2015 Kia K900

NEWPORT COAST, Calif. — Escaping the mass market and still offering an exceptional value sounds like daunting task. Mixing luxury and value in an arena that houses basics is a challenge that could take years to overcome. These are the things facing Kia as they want to entice new customers to their showrooms; new customers that never thought, heard or cared about Kia.

It’s like J.C. Penney’s verses Neiman Marcus. Picture this — what if Penney’s offered Hermes lookalike scarves at a less expensive reasonable price. Do those Neiman Marcus customers ever really go to Penney’s just to save a few bucks?

The Japanese attacked the problem of mass market verses luxury by creating new brands for their upscale vehicles. People who never thought about Nissan, Toyota or Honda discovered new brands like Infiniti and Lexus and Acura with upscale luxury vehicles that kept them out of mass market showrooms.

How many upscale buyers know that Volkswagen and Audi come from the same parentage? Would they go to a VW store to find an Audi? It’s a hell of a question and a huge question mark for Kia.

Potential marketing problems aside Kia’s 2015 K900 is one heck of a good car, designed and loaded with luxury that is attractive, useful and filled with worthwhile performance that you can enjoy at a value laden price. And while BMW 7 Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class buyers may never find their way into a Kia showroom the K900 is a luxury car easily comparable to a number of German and Japanese luxo-sedans.

The K900’s may not have the panache but they’ve got the goods; and the K900 now serves as Kia’s flagship car.

It's a 420-horsepower V8-powered, rear-wheel-drive sedan. (A 3.8-liter V6 version is coming later in the year.) Its 119.9-inch wheelbase compares favorably with those big Benzes and Bimmers. Oh, and it will retail for $66,400, about $20,000 less than the competitors.

Inside, the V8 VIP trim is chocked full of high-tech and upscale amenities: Nappa leather, heated steering wheel, a 12-way power driver's seat, a 17-speaker, 900-watt Lexicon surround-sound audio system, a 9.2-inch color touchscreen and Kia's UVO telematics system are only the tip of the features iceberg. Among the other available upgrades is the dual-zone reclining heated/cooled rear seat.

It sports Kia’s signature grille, a sweeping 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 has LED adaptive headlights as well as LED taillights. The only normal illuminative bulbs were the backup lights. The power trunk is standard, as are 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. As noted Kia brought the 420 horsepower, 5.0-liter V8 engine with 376 pound-feet of torque mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission that was developed in-house.

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 car 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 that worked well.

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. In a departure from 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. Although the 19-inch wheels helped, the suspension should be just a tad stiffer in the sense of spring and/or shock 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.

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 leather and ambient interior lighting was standard across the model line. Wood trim is either walnut or poplar. It’s wonderfully quiet too.

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 that was augmented by a subwoofer.

The 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, it checks all the boxes and it is even more engaging than some of its competitors. But the question remains, can the Korean automaker get non-Neiman Marcus luxury consumers to consider this car. Advertising and marketing could be the key to that effort.

— Ted Biederman and Frank Washington