The verdict: Smooth, quiet and not quite as nice as vehicles costing, admittedly, tens of thousands of dollars more, the redesigned 2019 Kia K900 is a bargain luxury sedan.
Versus the competition: The K900 has almost everything the more expensive luxury-brand full-size sedans have, but at a price none of them can come close to matching.
When Kia first brought the new K900 to the U.S. market back in 2015, I drove it and called it an excellent Kirkland-brand luxury sedan: “tasty and much less expensive than a name-brand model, but falling short in sophistication, refinement and cachet.” For those of you who don’t shop at Costco, Kirkland is the warehouse store’s house brand — and that’s not a slight against the K900. Kirkland brand stuff tends to be as good as name-brand stuff, whether it’s salmon steaks or Scotch whisky.
And so was the K900 — a big, luxurious full-size sedan that could go toe-to-toe with top sedans from Lexus, Infiniti and even Audi, in content if not in prestige or refinement. Kia’s had a few years to get its formula right on the K900, and for 2019 it’s been redesigned for the few hundred people a year who simply must have one. (Really, it’s merely a few hundred; Kia sold just 455 of them in 2017.)
Still Pleasingly Bland to Look At
One has to understand that in its South Korean home market, K900 owners do not drive this car, they ride in it — typically in the back right seat, the VIP position. It’s the car in which a Korean conglomerate chairman is driven to work, so it needs to be stately, not flashy; understated and inoffensive is the name of the game here. The new K900’s styling reflects that. It’s a boring design that hasn’t changed much from the previous model year’s understated, inoffensive, boring lines. Kia’s signature tiger-nose grille is there, but otherwise the styling doesn’t quite line up with the rest of the company’s showroom. It’s built for a very specific buyer in South Korea. Whom it’s built for in the U.S. we’re still trying to figure out. South Korean expatriates in Southern California? The person who wants a Lexus LS 500 but can’t afford one? Someone who’s willing to drop sixty-five large on a luxury sedan but doesn’t want any luxury brand cachet? Beats me, man.
Gloriously Smooth to Drive
It might not be much to look at (intentionally), but it’s now wonderful to drive. Not because it’s sporty or rewarding in any way, but because it’s a throwback to how luxury cars used to be: insulated, isolated, smooth and creamy. It’s a vanilla latte in a world of redeye Americanos. The sole engine is a twin-turbocharged 3.3-liter V-6 (the V-8 option is gone) that delivers gobs of torque in such a way that you’d swear there were a bigger engine under the hood. It produces a very respectable 365 horsepower and 376 pounds-feet of torque, which splits the difference between most competitors’ base and upgrade engines.
The Kia’s eight-speed automatic is velvety smooth, with barely perceptible shifts and direct power delivery to all four wheels that will never leave you wanting for better acceleration. It’s also beautifully tuned to the driver’s input, so if you do need to drive the K900 quickly, it responds exactly as you want it to, with no hesitation or ponderousness. Just like the previous K900, the new one’s powertrain is a high point.
But you’re not likely to want it drive it like a sports sedan. The steering feel is solid but numb, the suspension skewed toward a comfortable, floaty ride more than spirited responses. Body control is excellent, but the car feels heavy and solid rather than light and nimble. I don’t count that as a slight against the K900, however, as it simply delivers on the promise of being a big, comfortable passenger sedan. That’s something that’s been lost amid the trend toward sporty performance (that will never be explored by most owners). This is a car in which you should enjoy the drive, not because you’re going to flog it from corner to corner, but because you’re going to devour miles of interstate with an absolute minimum of fuss or muss. The ride is big-car smooth, the motor is hushed and the experience is one of premium comfort. It’s a far cry from the nervous, twitchy behavior exhibited by the previous version of this car. Kia’s work on the suspension and body control is evident.
Fuel economy is decent for such a big, powerful sedan. The K900 is rated 18/25/21 mpg city/highway/combined, and my week with it returned an acceptable 23 mpg average. That’s spot-on with competitor vehicles like the Cadillac CT6 twin turbo, Infiniti Q70 3.7 and even the big Genesis G90, which shares most of its mechanical bits with the Kia K900.
Premium, Not Luxury, Materials
So how can Kia offer up a luxury sedan with this kind of equipment and behavior for tens of thousands of dollars less than competitors? Well, it had to cut costs somewhere, and it seems to have done so in the interior. The first generation was a mixed bag inside, with warped, wavy “wood” trim and some plastics that felt more in tune with Kia’s lesser sedans, like the Forte. The latest one isn’t much better. While the seats are plush and comfortable, and the leather quality is surprisingly good, the plastics on the dash and doors still feel only average, and the “engineered wood” is the same color and authenticity as President Trump’s tan. There are other options for interior colors, however, some with real wood that looks better than the stuff in my test vehicle — at least in pictures.
