Quick Take: 2015 KIA K900 – Making Believers Out Of Skeptics

2015 KIA K900

The 2015 KIA K900 is all about suspending disbelief. If you drove it without badges and then were told it was a KIA from South Korea, you likely wouldn’t believe it.

STATS Starting Retail Price As Tested Price HP / Lb-Ft
2015 KIA K900 $60,400 $66,400 420 / 376
EPA MPG As Tested MPG Curb Weight LBS
15 / 25 / 18 N/A 4,555

You might think it was any one of a number of foreign luxury cars, including the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, BMW 7-Series, Lexus LS, Jaguar XJ or even a Hyundai Equus. In fact, casual observers said it looked like a Lexus or Jaguar.

In fact, it is a sibling of Hyundai’s Equus flagship but with a distinctly different personality. The two companies are intertwined, with Hyundai owning about 38% of KIA. Both have come on audaciously in recent years, sending everything from economy cars all the way up to top-line luxury machines.

The 2015 KIA K900, following the KIA Cadenza, a nifty near-luxury car, now becomes KIA’s halo flagship. Like politicians in the heat of an election campaign, company leaders are downplaying expectations, saying they don’t expect huge sales. (Equus sales totaled just 3,578 in 2013).

K900 Interior

They’re looking for the aura of the 2015 KIA K900 to enhance the appeal of their other cars. They use words like “strengthen the brand.” So maybe the customer ogles the K900 and walks out with keys to an Optima or Forte.

The K900 is a fully realized luxury car in the modern idiom of high style, quality materials and workmanship, and exceptional performance. A professional livery driver in Southern California, where the 2015 KIA K900 had its national introduction, volunteered that he had driven most of the big luxury cars and said he preferred the K900 for its crisp handling and ride.

KIA’s leaders are banking on what they perceive as a willingness of buyers to abandon old notions of heritage and tradition in favor of something that has yet to earn a reputation.

As with other offerings from the South Korean manufacturers, the K900 overtakes competitors on value for the money. Its prices are tens of thousands of dollars less than comparably equipped competitors. Moreover, it comes with free routine servicing for three years along with a five-year, 60,000 mile full warranty and 10 years or 100,000 miles on the engine and transmission.

K900 Seating

Tested for this review was the top-of-the line 2015 KIA K900 with a 420 horsepower, 5.0-liter V8 engine that drives the rear wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift mode. Rear drive (often with all-wheel drive as an option) is a hallmark of modern large luxury cars. The K900 shares its engine and transmission with the Equus, though they are tuned slightly differently, but the K900’s suspension and steering are its own.

The test car had a base price of $60,400 and, with a so-called $6,000 VIP package of options, the bottom line sticker was $66,400. Obviously, only a small minority of people can afford a car with that sort of price tag, and those who can likely would gravitate toward cars with established reputations like Mercedes, Lexus and Audi. But you can pay up to $30,000 more for those cars.

Moreover, rich people in some ways actually are just like you and me. Some brag about shopping at Walmart and Target. Whether getting a bargain on a pair of jeans or running shoes carries over to a luxury car is an unanswered question.

K900 Center

But open minded buyers should be pleasantly surprised. The K900’s exterior styling has classic rear-drive luxury proportions and the interior, with hand rubbed leather upholstery and surfaces trimmed with polished wood, is as plush as any in a $100,000 competitor.

KIA has unabashedly copied some features from its role models. The door mounted window controls look as if they were plucked from a Mercedes, the shift lever could have been swiped from a BMW, the control knob for various functions is similar to what you’d find in an Audi, and the graphic digital instruments are very Jaguar-like.

There’s an old saying in the car biz that small cars should drive big and big cars should drive small. KIA took that to heart. The 2015 KIA K900 drives small with a feel more akin to that of a mid-size sport sedan than a cushy boulevard cruiser.

It turns quickly and confidently and cruises solidly in a straight line with only minimal steering corrections needed. It is a silent runner, with the interior ambiance of a padded cell or a burial chamber in a pyramid.

The 2015 KIA K900 makes believers out of skeptics.

Frank HeadshotWithout skipping a week, Frank A. Aukofer has written a motor vehicle review column since 1975. It is distributed to newspapers and web sites around the country. He spent the bulk of his career as a mainstream newspaper reporter and Washington bureau chief for the Milwaukee Journal. The column started as a sideline at the Journal and over the years spread to other newspapers and web sites. He is a member of the judging panel for the North American Car and Truck/Utility of the Year. Aukofer is the author of two books: “City with a Chance” (1968), a history of civil rights in Milwaukee, and “Never a Slow Day” (2009), an autobiography/memoir. With the late Vice Admiral William P. Lawrence, a decorated former Vietnam POW, Aukofer co-authored a Freedom Forum study of the military-media relationship called “America’s Team: the Odd Couple” (1995).