And no, those two things are not mutually exclusive.
The big K900 sedan is the most opulent car Kia has ever built. It’s essentially an Americanized version of the Kia Quoris sold elsewhere in the world and a platform-mate to the similarly ambitious Hyundai Equus built by the parent company. The K900 is the only Kia not to have a proper name, allegedly because wealthy Americans respond better to alphanumerics than actual names. And it is significant both in terms of what it is — a big step up in comfort and gravitas from the near-luxury Cadenza sedan, which itself was considered ambitious when it was introduced last year — and what it represents: a stake in the ground in the true luxury car world.
Why is lowly Kia selling a luxury car in the first place? According to Kia, the price gap between full-size luxury sedans (such as the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, BMW 7-Series, and Audi A8) and their mid-size siblings (E-Class, 5-Series, A6) has grown since the recession. That has made room for Kia to sneak in a larger luxury sedan priced like the mid-sizers. That said, Kia will not pitch the K900 directly against the S-Class, 7-Series and others; rather, Kia reinforces the K900’s position as a ‘tweener that occupies the space between the mid-size and full-size segments without boasting superiority within either.
So is the K900 the real deal? Yes…mostly. Like nearly every other big boy luxury car, the K900 has a choice of V-6 or V-8 engines. It has rear-wheel drive. It has a huge rear seat. And most importantly, it has heaps of luxury items. Even the base K900 V-6 comes standard with adaptive headlights, a power trunk, leather seats and dash, heated/ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, a 17-speaker 900-watt Lexicon sound system, and front/rear parking cameras. Options for the V-6 model include a heated steering wheel, panoramic sunroof, blind spot monitor, rear cross traffic alert, radar cruise control and real wood trim.
Step up to the V-8 model and all of the above comes standard, along with LED headlamps and 19-inch wheels. Our test cars were all top-of-the-line V-8 models equipped with the VIP package, which adds a color heads-up display, a 12.3-inch TFT instrument screen in place of the standard gauges, and ventilated, reclining rear seats. While these cars are certainly stacked, some features you found on its competitors, like massaging seats, rear seat entertainment systems, and lane keeping assist, for example, are not available at all. (The Equus even offers a right rear executive seat package and a fridge.)
The K900 V-8 models will be the first to arrive this spring. Blessed with 420 hp at 6,400 rpm and 376 lb-ft of torque at 5,000 rpm, the Tau 5.0-liter is a strong mill: as we bombed along the picturesque highways north of Santa Barbara, the barely audible engine hardly broke a sweat, despite having 4,550 pounds plus the weight of two well-fed automotive journalists to contend with. The eight-speed automatic transmission shifts imperceptibly and has manual, sport and eco shift modes. A few months after launch, a 311-hp, 3.8-liter V-6 model with 293 lb-ft of torque and about 275 fewer pounds to move around will arrive. That model will certainly not be as quick as the meaty V-8-powered version, but nor will be it as thirsty. (The V-8 model is rated at 15 mpg city / 23 mph highway, while the V-6 comes in at 18/27.)
We suspect that most luxury car customers will find the K900’s handling dynamics more than acceptable. The steering is direct and rather quick, yet also devoid of feedback, prompting constant course corrections in the windier parts of our tour, The brake pedal, on the other hand, delivers surprisingly good feel and linear response, facilitating limo-like stops befitting its limo-like proclivities. Overall, the K900 exhibits a Teutonic heft that never lets you forget that you that you’re piloting a two-and-a-quarter-ton, low-flying luxury saloon. And that’s a good thing.
Perhaps the best dynamic quality is its utter serenity at speed. Despite our tester car’s low-profile, 19-inch tires, harsh impacts were virtually obliterated, imparting a ride quality that’s as creamy as that of the Lexus LS. Wind noise is non-existent up to about 85 mph. Spend some time in the heated, ventilated rear seat with your legs crossed and head nestled into the adjustable-wing headrest, staring up through the full length sunroof, and suddenly the K900 makes all kinds of sense. This is the “town car” Lincoln wishes it could make.
If there’s anything overtly missing from the K900, it is any sense of specialness. The exterior appearance is a large-print version of the Cadenza, with a bit more front-end length to reflect its rear-drive layout, and a limo-sized rear door. It’s handsome enough, and the details are quite lovely, but the K900 just isn’t particularly distinct next to, say, the slinky S-Class or the glitzy Jaguar XJ. Even the 19-inch chrome rims seem unremarkable.
Same story inside. The K900’s tall, credenza-like dashboard contains several banks of buttons and a large, 9.2-inch info screen controlled by a console-mounted puck that looks and functions just like BMW’s iDrive. LED lights provide sexy nighttime ambience, yet next to its competitors, nothing about the K900’s cabin looks or feels particularly special. There is an overreliance on piano black trim, and hard plastics cover the transmission tunnel and door panels from knee-level to the floor.
The V-6 versions of the K900 will start around $50,000, while a V-8 edition begins at $60,400; Kia says the loaded VIP examples we drove will be priced at $66,400, right about where a nicely equipped BMW 550i comes in and a damn bargain compared to a comparably equipped 7-Series.
That said, bargain hunting remains a bit de classe for luxury car buyers, and for its part, Kia seems to have no illusions about the K900 snatching too many S-Class buyers from Mercedes’ warm embrace, predicting that a large part of its initial sales will come from Kia loyalists (though we could see it stealing some sales from the Lexus LS, too). Like an Olympic diver executing the perfect swan dive, Kia is entering the luxury car pool making nary a splash. But if Kia adds some zing to the K900 in future generations, it could change the sport the same way it has with other models.