Say “Kia” and “$66,000 car” in the same sentence and people look at you like you’ve got three heads. Kias are cheap cars, right? Well, the 2015 Kia K900 is, in fact a Kia, and does carry a $66,000 price tag. It’s a modern take on what the 1990 Lexus LS400 offered when it was introduced.
Let’s take a look at where Kia was: Almost 20 years ago, I formed my opinion of Kia when I drove the original Sportage, literally one of the worst cars I’ve ever driven, before or since. And I owned a Vega. Years passed and Kias came and went and frankly, never improved all that much. The 10 year powertrain warranty arrived in 2000, along with Hyundai’s, and the assumption was that the cars were getting better, but every single one was a disappointment.
The Sedona minivan, which arrived here in 2002 was contender against the Toyota Sienna and the Honda Odyssey, but was built on a six-year-old platform and featured horrid gas mileage thanks to the fact that it weighed a comedic 800 pounds more than the competitive Sienna.
So when you talk about Kia products, a lot of Americans still have that in mind. They’re the same people who dismiss Chevrolets because of the bad experience their grandfather had buying a Citation in 1981. Time has passed. Things are different now.
The radical shift happened in 2010 when the third generation Sportage appeared. What was once the single worst automobile in the American market was a crossover SUV almost beyond reproach. The next year, the third generation Optima showed up. What used to be simply a cheap — not particularly good — alternative to the Honda Accord appeared as a serious competitor, with better design, better fuel mileage and a better interior layout.
The culmination of the last 20 years of advancement is the 2015 Kia K900, a 5.0-liter V-8-powered luxury car that might not take on Mercedes-Benz, but certainly can hold its own with Lexus and Infiniti, at a price that Americans with half-decent, white-collar jobs might be able to purchase.
If you’re on the fence about whether Kia can turn out a luxury car, drive one simply for the engine alone. It’s the car’s best attribute. There are no tricks or gimmicks. It’s a straight-ahead, 5.0-liter, 32-valve, normally aspirated V-8 that manages 420hp and 376-lb.ft. of torque. The K900 is heavy, though, at almost 4,700 pounds, putting it 500 pounds heavier than the LS 460. Be that as it may, the K900 feels plenty fast, and at least 50 percent of the added bulk has to be in sound deadening alone, because it’s as quiet as any luxury car we’ve driven, including the Mercedes-Benz S550.
Like the engine, the eight-speed automatic transmission also comes directly from Hyundai, and the shifts are nearly imperceptible. Every time I drive a real automatic transmission now, I thank the engineers at the respective manufacturer for not trying to foist off a CVT as a viable alternative.
On paper, you might be forgiven for wondering why the K900 exists, though, especially when the Kia Cadenza offers so much at $20,000 less. What you don’t see in the photos is how massive the K900 rear seat is. I took a photo of the rear door open to show how long it is. It’s got to be as much sheet metal as the long-wheelbase version of the Lincoln Town Car.
It’s also a mistake to think the Kia K900 is the same car as the Hyundai Genesis. It’s probably aimed at the same customer, but the Kia K900 is .4 inches wider, four inches longer, has a wheelbase an inch and a half longer, and has a slightly wider track in the front and rear. There isn’t a single dimension that the Kia shares with the Genesis.
The photos also don’t show the K900’s supple ride. This isn’t a sports sedan. There’s no attempt to make this handle like a BMW. We’ve been hoodwinked into thinking that how fast a car can run around the track at Willow Springs is the only measure of a car’s success. In exchange for track-oriented handling, the Kia K900 returns the kind of ride quality that has ride that has systematically been engineered out of many luxury automobiles. The K900 offers a better luxury car ride than the current Bentley Flying Spur. There, I said it.
The K900 features a ton of standard equipment including 19-inch chrome wheels with the coolest center caps in production today, a huge panoramic sunroof, rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitoring and lane-departure warning systems, a heated leather-and-wood steering wheel and enough LEDs to illuminate it from space.
I drove a K900 equipped with the VIP Package. It’s $6,600, which is more than I’ve spent on my last two cars combined. It adds a lot of nice technology, though, including the Thin Film Transfer LCD instruments — sort of a virtual dashboard — Advanced Smart Cruise Control, cameras that offer a surrounding view of the car from on high and power closing rear doors.
All of the Kia K900’s positive attributes far outweigh the few negatives, but they’re worth mentioning. The biggest issue is rear-drive. A large number of people in the northern reaches have been brainwashed to think that all-wheel drive is as mandatory as a pair of fuzzy Uggs. It’s not. The K900 has an arsenal of traction and stability control equipment that will get you through the winter, provided you invest in a set of snow tires.
The second consideration is design. Under the direction of Peter Schreyer — the guy who designed the original TT for Audi — Kia has turned out a truly attractive automobile, that it falls one yard short of a touchdown. The LED headlights look like they were designed in Minecraft, and the bogus vents on the fenders came straight out of the accessory aisle at AutoZone.
If you can look past the few design inconsistencies and either live where it’s warm, or aren’t chicken to pilot a rear drive car in the winter, the K900 resets the luxury car market the way the Lexus LS400 did when it showed up in 1990.
2015 Kia K900
Base Price: $59,500
Price as Tested: $66,400 (VIP Package – $6,000), including destination
Wildly luxurious for the price
Smooth eight-speed automatic
Weird LED headlamp design
Chintzy fender vents
Mandatory snow tires