Archive | February, 2014

2015 Kia K900

27 Feb

An elegant example of the difference between luxury and prestige.

The new car market is awash with mouth-watering vehicles conceived to pamper your person, enhance perceptions of your status, and make you happy every time you settle in behind the wheel. Maybe make you happy even when you merely look out the window, and see that seductive ride of yours sitting there, poised, waiting, provoking covetous stares from passersby.

There are two factors at play here: luxury and prestige. Luxury is readily achievable in an automobile, given sufficient financial resources and a competent design team. Prestige, however, is far more elusive.

Which brings me to the K900, a new rear-drive sedan designed to elevate Kia to previously uncharted territory: the realm of luxury, in fact. It’s big, it’s roomy, it’s posh, it’s handsome. And like other Kias, in the template established by parent company Hyundai.

That’s where it gets tricky. The K900 certainly has essentially all the attributes that make for luxurious motoring. But it lacks the pedigree that distinguishes the luxo establishment. So what will that mean? Let’s come back to that question a little later.

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The Car

Like other Kia vehicles, the K900 shares a lot of its structure and drivetrain with a corresponding Hyundai, in this case the Hyundai Genesis, as well elements from the bigger Equus, Hyundai’s big executive sedan.

The exterior design comes across as cautiously contemporary, a slippery shape with raked back windshield and fast rear window. Its most distinctive element, at least to my eye, is Kia’s so-called Tiger Nose grille (squint as I might, I can’t see anything feline in this design) and the 16-element LED lighting array at the front. LEDs have become pretty common as design enhancements, thanks to Audi, but the K900’s lamps look spiffy, particularly at night. And the headlamps angle up to 12 degrees in the direction of a turn.

Inside, the K900 has everything you’d expect in a $65,000 luxury car—17-speaker orchestral audio; attractive instrumentation; a vase parnoramic moon roof; a very cool color head up display that includes speedometer, nav info, cruise setting, and blind spot warning; high quality materials including heated and cooled Nappa leather seats (power reclinable in the rear, as well as up front); up to the minute telematics including navigation with a 9.2-inch screen.

On the Road

In the luxury tournament, where Kia hopes the K900 will become a player, the dynamic standards are defined by cars developed on and for the toughest crucible on earth—the German autobahn system. On superhighways that still include stretches where top speed is at the discretion of the driver, the car must possess the reflexes of a world class boxer, surgically precise steering, ample power, and potent brakes.

Those qualities still distinguish the big sedans of Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz, but assessed by those standards I have to say the K900 measures up as a pleasant surprise. The suspension tuning hits the sweet spot where firm and smooth co-exist comfortably, and the combination of solid chassis and decisive roll stiffness keep body motions to a minimum during quick transitions.

The K900 executes rapid direction changes with very little reluctance and minimal rock ’n roll. Quick maneuvers—accident avoidance, for example—would be even more decisive if the electric power steering was capable of providing a little more information about where the front wheels are pointing. The driver will likely be making little adjustments after the initial turn.

But that lament applies to many of the new electric steering systems in varying degrees, and in any case the K900’s tiller is a little more tactile than the system in the Hyundai Equus, its mechanical cousin, and the same can be said for its dynamics.

Power, delivered in the test car by a 5.0-liter V8 (a V6 model will be offered later), rates as abundant: 420 horsepower is far from unusual in this class of car—all the Germans offer much more potent engine options. But it propels the K900 with gratifying vigor, and I’d bet it’ll be more than sufficient for most owners. Makes stimulating power noises at full throttle, too. The eight-speed automatic transmission is smooth, and EPA fuel economy ratings competitive at 15 mpg city, 23 highway, though not what anyone would call outstanding.

I mentioned power noises, which brings me to a K900 dynamic virtue that may be best-in-class: noise. As in absence of. This is an exceptionally quiet car, as befits a luxury sedan.

The Bottom Line

I mentioned a $65,500 pricetag for the K900 V8. That’s not exactly inexpensive, even by the standards of some of the Germans Kia hopes to rival. But that’s the price for the car I drove at Kia’s intro event, V8 VIP, the K900 model that will be the first to appear in Kia showrooms. The basic K900, which will be available a in a few months, will be priced from about $50,000.

The V8 VIP is the top of the line, loaded with just about every feature in the order book, and as such rates as a very tempting value.

Tempting, that is, unless you want the intangible that goes with one of the Teutonic lords of the autobahn: Prestige.

That takes time, and while the K900 has everything that makes luxury luxurious, prestige will have to be patient.

—Tony Swan

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