But one cannot deny the comfort provided by this interior. While the last version of the K900 felt a bit cramped up front due to the rake of the windshield, the new one doesn’t suffer from that situation. Still, the backseat is where it’s at. My test vehicle had a $4,000 VIP Package that brought tri-zone climate control with rear pillar vents, a premium headliner, powered and ventilated rear reclining seats, a wireless charger and a switch that lets rear seat occupants control the powered front passenger seat — so the chairman can increase his legroom if nobody is sitting there (or maybe even if somebody is). The backseat is practically limousine-like — plenty of headroom, gobs of legroom, and a center armrest with a variety of knobs and switches to control the various amenities in the cabin.
There’s also a lot of standard equipment in the cabin — which is good, because there aren’t any options to add beyond that VIP Package. The front seats are heated and ventilated, there’s multicolor interior mood lighting and a Lexicon Logic 7 premium audio system, navigation is standard on the 12.3-inch touchscreen and more. Is it as nice inside as an Audi A8? No, but it’s also far less expensive, yet features all the basic luxury features of that German alternative. It is as nice as an Infiniti Q70, however, and bigger to boot.
Speaking of the boot, there’s plenty of room in there, as well, with 15.3 cubic feet of trunk room. It’s not expandable, however, as the rear seatbacks don’t fold; there’s just a small passthrough for skis or longer items. This is about on par with the Cadillac CT6 (15.8 cubic feet) and Infiniti Q70L (14.9 cubic feet), but the K900 improves upon the Audi A8’s relatively small 12.5 cubic feet.
Top-Notch Safety and Connectivity Electronics
Perhaps the most impressive element of the interior controls is the fully digital gauge cluster that comes with the VIP Package. It replaces the standard analog gauges with a 12.3-inch full LCD screen, which is one of the most configurable clusters I’ve ever seen. You can change how the car displays its information to match the interior mood lighting, and even select some pretty wild-looking displays unlike anything I’ve encountered in a car. The 12.3-inch touchscreen display atop the center console is also impressive, building on Kia’s excellent UVO multimedia system but with a more sophisticated-looking version for the premium sedan. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, in case you’d rather use something more familiar that integrates well with your mobile device.
Kia has also included all the safety equipment you could want, standard on the K900. Forward collision warning and avoidance assist are there, as are lane departure warning, lane keep assist, parking sensors with rear cross-traffic alert, blind spot monitor and warning, driver attention warning and smart cruise control with automatic stop-and-go for traffic jams. A 360-degree camera system and head-up display are also standard on the K900. As of publication, the car had not been crash-tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Priced to Sell, Even if it Hasn’t Yet
The base price of a new K900 is remarkable given the amenities, comfort and experience of driving one: just $60,895. The only options you can specify are paint, interior colors, and whether or not you want the $4,000 VIP Package. Mine had it, so the grand total was $64,895 as-tested. This is a ridiculously low price for a luxury car like this, but given Kia has absolutely none of the luxury prestige of any major premium or luxury brand out there, it does seem more fitting for the vehicle you’re getting.
Compare vehicles on mechanical bits and features, if not price; the K900’s competitors are cars like the Cadillac CT6. That one starts at $51,490 with rear-wheel drive and a four-cylinder, but the comparable version is a twin-turbocharged V-6 with all-wheel drive that starts at $67,590. A V-6, AWD, long-wheelbase Infiniti Q70L starts at $55,045, but it’s a smaller vehicle with less space inside, plus an older multimedia system that isn’t nearly as user-friendly as the Kia’s. The Audi A8 comes only one way: a well-equipped long-wheelbase sedan with all-wheel drive and a turbocharged V-6 engine that’s not as powerful as the K900’s. It starts at $84,795 — considerably more than the K900, and it doesn’t have all the Kia’s standard features, like adaptive cruise control.
So if you’re looking for a bargain luxury car, the updated 2019 Kia K900 certainly is one. You’ll be hard-pressed to find another vehicle with the comfort, features and electronics of the K900 for a similar price. You won’t get any choice parking spots from the valet at your favorite swanky restaurant, and you’re not going to get any second looks from passersby on the streets, either. But if you value a bargain over a status symbol, the K900 might be right for you.
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