2019 Kia K900 First Drive Review: Proof Kia Can Mix It With The Big Boys

First Drive

Think of it as a bargain BMW 7 Series.

Go into most car dealerships today and you’ll find a range of models and body styles to tempt buyers. But in recent years it's been the crossover that's attracted the most interest. Even shoppers walking into a dealer lot to buy a sedan end up driving home a crossover. So when Kia announced it was giving its K900 flagship sedan a complete redesign for 2019, eyebrows were raised across the industry. Only 355 examples of the first generation were sold in the US last year. So why is Kia giving the K900 another shot at America?

In short, because it was designed as a global car and the cost of bringing it to the US is fairly minimal. So why not take a chance and see how it does? Kia also wants to prove it’s fully capable of building a vehicle of this caliber.

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Full disclosure: Kia invited me to Seoul, South Korea to test drive the new K900 before it arrives in US dealerships later this year (it just went on sale in its home market). After spending a few hours at the helm driving in and outside the bustling capital, I can conclude that only my hotel room’s toilet has more features for the money. But, being the high-tech country that it is, this was no ordinary toilet. The seat is heated. Always. The top lid automatically opens thanks to a sensor. There’s a control panel with buttons offering features like ‘Full’ and ‘Light’ flush, and pressure-controlled water spouts are there to “clean” where appropriate once you’re done doing your thing. You get the idea.

It was the finest toilet, known as a washlet, I’ve ever experienced. But I digress. The new K900 is bigger and more powerful than its predecessor, sharing the same, though slightly stretched, rear-wheel drive platform as the Kia Stinger GT. It also utilizes its more athletic sibling’s powerplant, a twin-turbo 3.3-liter V6 with 365 hp and 376 lb-ft of torque, paired to an 8-speed auto transmission. Unlike the Stinger, the K900 is all-wheel drive only, though there’s a RWD bias. Kia further kept things simple by offering four driving modes, Comfort, Sport, Eco, and Custom. I was engaged in ‘Normal’ and ‘Eco’ most of the time due to city traffic, but I preferred ‘Sport’ because additional power is directed to the rear wheels and the overall ride is more firm.

Combined fuel economy is around 24 mpg. Turbo lag? Little to none and yes, the K900 has a real power punch when hitting the gas, so don’t think it’s some boring cruiser for gramps, because it’s not. Interesting fact: Albert Biermann, former longtime BMW M engineering chief poached by Hyundai-Kia, further refined the K900’s suspension. The result is an extremely comfortable and confident large sedan, though it’s not sporty. Some of my fellow auto scribes felt the suspension was a bit too soft, while another noted it was too stiff for a car of this class. I say it’s spot-on, but we were driving the Korean market version (simply called K9), so it’s possible there’ll be some final adjustments for the US.

The K900 has an adaptive suspension, so it doesn’t at all feel like you’re riding on a cloud. But if you want a Kia sport sedan, get the Stinger. If you want a not too floaty but engaging enough large luxury sedan, get the K900. That simple. I am purposely using the word “luxury” because the K900 is a true luxury sedan, and this begs the question of whether it’ll compete internally with the Genesis G80 and G90, which both use this platform. I’d say the K900 falls smack dab in between the two. More importantly, it’s the most serious threat so far to the Buick LaCrosse, Lincoln Continental, Toyota Avalon and Lexus ES. The LaCrosse is a dentist’s car, let’s face it.

The Continental is not exactly meeting sales expectations, and the Avalon’s exterior designers didn’t know when to lift the pen. The ES, well, let’s hope the upcoming redesigned model is less bland. The K900, however, is very pretty. I’d describe it as having classically good looks, and it’s longer and wider than the old K900. There are touches of chrome trim throughout the body, such as along the doors, windows, and taillights. LEDs are at front and rear, and the headlights have a pair of daytime running lamp strips within the encasing which, again, caused a divided reaction. Unlike some other new Kias, the K900’s large grille is not quite as concaved.

Instead, it has a flatter mesh pattern inspired by rainfall that contributes to an overall conservative, yet stylish look. Put it like this, if you’re not a fan of the also new Avalon’s botched schnoz, you’ll find this far more appealing. Instead of the Stinger’s aggressive angles and fastback bodystyle, the K900 has a more rounded, elegant three-box design, as the rear slopes nicely into the trunk. Everything inside is very impressive. The front seats are extremely comfortable thanks in part to 4-way lumbar support and an extending thigh cushion. There’s a wide 12.3-inch touchscreen featuring standard navigation and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. I also dig the Swiss-made analog clock located between a pair of air vents.

I’ve never been a big fan of head-up displays, but the optional 9.7-inch unit here I found useful thanks to its navigation instructions. Rear passenger space is generous and there are heated and ventilated seats, which are also power adjustable. The fold down center armrest features basic HVAC and radio/stereo controls and a wireless charging spot. My tester also had a rear seat entertainment system and electronic rear sunshade. I can’t confirm whether the former will be available in the US. All US-spec K900s, however, will include standard Nappa leather upholstery, real wood trim, and ambient lighting. The optional 17-speaker Harmon Kardon/Lexicon surround-sound speaker system is definitely worth the extra bank.

Some standard safety includes a four-camera surround view monitor providing a 360-degree top-down view, lane following assist, forward-collision warning, and rear-cross traffic avoidance alert. So, the big question is whether I’d buy the new Kia K900? The answer is no, simply because I’m not the target demographic. The Stinger is for me, hands down, but this is not by any means to imply the K900 isn’t an excellent car for its intended buyers, because it is. Who are they? They’re at least a couple of decades older than me who want to reward themselves with a refined, extremely comfortable and high-quality large luxury sedan without having to pay German brand prices.

They’ll be saving themselves at least $30,000 compared to, say, a BMW 7 Series. Another target audience should be those in the Uber and Lyft driving community. I’d be thrilled and impressed if my next Uber driving rolled up in a new K900. Pricing? Exact figures are still not available, but Kia hinted to me it’ll begin in the mid-$50,000 range, so a bit pricier than the outgoing model. However, a fully-loaded K900 won’t exceed $60k. That’s incredible value and unless one just has to have a BMW or Mercedes badge, the K900 is the obvious choice. With all of the money you’d be saving I highly recommend purchasing that incredible toilet.

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