn't mind taking the winding road. Cruising down an interstate it's all quite serene.
If the winding road isn't favored it could be because of weight, the K900 V8 tipping in at more than 4500 pounds. At 52 percent on the front axle, the K900 V8 is reasonably well balanced, but only European cars with AMG or M or RS in their nameplates do well to make weight like that feel much lighter, and they all cost a ton more. There is no getting around the rear-wheel-drive K900 V8 weighs almost as much as an all-wheel-drive long-wheelbase Audi A8 or Mercedes-Benz S-Class, more than a V8 rear-wheel-drive BMW 7 Series and more than 300 pounds more than a long-wheelbase Lexus LS.
Where the K900 does not compare to some of its intended targets is in suspension adjustability, most competitors offering systems that allow a softer or firmer ride. The K900 does not use air suspension, active antiroll bars or torque-biasing differential, so while the others may go faster and ride better (or both), they feel more like a computer is piloting than the K900. One or two big awkward bumps brought more impact to the cabin than many competitors would.
There's a good view from any seat, the driver's augmented by a backup camera and front camera that remains on at low speed, blind-spot warning and adaptive headlights. Higher-trim models also have surround view camera, a full-color head-up display and adaptive cruise control with full-stop and a vibrating seatbelt warning if audible and visual warnings go unheeded.
Kia's first foray in the rear-drive V8 luxury market is a good effort: Spacious, comfortable, nicely finished, effortlessly propelled, feature-laden for the price. Toyota did it with Lexus, Nissan did it with Infiniti, Mercedes-Benz is doing it in reverse, and sister-brand Hyundai has already done it, so consider Kia's K900 a worthwhile addition to your shopping list.
G.R. Whale filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after his test drive of the 2015 Kia K900 V8 in Southern California.