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Kia's been building the K900 luxury sedan for half of the past decade, but I'm willing to bet many of you have never heard of it.
The first-generation Kia K900 was actually a pretty sweet ride, balancing upscale appointments and high value, but had trouble finding success. Perhaps buyers just couldn't reconcile the idea of a full-size luxury sedan from Kia, the brand with dancing hamsters in its commercials. Whatever the cause, this perfectly good car was an extremely poor seller. Since its introduction in 2014, Kia has only sold just over 5,200 K900s in the US.
Rather than cut its losses, Kia is hoping to do better with a vastly improved second-generation model, which I recently had the chance to sample in Korean-spec K9 guise. Is it second time's a charm for Kia's big luxury sedan?
The K900 is a very luxurious proposition, and puts its best foot forward with a well-appointed cabin behind its soft close doors. The fit and finish have dramatically improved over the outgoing K900, with richer leather and higher quality stitching. Real exposed wood and brushed metal accents on the dashboard, steering wheel and consoles round out the premium interior.
At night, the driver and passengers are treated to ambient lighting with seven "mood-enhancing" color themes designed in partnership with color experts Pantone. If none of those seven pre-set designs suit your fancy, the 14 points of LED illumination can be customized to any color in the RGB spectrum via a menu in the infotainment system.
And really, what kind of luxury sedan doesn't have an analog clock in its dashboard? Kia is the latest automaker to partner with a watchmaker for its timepiece, with a Maurice LaCroix Masterpiece clock in the K900's cabin. This bit of dashboard jewelry looks gorgeous with its guilloche dial and Roman numeral indices, but it's just a normal electric clock behind that pretty face.
Displayed prominently on the dashboard and A-pillars are speaker grilles that look almost like exact copies of the Burmester system you'll find in a Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Behind these speakers sings the 14-speaker Lexicon premium audio system. Audio quality is pretty good -- certainly good enough for satellite radio and streaming audio -- but this is no audiophile's rig on wheels. Fortunately, the K900's cabin is so darn quiet that the system doesn't have to contend with much road noise and can really shine even at moderate volumes.
The front seats are comfortable and wide with adjustable bolsters, lumbar support and surfaces that are heated and ventilated. When you switch the drive mode into Sport, the bolsters automatically close up a bit, hugging the driver as if in anticipation of curves. That's some impressive attention to detail.
The backseat experience is, in some ways, better than the front. The wide center console features redundant infotainment controls allowing rear passengers to command either the main dashboard system or their own individual entertainment displays. The right-rear passenger can even whir an unoccupied front seat forward and out of the way for a vast expanse of legroom. (This perhaps makes more sense in Korea, where the K9 serves as a luxury livery vehicle, sort of like a modern Lincoln Town Car.)
The K900 gets an ultra-wide eversion of Kia's UVO infotainment system, based around a 12.3-inch touchscreen display. This new generation of UVO seems to borrow a bit of its design from BMW's iDrive -- particularly its ability to display map and auxiliary information in a split-screen configuration. However, I find that UVO's menu structure, organization and control interface is significantly simpler and easier to understand than any of the German systems.
The onboard maps are easy to read with smooth animation. The system tends to tell the driver to "turn now" about an eighth to a quarter-mile too soon, which can lead to some confusion in navigation, but it's likely just a quirk of the Korean-spec software.
The UVO system features standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay USB connectivity, but you might want to give Kia's own interface a try first. The baked-in software comes with useful features like a voice memo system that can be used to quickly record audio notes for playback later. I do my best brainstorming on the road, and really love this feature.
UVO includes traffic and ETA updates, but it also notifies you when you're approaching sharper curves, dangerous highway segments where accidents are more likely, or even speed bumps on side streets. Weather updates include a line telling me if it's a good day to wash the car or not. We probably won't get anywhere near that level of detail in the US-spec K900, but it's worth mentioning these features of the Korean software as things that might eventually make their way Stateside.
The K900's gets a number of driving aid upgrades, too, thanks to Kia's Drivewise suite of technologies. Full-speed adaptive cruise control that works in stop-and-go traffic, and forward pre-collision alert and brake assist help when traffic suddenly comes to a complete stop. There's lane-keeping steering assist, lane departure alerts, blind-spot monitoring and a rear cross-traffic alert system, as well.
Globally, the K9/K900 will be available with a 3.8-liter V6 and Hyundai/Kia's old workhorse 5.0-liter Tau V8. But in the US, we're only getting one engine: the turbocharged 3.3-liter V6 from the Kia Stinger GT.
This twin-turbo V6 makes 365 horsepower and 376 pound-feet of torque, mated to an eightli-speed automatic transmission and only available with all-wheel drive. And before you get too excited about that Stinger connection, remember that the K900 is a larger, heavier car, and has a much more comfort-oriented mission.
There's plenty of power for passing and cruising. Around town, the eight-speed automatic feels nice and unobtrusive. The K900's exhaust note is quieter than the Stinger's, even when the car is in sport mode. Drivers can choose between Sport, Eco, Comfort and a customizable drive mode. These modes mostly adjust the weight of the steering, the behavior of the transmission, the responsiveness of the throttle and add extra engine acoustics in the Sport setting. There is an adaptive suspension with variable dampers like those on the Kia Stinger, but I didn't notice a huge firmness difference between the modes on this Korean market example.
Ride quality is very plush. I'm told the suspension will be firmed up before reaching the American market, but I hope not too much. The Korean market K9 feels really nice and I'd hate for forced sportiness to ruin this cushy cruiser. Stay tuned for a full report when US-spec K900s become available for testing later this year.
Kia is not only adding more content and quality to the K900, it's re-emphasizing the car's value proposition, as well. Pricing hasn't been confirmed just yet, but I don't expect it to differ too much from the outgoing model's $50,000 to $65,000 price range.
Meanwhile, the first-generation K900 has found a second life as one of the best values in the pre-owned luxury market. If Kia can keep its pricing in check, the new 2019 K900 could also tap into that market as a very compelling alternative to a pre-owned BMW 7 Series or Mercedes-Benz S-Class. It'll also be taking shots across the bow of the Genesis G90, Lincoln Continental and Lexus LS provided that buyers can look past the badge and see the value.
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