2019 Kia K900 First Drive Review

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The has been an afterthought in the luxury market almost since it was launched about 4 years ago. Or maybe a never-thought. Through September of this year, Kia sold just 260 examples, which was about 90 fewer than the same time last year. And with sales like that, most of us figured Kia would just let the model quietly disappear into the ether, especially with the launch of the new Genesis luxury brand, and Kia’s new halo, the Stinger. Considering the car’s yacht-like demeanor and forgettable looks, we wouldn’t have missed it. Yet Kia is determined to keep the K900 alive in America, and has introduced a completely redesigned model. Perhaps even more surprising than the fact that the model is back, is that it’s actually quite good. Think of it as a bigger, more plush Kia Stinger.

That may be hard to believe by just looking at it. While it’s certainly better proportioned than its predecessor, with a body that highlights its rear- bones, it’s boring. It hides its roots well, not getting the onlooker excited or leaving a major impression. There’s hardly a sharp crease or bold character line to be seen – a stark contrast to the fierce, outre Stinger. It doesn’t even look much like other Kias, which all share a family resemblance in their grilles and athletic stance.

The K900 is a lot larger than the Stinger, too. The wheelbase is about 8 inches longer, and overall length is up by nearly a foot. Width and height are greater by roughly 2 and 3 inches respectively. This all puts the K900 in the size territory of full-size luxury flagships, but Kia says it’s targeting buyers of midsize luxury sedans such as the Audi A6 and BMW 5 Series with a price of around $60,895 for the base model, and $64,895 for the VIP model. These are close estimates.

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It’s a “more for your money” sort of argument, but there are more direct competitors to the K900 that muddy the water, like the Volvo S90, Lincoln Continental, and Cadillac CT6. On paper, all three seem to be compelling options to the K900 with lower base prices, similar size, and more distinctive styling. But the K900 has a major power advantage with its standard 365-horsepower twin-turbo V6. The S90’s standard engine makes just 250 horsepower, and the optional non-hybrid engine just makes 316 horses. To beat the Kia, you have to get the hybrid S90 with 400 horsepower, and a base price of over $64,000.

The Cadillac CT6 is in a similar predicament with just 265 horsepower from its base engine, and the Kia’s output is only exceeded when opting for one with the 404-horsepower twin-turbo V6, which also rings in at over $64,000 with no options. Only the Lincoln can beat the Kia’s power for the money with its 400-horsepower engine available at a base price above $52,000. But you’ll bring it up to nearly $60,000 matching the K900’s features.

The interior of the K900 mirrors the exterior. In this case, the design feels like an amalgamation of many other flagship luxury cars. The low, wide dash that bows outward has a distinct Mercedes vibe, particularly with the aluminum-finish piano-key style buttons and analog clock (which Kia proudly notes was designed by Swiss watch brand Maurice Lacroix). The shifter, steering wheel, and air vents blend into the dash in a manner evocative of Audi. The long curves of the wood and top-stitched leather panels in the doors are reminiscent of Lexus. And the aluminum speaker grilles look like the ones on every luxury car on the market. It all just looks a little generic.

2019 K900

But the good news is that everything feels very high quality. The standard Nappa leather feels supple yet durable. All of the wood, with the exception of that on the steering wheel, is real and given a lovely low-luster finish that highlights the material. The leather and wood are absolutely everywhere in the cabin, too. The infotainment is much easier to use than most luxury German cars since it’s based on the simple system found in other Hyundais and Kias, and it looks great with fresh graphics and displayed on the high-resolution 12.3-inch screen. The VIP trim that we tested used a screen for the instrument panel, too, and it offers a variety of gauge options with slick graphics. It’s not quite as bright and smooth as Audi’s virtual cockpit, but the animations and design are more interesting.

It also has a trick feature in which activating the turn signal pops open a video window showing the blind spot on either side of the car. It’s wonderful and we’re surprised it isn’t more common in the luxury arena. The VIP trim also adds reclining, ventilated rear seats with controls to slide the front passenger seat forward and fold that seatback down for forward visibility. Rear passengers of either K900 model will enjoy an enormous amount of legroom nearly on par with the flagship full-size sedans such as the BMW 7 Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class.

With all of this in mind, you’d expect the K900 to be soft and wallowy going down the road, a classic luxury cruiser. And it certainly does deliver a cushy ride in normal modes. All variety of road imperfections are slurped up by the shocks, and thankfully, they do so without rocking and rolling the occupants for the next several hundred feet. The car’s standard twin-turbocharged 3.3-liter V6 engine provides 365 smooth horsepower and an ample 376 pound-feet of torque. It’s very quiet and refined, and you only hear the low growling intake noise when you really hit the throttle. That power is made smoother by the 8-speed automatic, an in-house unit, that provides slick shifts, though is a bit sluggish when commanded to make one manually. We did find some wind whistling around the roof and A-pillars.

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But that’s only part of the K900’s character. The other is pulled straight from the sporty Stinger. And that’s both figurative and literal, because the K900’s chassis is the latest version of what’s found in the Stinger, as well as all three Genesis sedans. The front and rear multi-link independent suspension are borrowed from the Stinger and tweaked for the K900, with input from former BMW M head Albert Biermann. Kia also did plenty of work to make the most of the chassis. There is no panoramic sunroof available, just a conventional one as standard. This was done to ensure the sedan was as stiff as possible.

It all shows on the road, particularly the curvy canyon roads around Napa. We mostly had the car in Sport mode, which firms up the suspension, makes the steering a little heavier, and makes shifts a little quicker and holds gears longer, sharpens throttle response and loosens up stability control. The steering turned out to be impressively precise and weighted very well. Actually, the steering in Sport mode felt more naturally weighted than the artificially heavy Stinger GT’s helm. It made it easy to place the big sedan on the narrow roads. With more feedback, it’d be world class.

The wheel was backed up by a suspension that kept body roll to just a slight sway in either direction. The K900 managed switchbacks by transferring weight quickly and smoothly. Just as the weight didn’t upset the car in corners, neither did bumps. The K900 just kept on gripping, and even with stiffer suspension settings, shrugging off imperfections and maintaining its composure. Its mid-corner competence makes the car feel smaller than it is, and instills confidence up to the point at which the tires give up and start squealing, which typically results in some mild understeer, though a foot full of gas can coax the rear to come around and compensate a bit. You can manually upshift or downshift with the paddles, but if you don’t touch them for a while, it goes back into full auto mode.

2019 K900

At one point, we were tailing a BMW 3 Series with a bunch of M accessories that was hustling through the canyons, and stayed with him without trying too hard. Of all the aforementioned competitors, only the Cadillac CT6 really matches the Kia’s corner-carving competence. And best of all, when we were tired of playing sports car, we could put it back into comfort mode and let it soothe our souls in soft suspension and quiet on the way back home.

The K900 is Kia’s range-topping halo vehicle, something that both elevates the brand as a whole and demonstrates mastery of its mission. The former is a mixed bag; without a stronger identity, it doesn’t give us a clear idea of where Kia is headed. In that realm, the lower-tier Stinger is actually the spiritual figurehead of the brand. But in terms of individual bona fides, the K900 hits all the contemporary luxury car core competencies: it’s comfortable, roomy, quiet, fast and technologically impressive. It handles well, and has more power than anything in its immediate vicinity. It’s sure to please anyone who remembers it exists.

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