By Frank S. Washington
NEWPORT COAST, Calif., – Even though its sales were down four percent last year, Kia has been wildly successful in this market. Undeterred by a bit of a slide in sales; the Korean automaker continues its long term strategy in the U.S. market which can be summed up in one word – growth.
During the last three years the automaker has watched the luxury market fragment. Traditional luxury brands moving down market and many main stream brands moving up market has opened a gap in Kia’s view and the automaker brought us to the West Coast to test drive its latest offering to fill the hole that it says has opened up in the luxury market.
The question for Kia is will Americans pay $66,400 for the 2015 Kia K900 luxury sedan that is new to the market segment and, what’s more, is the product of brand that has just recently shed its image as the manufacturer of inexpensive automobiles.
In a phrase, the K900 offers enough to entice independent minded consumers to take a look when it goes on sale this spring. Of course, Kia brought the top of the line K900 VIP. But first let’s look at how the K900 looked. With a wheel-base of almost 120-inches, it was a sizable car with 19-inch wheels.
It sported Kia’s signature grille, it had a swept greenhouse, understated cut lines along the doors, high rear deck and the sheet metal was taunt. The car had the same hereditary silhouette that adorns the Kia Optima and the recently introduced Kia Cadenza.
And in Kia’s tradition of offering more for less, the K900 had LED adaptive headlights as well as LED taillights. The only normal illuminative bulbs were the backup lights. The power trunk was standard, so was the heated automatic dimming sideview mirrors. Kia designers also sweated the small stuff like the chrome tipped dual exhaust mimicking the shape of the taillights.
The car’s adaptive cruise control could bring it to halt and the four-caliper brakes could and did stop the car quickly.
But on any automobile in the luxury realm it is all about what’s under the hood. Kia brought the V8 powered K900 here. Producing 420 horsepower, the 5.0 liter engine made 376 pound-feet of torque and it was mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission that was developed in-house. A 3.8-liter V6 will be available later this year.
The V8 was impressive. However, it did work hard getting up and over some of the hills. But during the driver change we had neglected to take it out of sport mode which made the steering heavier and moved the shift points up the rev band. In other words, the car held gears longer. Once we put it back in normal mode the K900 moved through the hills here without effort as a 400 plus horsepower luxury sedan should. There was also an ECO mode that moved the shift points down the rev band but we didn’t bother with that.
The engine was quiet, gear selection was buttery smooth and acceleration was effortless. Through the twist and turns of the mountainous roads here, the K900’s chassis remained stiff no doubt because of the use of high and ultra-high strength steel. The norm, the car featured a five-link suspension fore and aft which kept it level in all forms of driving.
About the only thing Kia should tweak on the K900 is that suspension. It should be just a tad stiffer in the sense of spring and or shock absorber compression to give the car a more substantive feel. Basically, sedans in this class have a more solid ride not because they weigh more than the K900’s 4,555 lbs. but because the suspension gives them an air of solidity.
Still, as an automobile stylist said years ago, luxury is conveyed in the interior of a vehicle and in this area the K900 measured up nicely as well. Though a leather-wrapped steering wheel is standard, our test vehicle had a heated wood veneer steering wheel. The interior was swathed in white Napa leather and ambient interior lighting was standard across the model line. Wood trim is either walnut or poplar.
Kia even upgraded the audio system on the K900. The 900 watt Lexicon system featured 17 speakers in 16 locations. It had a 12 channel amp and the rich surround sound clarity was augmented by a subwoofer.
A 12-way driver’s seat is standard but a 16-way power seat featuring power headrests and cushion extender will be available when the car goes on sale. Of course, the front seats were heated and cooled. The VIP package included rear climate controls, heated and cooled rear seats with power recline and lumbar support and head rest adjustability.
The 2015 Kia K900 is sound luxury sedan. The question is can the Korean automaker get luxury car buyers to consider this car. The advertising and marketing effort will have to be rifle shot accurate.
Frank S. Washington is editor of AboutThatCar.com.