Let’s get one thing straight up front: There’s no rational reason for Kia to bring a second-gen K900 sedan to the U.S. Large sedan sales, if not tanking, are at least flatlining, and the flattest line of the bunch last year led directly to the big Kia, which found just 455 takers for the entire year. For reference, BMW sells that many 5-Series sedans roughly every four days.
Thing is, as far as I can tell after spending half a week in Korea with brand bosses and PR folks, Kia doesn’t really seem to care that much. The car does quite well in its home country, and if we Yanks can’t quite wrap our heads around a Kia luxury sedan, so be it –- the K900 sits in our showrooms to demonstrate the opulence Kia is capable of, hopefully casting a gilded tint upon the Rios, Optimas and Sorentos most buyers are coming to see anyway. The brand’s well-received Stinger sports sedan serves a similar halo purpose, though with significantly higher sales expectations vs. the K900.
Sizewise, the K900 is something of a tweener; it’s a little longer than a BMW 5-Series/Audi A6 but smaller than a 7-Series/A8. The Mercedes S-Class is close in dimensions, as is Hyundai’s Genesis G80/G90 –- not surprising since the latter shares its basic architecture with the big Kia. It’s a good base upon which to build: Genesis sedans have impressed editors at Autoweek and beyond with their refinement, roominess and ease-of-use.
Though there are additional models globally, all U.S. K900s will come with the same 365-hp twin-turbo V6 engine and eight-speed automatic transmission found throughout the Genesis lineup. All-wheel drive will be standard, and only two basic trim levels will be offered, described by Kia operatives as “luxurious” and “more luxurious” (which we’d kill to see printed in script form on a trunk badge). Since U.S. sales aren’t expected to start until late fall 2018, numerous details are yet to be decided, including exact vehicle content and, of course, price; mid-$50K to low-$60K would be a safe range to expect, however.
For that money, buyers can expect a leather-swaddled interior with power assists galore; there’s a new pinch-and-zoom 12.3-inch touchscreen navigation system with an additional rotary controller on the console, a la BMW and Benz. Rear seat passengers have ample legroom, though the K900 doesn’t feel as big in back as a long-wheelbase Audi or Cadillac CT6. It’s helped by what we assume will be an optional executive reclining rear seating setup with comprehensive controls in a fold-down center armrest.
Kia’s also making a big deal of its new ambient lighting system: 64 colors are available, but seven unique hues have been designed in conjunction with Pantone, the color experts familiar to every graphic artist and publisher on earth. Selected colors appear throughout the cabin, but the effect is subtle; Kia wanted the ambient lighting to be just that –- ambient -– so it’s more an understated wash of color across the interior surfaces.
Though other engines are offered globally, all U.S. K900s will be powered by a 3.3-liter twin-turbo V6 coupled to an eight-speed automatic and all-wheel drive.
One final feature found on none of the competition, save Genesis, is Kia’s 100K-mile/10-year powertrain warranty. For the luxury car customer who leases a new sedan every two or three years, it’s a moot point. But the budget-conscious luxury buyer Kia seeks may be more interested in long-term ownership, and for them it’s a strong selling point. If you’ve ever been to Korea, you also know why Kia (and Hyundai) can offer it -– cars in Seoul in particular suffer binary, full-throttle/full-brake operation in horrendous traffic; if they can survive there, even the harshest American drivers shouldn’t be a problem.
Previous K900s felt about four-fifths finished -– the luxury was there, but dynamics were wanting and vague steering made even straight-line driving an odd, floaty affair. These issues have all been resolved on the 2019 K900, and the new model is a legitimate fully baked large luxury sedan at an entry-luxury price.
From the driver’s seat, the big Kia is space-capsule silent; the 3.3-liter turbo engine delivers gobs of torque, but the sound deadening makes it clear the K900 isn’t intended to be a sports sedan. There’s nothing more than a faint mechanical hum in the distance as you’re pushed back in the seat. The powertrain, shared with other Kia and Genesis models, is a highlight thanks to its effortless thrust; the only place I found it wanting was during transitions between the economy-boosting coast mode and power application where some judder presents itself as the driveline reconnects. Considering the underpinnings shared with larger Genesis sedans, the Kia’s isolated-but-unflappable steering and beautiful chassis composure are welcome but not surprising.
Yes, that's the back seat of a Kia.
Though it’s difficult to imagine the American buyer who’s getting a Kia K900 in which to be chauffeured about, it's worth mentioning that the reclining, heated rear seats on our tester proved a lovely place in which to float along. It’s not quite Bentley serene since some suspension noise is telegraphed through the rear chassis, but for a quarter the price Kia has crafted a beautiful rear cabin, even if it's just some lucky suburban kids (or grandparents being picked up at the airport) who get to enjoy it.
Brand be damned, $55K is a lot of money, and despite the enormous brand perception/quality inroads Kia has made, the K900 will simply be a tough sell to most Americans. That said, coupled with the Stinger, it may get some curious shoppers into Kia showrooms, even if they leave in a Cadenza or a Sorento. A few luxury car buyers less interested in badge cachet than the actual vehicle may even leave in a K900, and Kia seems content to consider that strategy successful for now.
On Sale: Late 2018
Base Price: TBD
Powertrain: 3.3-liter twin-turbo V6, 8-speed automatic, AWD
Output: 365 hp, 376 lb-ft torque
Fuel Economy: TBD(EPA City/Hwy/Combined)
Pros: Distinctive lighting, true luxury cabin and ride, great powertrain
Cons: Missing the badge cachet of a Mercedes or Lexus