Kia goes upmarket in a big way

AP News
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Posted: Sep 10, 2014 11:27 AM
Kia goes upmarket in a big way

The 2015 K900, the new flagship at Kia, is an attractive, large, luxury sedan with a quiet, comfortable ride, a boatload of standard features and a value price compared with luxury-brand competitors.

Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, of $60,400 makes the sizable K900 Kia's most expensive model by far.

But the story is what these dollars buy.

Standard features on the lone K900 model that's now on sale in the include a 420-horsepower V-8 that's more powerful than the V-8 in the Lexus LS 460.

There's also a modern, eight-speed automatic transmission, three drive modes, 19-inch wheels, soft, Nappa leather seat trim, three-zone, automatic climate control, navigation system and a 900-watt Lexicon Logic 7 surround sound audio with 17 speakers.

That's not all. There are standard front and rear cameras, front and rear parking sensors, panorama sunroof, genuine wood interior accents, leather-wrapped dashboard and door panels and power opening and closing trunk.

Plus, among other things, the K900 has standard heated and ventilated front seats and heated rear seats, heated steering wheel, power rear window sunshade, rain-sensing wipers, light-emitting diode (LED) headlights and fog lights, lane departure warning system, blind spot detection system, rear cross traffic alert and eight air bags.

And, the K900 comes with three years/37,500 miles of free, scheduled maintenance as well as Kia's industry-leading warranty coverage good for 10 years/100,000 miles on the powertrain and five years/60,000 miles limited vehicle coverage.

As hard as it may be to believe, Kia's K900 is a nearly 17-foot-long, rear-wheel drive four door meant to compete with the big, rear-drive sedans from Lexus, Mercedes and Audi.

Savvy shoppers who aren't wedded to a Lexus badge or Mercedes star on their car can quickly calculate how much money they can save — and how many amenities they get — by opting for the K900 instead of the usual luxury cars.

For example, the 2014 Lexus LS 460 with 368-horsepower V-8 has a starting retail price of $73,065. But heated and cooled front seats, power opening and close trunk, LED headlights, heated steering wheel, blind spot monitor and 19-inch wheels are options.

Meantime, the 2014 Mercedes-Benz S550 with 449-horsepower, bi-turbo V-8 has a starting retail price of $95,325, and the 2014 Audi A8 with 333-horsepower, supercharged six cylinder starts at $77,400.

Of course, because the K900 is new this calendar year, there are no reliability ratings yet.

But Lexus has racked up years of top reliability ratings for its flagship LS sedan. And there are a few features, such as all-wheel drive and rear-seat entertainment, that aren't offered in the K900.

Then again, the K900 can include nice, reclining rear seats — a feature not always found on other luxury sedans sold in the States.

Truth is, the K900, sold under other names, has been a limousine-like car in Kia's native and in other countries for a few years.

Owned by Hyundai, Kia based the K900 on the platform of the previous-generation Hyundai Genesis rear-drive sedan and uses the same engine and transmission that's in Hyundai's flagship sedan, the 2015 Equus. The Equus has a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $62,450.

But the Equus suspension, amenities and some materials are different from that in the K900. As an example, the Equus has an air suspension, while the K900 does not.

Kia officials are conservative in their expectations for the K900. In part, this is because not all Kia dealers have the car to sell.

So far in calendar 2014, the company reports 1,050 sales. This accounts for less than 1 percent of Kia's vehicle sales.

The K900 has a sleek side profile that belies the car's length. Jazzy wheels accented the test car nicely, and the front had a similarity to Kia's second-priciest car, the Cadenza sedan. About the only criticism is for the LED headlights that have an odd, four-cube light arrangement inside their housings.

Inside, the K900 feels spacious, particularly for its 45.9 inches of front seat legroom. In the back seat, legroom is measured at 38.2 inches, which is less than the 38.8 inches in the Equus and the 43 inches in the rear seat of the S550. But the K900's 40.2 inches of front-seat headroom is more than that in the A8.

The leather seat covering in the test K900 was soft to the touch, but the mashup of seams on the seats didn't convey the same richness that an Audi seat has.

The K900 large-sized display screen near the top of the dashboard was nicely integrated, however, and didn't look like an afterthought, the way these display screens do in some other luxury cars.

Redundant controls for ventilation and audio in the center of the dashboard ensured that even drivers unfamiliar with the K900 menu-controlled display screen could quickly operate the radio and air conditioning.

The 5-liter, double overhead cam V-8 has a larger displacement than the Lexus LS and Mercedes S-Class V-8s and delivered smooth power.

In leisurely driving, power came on steadily. For strong acceleration, a driver needed to jab the gas pedal to get the transmission to downshift a gear or two.

Torque peaks at 376 foot-pounds at 5,000 rpm, which is more than the 367 foot-pounds of the LS 260.

The K900's ride is on the soft side, so the car was a great highway cruiser, cushioning most road bumps.

The test car averaged 20 miles per gallon in combined city/highway travel, much of it in Eco mode.

The large, 19.8-gallon fuel tank cost just over $75 to fill at today's prices for premium gasoline.

Kia plans to add a V-6-powered K900 in the 2015 model year.