Does Kia have an image problem? If so, that may be evident in sales of the South Korean car company’s new K900 — or in the lack of sales.
Kia is well known as a manufacturer of high-quality affordable vehicles. Offering more bang for the buck — if less bling — Kia’s Soul, Sportage, Sorento and Sedona are attractive, dependable sedans, minivans and sport utility vehicles whose prices compare favorably with Japanese equivalents and very favorably with similar European cars.
The K900 is Kia’s attempt at luxury, and the new model does a very convincing job of combining good looks and smart ergonomics with an elegant interior and a powerfully sporty engine. The question is, does anyone expect all that in a Kia?
The car is driven by a 3.3-liter twin-turbo V-6 engine — the same engine that powers Kia’s Stinger GT sports car. It makes 365 horsepower and 376 pound-feet of torque through an eight-speed, all-wheel-drive transmission. Driving mode selections sharpen or slacken the suspension and deliver more or less power to the wheels.
That’s a lot of power — enough to get this big car from zero to 60 mph in a reported 5 seconds — and the K900 feels strong and sure-footed around town and on the highway. Under normal driving conditions, this sedan feels like a Genesis G80, which uses almost the same platform, or even a Mercedes-Benz E Class — solid, smooth and even stately.
In Sport mode, though, when treated like a sports sedan, comparisons start to fail. The suspension and steering are not quite sharp enough to handle aggressive driving, and that sweet-sounding twin-turbo engine suffers from noticeable torque lag. Stomping on the gas is like stepping into a bowl of oatmeal — which then explodes. The delay is irritating, and the sudden acceleration is unnerving.
With time, perhaps, a driver could get used to that. The driver will immediately embrace the adaptive cruise control or other safety features, such as lane-keeping assist and a very cool system that projects a rear-view image onto the dashboard when the turn signals are engaged.
The steering assist is among the best I’ve encountered, easily the equal of those in far more expensive automobiles.
The interior, too, is first class. The high-definition touch-screen display — 7-inch standard, with 12.3-inch optional — is easy to read and easy to use. The sumptuous seats, which are both heated and ventilated, are comfortable, highly adjustable and even narrow automatically when Sport mode is selected. The HVAC system is silent and very effective. The use of top-grade glass keeps almost all wind and tire noise outside the cabin, which can thus be more pleasantly filled with music from the Lexicon surround-sound speaker system. Freeway driving is a dream.
Parking is also made very simple by a highly detailed overhead Surround View Monitor view that appears when the reverse gear is selected. Using the 12 cameras and sensors designed to detect other vehicles on the road and judge distance from nearby obstacles, this image makes it possible to slide effortlessly into a tight parking space without having to get out of the car to be sure it isn’t nudging into a red zone or a driveway. I, who cannot parallel-park well, loved this feature.
The cabin is clad in burnished wood and polished aluminum. Like many high-end European cars, it even features an analog clock in the center of its dashboard. Like most modern vehicles too, it offers a panoply of device outlets and can be connected to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There’s a wireless phone charger between the front seats.
Unlike most cars, though, the rear seating area features more amenities than the front — a reflection, perhaps, of Kia’s desire to sell K900s in China, where the owner of a luxury car often prefers being driven by a chauffeur. Evidence: One option package includes a “front seat chauffeur seat switch,” which slides the driver’s perch all the way forward to maximize legroom in the rear. The chauffeur’s comfort is incidental.
These rear seats are wide and spacious, face their own climate control switches and offer their own knobs and buttons to make music and entertainment selections. They are heated, and can be had with the ventilated option. (The VIP package, a $4,000 option, includes most of these features.) Sun shades drop down to dim the rear cabin, which also offers an optional wireless phone charger, numerous device ports and a pair of coat hooks.
Headroom and legroom are generous. The rear seats even recline. Despite that, behind the seats lurks a deep, capacious trunk, which has enough room to hold two golf bags and perhaps even two spare golfers.
If there is a problem with the K900, it’s this: The new model may be too good for its own nameplate. As a passenger in the car said to me when we went for a spin, “This is a Kia? It’s way too nice to be a Kia. They should call it something else.”
That’s what Toyota did with Lexus, Honda with Acura, Nissan with Infiniti, and Kia’s sister company Hyundai with Genesis. Each of those companies created a new brand for its upscale vehicles.
Will Kia do the same? The company appears to recognize its challenge; the vehicle’s advertising tag line is, “Challenge the Luxury You Know.” Sales success will tell whether car buyers are willing to try.
Times’ take: Kia’s first true luxury car gets better
Highs: Unexpected comfort and performance
Lows: Torque lag takes fun out of the engine
Vehicle type: Four-door, five-passenger sedan
Base price: $60,895
Price as tested: $64,895
Powertrain: 3.3-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6 gasoline engine
Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic
Torque: 376 pound-feet
Estimated fuel economy rating: 18 miles per gallon city/25 highway/21 combined