Heading out of Chicago in a mid-day rainstorm, I power on the rain-sensing windshield wipers, activate the intelligent cruise control and settle in for a quick drive north.
We’re deeply ensconced in the leathery confines of the 2016 Kia K900, a full-size luxury sedan from — yes — from Kia. The Korean maker’s first luxury-class product, it sort-of competes with such luminaries as the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and BMW 7 Series.
Kia’s premise: Why spend $80,000 on that German car, when you can get the same neat stuff for $20,000 less?
And Kia does, indeed, serve up a nice dish.
Our tester’s cabin is finished in Nappa leather and real wood trim. Its old-school clubbiness is mediated only by a large (10.3-inch) infotainment touchscreen and associated hardware. The large and deeply cushioned front seats are heated and ventilated; subdued interior lighting and sound-deadening measures produce a serene environment.
An aluminum-sleeved shift lever lies at hand, just ahead of the knob and the buttons that manage the infotainment system. The optional 17-speaker Lexicon surround sound system pumps out crystal-clear audio.
We’re driving a trim that’s new this year, the K900 Luxury V-6 ($55,580, including destination). The Luxury V-6 i powered by an all-new, 311-horsepower 3.8-liter V-6. The engine also powers a new base trim, the K900 Premium ($49,950).
The previous engine, a 420-hp V-8, is now optional and powers the top K900 Luxury V-8 ($62,850) trim.
In all trims, a three-mode, eight-speed automatic transmission directs power to the rear wheels. Steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters are available on all trims.
Beyond the powertrain implant, the 2016 K900 also receives a mild facelift, a hands-free automatic power trunk and an emergency braking system that can bring the car to a complete halt sans driver intervention.
Kia’s UVO connectivity system adds a Luxury Services feature that enables remote start/stop, remote climate control and remote lock/unlock. Curfew, Speed and Geofence settings are now standard.
Any serious luxury-class entry must be well equipped. Accordingly, the Premium V-6 gets automatic xenon headlights, LED fog- and running lights, automatic wipers, panoramic sunroof, keyless ignition and entry, three-zone automatic climate control, leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, driver-side memory functions, heated outboard rear seats and a power rear sunshade.
Luxury trims step up to Nappa leather, LED headlights and a surround-view parking camera.
World-class aspirations notwithstanding, Kia’s best doesn’t yet rival the competitions’. Lackluster suspension tuning neutralizes the promise of the rear-drive layout. The steering system, though nicely weighted, is vague on-center and requires small continuous adjustments.
Ride quality is very good and, aside from the occasional tendency to become choppy over rough surfaces, and the K900 is composed and relaxed at highway speeds.
Cabin materials would be well suited to a premium family sedan, but don’t exude the opulence the class demands.
The K900 represents a bold attempt to challenge the status quo. Sales have been underwhelming, but Kia doesn’t easily give up the fight. Who knows? The next-gen car could set the competition on its heels.
2016 Kia K900 Luxury V-6
Vehicle base price: $49,000
Trim level base price: $54,900
As tested: $60,850
Options included head-up display; autonomous emergency braking; blind-spot detection; lane-departure warning; intelligent cruise control; surround-view monitor; rear cross-traffic alert; power driver’s-seat thigh extension; power headrests; power passenger lumbar support; power reclining rear seats; ventilated outboard rear seats; lateral-adjusting rear headrests; rear-seat seat power lumbar support; premium headliner trim; soft-close power door latches.
EPA rating: 20 combined/17 city/26 highway