2015 Kia K900 review: K900 takes Kia to the champagne and caviar set

Starting at $54,500
  • Engine 8 Cylinder Engine
  • Drivetrain Rear Wheel Drive
  • MPG 18 MPG
  • Passenger Capacity 5
  • Body Type Sedans

Roadshow Editors' Rating

6.5 Overall
  • Performance 6
  • Features 6
  • Design 7
  • Media 7

The Good With high-fidelity audio from Lexicon, an LCD instrument cluster, and a roomy cabin, the 2015 Kia K900 pampers passengers in high-tech luxury. A head-up display gives the driver useful information and surround-view cameras aid in parking lot maneuvers.

The Bad With its fixed suspension, the K900's ride quality is nothing special. Fuel economy averages below 20 mpg, conspiring with the 20-gallon fuel tank to limit overall range.

The Bottom Line The 2015 Kia K900 comes in at a cut-rate price for a big sedan, and offers a few very nice amenities, but ride quality doesn't come up to the class for which this sedan strives.

Given Kia's reputation in the US and the kinds of cars it offers around the world, the 2015 K900 comes off as the most unexpected model to wear the South Korean automaker's badge. However, if you've been paying close attention, this big, luxury-oriented sedan follows a logical progression from the Optima through last year's new Cadenza model. Throw in a shared platform used in the Equus from sister company Hyundai, and the K900 becomes a foregone conclusion.

At last year's Los Angeles auto show, Kia announced it would bring the K900 to the US from its home Korean market. Other English-speaking markets, which tend to favor smaller, more fuel-efficient cars, seem less likely for this big sedan.

The luxury sedan genus carries two common characteristics: rear-wheel-drive architecture and a V-8 engine. The K900, unlike all other Kia models, boasts both of these, making its class and the company's intentions clear. At close to 17 feet long, the rear seat area afforded a wealth of legroom, and at over 6 feet wide, I wasn't hurting for elbow room.

Still, there's more to a luxury car than a large carcass, eight pistons, and a long drive shaft. As I saw last year in Mercedes-Benz's updated S550 , a car in this class should also pamper the driver while giving bystanders a sense of something very special passing by. The new S-Class also looked a bit menacing to the surrounding traffic, but that's just a bonus.

The K900 comes off as a bit cut-rate in some of these qualifying appointments, such as lacking an adaptive suspension, which reflects its bargain-basement price of around $60,000. Making up for any deficiencies, I was pleased to find a host of high-tech goodies in this big roller.

Retaining its Korean market model name rather than follow the musical theme Kia uses for its US models, the K900 sports common Kia design elements such as the tiger nose grille and fender ports. A wire grille inset and optional LED headlights that aim into turns set the car's upscale status. In a cue taken from Mercedes-Benz, seat controls sit conveniently on the doors, and the rear seat offers some power adjustment.

2015 Kia K900

Kia makes a play for the yachting types with the K900.

Wayne Cunningham/CNET

With the $40,000 you would save buying the K900 instead of the Mercedes-Benz S550, you could hire a chauffeur and ride comfortably in the back.

Dial-up menu

A 9.2-inch LCD in the dashboard showed me a navigation system I found familiar from other Kia models, but the interface was completely new. Instead of a touchscreen, the K900 employs an indirect controller mounted on the console, as in other big luxury sedans. The button layout around the center dial took some getting used to, as there were two contextual buttons, a menu button that did not have function on every screen, and a home button that takes you back to a home screen.

2015 Kia K900

Kia fills the home screen up with icons, including audio sources.

Wayne Cunningham/CNET

This home screen was a bit of a mess, using an elliptical menu that let me scroll through not only main functions such as navigation and phone, but every audio source available for the stereo. Audio sources would fit better in a submenu, making less clutter on the home screen. As for response, the K900's tech interface was as quick as any I've seen, bringing up functions and menu items with no hesitation.

Voice command was, however, a little lacking. While I could ask it to call people in my Bluetooth-paired phone's contact list and enter addresses for navigation in a single string, I couldn't ask for specific music from a connected USB drive or iOS device.

Navigation, as I mentioned above, was familiar from other Kia models, which meant the maps only show in plan, or top-down view, with no perspective view. Otherwise, the maps were easy to read and offered traffic flow information. Under route guidance, the system could dynamically route me around bad traffic, and I found the turn-by-turn directions easy to understand.

The K900 offers typical destination options, such as entering addresses or choosing from a points-of-interest database. Missing is any sort of online destination search, a must-have feature in the luxury set. Kia integrates its Uvo app with the car, which brings in maintenance scheduling and telematics. Uvo lets you look up and save destinations on a home computer, then sync them with the car.

Among the audio sources, which include HD Radio and an onboard hard drive, Kia provides Pandora as the only Internet streaming option. The onscreen interface showed a full music library for my iPhone or a thumbdrive when plugged into the car's USB port. For Bluetooth streaming audio, the interface only includes basic functionality, not letting me actually choose music.

