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Don Adair's Seat Time

Archive for August 2014

K900: Kia’s $60,000 flagship

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Now and again a car comes along that challenges the established order and makes us rethink the idea of car.

Kia’s new $60,000 K900 flagship is one of them. Positioned to compete with flagship models from brands like Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Lexus, it undercuts the other’s prices by thousands. Many thousands, in some cases.

Thus the question: Is the Kia worth $60,000? And, if the answer is yes, are the others worth the premiums they demand?

As we will discover, the devil is in the details.

The K900 adheres to the front-engine/rear-drive luxury-class convention. Its roomy and richly appointed cabin bristles with high-tech features and with creature comforts both expected and not.

Its ride is smooth, its cabin serene, its footing sure.

Standard features include adaptive xenon headlights, LED foglights, power trunk lid, automatic wipers, front and rear parking sensors and keyless ignition and entry.

Inside, there are full power accessories, tri-zone automatic climate control, leather upholstery, eight-way power front seats, heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear outboard seats, a power rear sunshade, plus the usual voice-command, Bluetooth connectivity, touchscreen controls, et al.

The standard audio system is a 900-watt Lexicon, with a 12-channel digital amplifier and 17 speakers.

The top-level Limited trim can be optioned with a VIP package, which includes a 360-degree top-down camera system and a collision warning system that preps the seatbelts and brakes for an imminent impact. It also adds soft-close doors and reclining rear seats.

At the moment, the K900 is available only with a 420-hp V-8, with a 311-horsepower V-6 expected soon. Both incorporate direct injection and variable valve timing and match up with an eight-speed automatic transmission. 

The eight earns EPA ratings of 18 mpg combined (15 city/23 highway; the six will manage 21 mpg combined (18 city/27 highway).

The V-8 accelerates enthusiastically and shifts are smooth and quick. At its best, the K900 is an excellent road car, with comfortable and supportive seats, a great sound system and capable, if unexceptional, suspension and steering systems.

Although it’s a proper rear-drive car, ride and handling fail to attain the precision and control typical of the class. However, only auto writers and those who drive the competition every day would notice or care (and it’s a good bet no small number of them would not).

A close examination of the K900 turns up other small stumbles. The plastic on the shift-lever console is thin and brittle. The switchgear is less substantial in heft and feel than the competitions’ and Its touchscreen control system less intuitive. 

There’s also the cachet thing. Parking a Kia in the driveway won’t elevate your status like a Bimmer or a Benz would. 

Which brings us back to the beginning; what defines a car? Certainly, the K900 will meet your transportation needs. It will also do 90 percent of what cars costing much more will do. For some buyers, that will be buying proposition enough.

Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer. Contact him at don@dadair.com.

2015 Kia K900
Vehicle base price: $59,500
Trim level base price: $59,900
As tested: $66,400
Options included intelligent cruise control; Advanced Vehicle Safety Management; power door latches; head-up display; surround-view monitor; power reclining rear seats; ventilated rear seats; rear-seat lumbar control; more.
EPA rating: 15 city/23 highway/18 combined
Regular unleaded fuel specified

Hyundai Tucson is a tidy package

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By the terms of the unwritten rules of the automotive world, every car must grow larger with each succeeding generation. 

Larger, roomier, more powerful. It’s the automaker’s mantra.

While Hyundai complies in nearly every case, its 2014 Tucson goes against the grain. The compact crossover has remained resolutely compact; it exists in a no-man’s-land between large hatchbacks like the Nissan Juke and almost-midsize crossovers like Honda’s CR-V.

The Tucson ($22,235, including destination) is ideally suited for the urban grind; it’s large enough to accommodate four adults but small enough to slip easily into tight parking spaces. Its dimensions translate into a small-car highway ride, but its rigid unibody and Euro-tuned suspension produce better-than-expected responsiveness. 

On the winding, two-lane road I drive into town, my Tucson Limited ($27,075) tester felt composed and stable. Body lean through the corners was controlled and the ride remained unruffled over broken surfaces.

The Tucson is updated for 2014 with refreshed sheet metal, standard projector headlights and LED running lights, new touch screens and an enhanced navigation system. Tucson’s two four-cylinder engines add direct injection for improved power delivery.

Its cabin is stylish, modern and smartly organized. Controls are clearly labeled and easily understood. Excellent Fit-and-finish and materials quality complete the picture. 

Rear-seat legroom is adequate for all but larger adults. The second row reclines in two stages, but doesn’t slide fore and aft.

For 2014, Hyundai drops last year’s entry-level GL, leaving the previous mid-grade GLS as the new base. Standard features include a/c, power accessories, 60/40-split folding and reclining second-row seats, 17-inch alloy wheels, a trip computer, privacy glass, rear spoiler, cloth upholstery, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity and a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel with redundant controls.

The six-speaker audio system includes iPod/USB connectivity and satellite radio. Illuminated cupholders and rear-seat a/c vents are useful flourishes.

The Tucson’s ride is stiff-legged by US standards, but most owners will judge that an acceptable trade-off for its dynamic handling characteristics. Hyundai’s SACHS Amplitude Selective Damping, standard this year across the line, allows improved shock-absorber control and better management of the tire-to-road contact patch.

A 164-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine powers the GLS. Front-wheel-drive models earn EPA-estimated fuel economy of 25 mpg combined (23 mpg city/29 mpg highway); AWD is rated at 23 combined (21 city/25 highway).

SE and Limited trims get a 182-hp 2.4-liter four rated at 23 mpg combined (21 mpg city/28 mpg highway) with FWD, and 22 combined (20 city/25 highway) with AWD.

Neither engine is much more powerful or efficient than before, but improved low-end torque produces quicker and more immediate acceleration at low speeds. All-wheel-drive is now available on all Tucson trims.

Equipped with the larger engine, my AWD test car had enough grunt to pass slower traffic easily, though the engine grew noisy when pushed hard. The six-speed automatic made smooth and relaxed shifts; a manual-shift function allows drivers to hurry things along as needed.

By defying the bigger-is-better convention, the Tucson carves out a unique, city-friendly niche for itself.

Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer. Contact him at don@dadair.com.

2014 Hyundai Tucson Limited AWD
Vehicle base price: $20,633
Trim level base price: $27,700
As tested: $28,700
Optional equipment: carpeted floor mats
Tow rating: 2,000 lb
EPA rating: 20 city/ 25 highway/22 combined
Regular unleaded fuel specified

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