Befitting a luxury sedan, Kia included a robust Lexicon audio system. This one features 17 speakers and a 900-watt amp. I found the audio quality exceptionally clear and well-balanced, producing music with precision. However, the playback left me a little cold, as it didn't have any particular character, such as the warmth or brightness or bass punch of other systems I've tested.

Digital meters

Among the K900's high-tech party tricks are a head-up display and an LCD instrument cluster, both features of the VIP trim package. The HUD was bright and adjustable, and showed not only vehicle speed and turn-by-turn directions, but also blind-spot monitor warnings and adaptive cruise control information.

2015 Kia K900

The HUD shows adaptive cruise control information, among other data.

Wayne Cunningham/CNET

The instrument cluster, a 12.3-inch LCD, did an excellent job of displaying realistic-looking analog gauges for speed and tachometer. In both normal and Eco drive modes, the display shows everything you would see on a typical car's analog instrument cluster, so that I didn't feel Kia was exploiting this type of display fully. However, switching the drive mode to Sport changed the display radically, with digital readouts for both vehicle and engine speed.

Sport mode in the K900 doesn't really live up to its name. The direct-injection 5-liter V-8, making 420 horsepower and 376 pound-feet of torque, is no slouch, and Sport mode also tightens up the steering response, a very nice feature. However, the eight-speed automatic transmission doesn't shift quickly enough in manual mode for powering through corners.

The real thorn in the side of the K900's sporting pretensions is the suspension. Rather than use adaptive dampers or an air suspension, Kia goes with a reasonable fixed multilink suspension, tuned for a compromise between stability and comfort. As such, it can't really hold the 4,555-pound car flat in hard turns.

When I let it run through some turns, the K900 felt clumsy and big, where even a large sedan with better running gear could have felt nimbler. Putting the car in Sport mode also didn't seem to affect the transmission's automatic mode, which wasn't aggressive at all.

2015 Kia K900

The K900's ride quality falls short of the competition, but so does its price.

Wayne Cunningham/CNET

Settling into the K900's more appropriate mode as a freeway cruiser, adaptive cruise control made for more stress-free driving as it handled the pedal work, maintaining a set following distance from traffic ahead. The lane departure warning system triggered too easily, sometimes alerting based on seams in the road, so I was happy that it was easy to turn off.

In either normal or Eco drive modes, the steering wheel assumed a looser character, comfortable for cruising, while the transmission used its higher gears to let the engine hold a low revolutions per minute. But here again, the suspension proved a letdown. Over undulating pavement, the K900 assumed a rise and fall like a boat riding swells at sea. On rougher pavement, the ride competently damped out the bumps, but I still felt them. A luxury car with an air suspension would do a better job of riding over these faults.

Eco mode merely detuned the throttle a little bit, working with the direct injection and eight-speed automatic transmission to help save fuel. That only gets the K900 up to 15 mpg in the city and 23 mpg on the highway. The average I ended up with fell neatly in that range, at 17.9 mpg.

At low speeds, the electric power steering made maneuvering a one-handed operation. Parking was aided significantly by the surround-view camera system, which let me see out the back and get a view of the wheels' proximity to the curb. An automated parallel-parking system would have been a nice bonus in the K900, but it's not an option.

Shortcomings

As a luxury flagship sedan, the 2015 Kia K900 does not check all the boxes it should. I was impressed by the roominess of the cabin and the comfort of the seats. The door-mounted seat controls were an elegant touch, as was the metal dial for the interface controller. The V-8 engine, rear-wheel-drive architecture, and high-end audio system also fit the flagship mold.

However, ride quality is a key element of a luxury sedan, and the K900 just doesn't come in at the same level as competitors such as the Mercedes-Benz S-Class or the Lexus LS . Even the Hyundai Equus offers an air suspension. And despite the K900's showy Sport mode, it doesn't quite have the chops to be called a sport luxury vehicle, an area well covered by BMW and Audi.

I liked many of the K900's tech features, especially the virtual instrument cluster and surround-view camera system. The voice command system was somewhat lacking, and the home screen on the main LCD a little crowded. And for the K900 to really compete with the latest luxury sedans, it should come with a dedicated data connection.

Tech specs
Model 2015 Kia K900
Trim VIP
Power train Direct-injection 5-liter V-8, 8-speed automatic transmission
EPA fuel economy 15 mpg city/23 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 17.9 mpg
Navigation Standard, with live traffic
Bluetooth phone support Standard
Digital audio sources Internet streaming, Bluetooth streaming, onboard hard drive, iOS integration, USB drive, satellite radio, HD Radio
Audio system Lexicon 900-watt 17-speaker system
Driver aids Adaptive cruise control, HUD, lane departure warning, blind-spot monitor, surround-view cameras
Base price $59,500
Price as tested $66,400

Discuss 2015 Kia K900