The biggest question to be answered about the all-new 2015 Kia K900 luxury sedan that we drove for the first time this week is not the perennial "Is it a good car?" but rather "Is the American car buyer ready for a $65,000 Kia?"  After an extensive test drive that included a day-long drive-and-interview with Eddie Rayyan, Kia Motors America's chief product planner on the vehicle, we came away convinced that the K900 is a well-executed and easy-to-like rear-drive luxury sedan. When it comes to the current generation of luxury-brand sedans (think Lexus LS, BMW 7 Series, Mercedes-Benz S-Class) the K900 does a very creditable job of checking most of the same boxes, especially in its top-of-the-line VIP trim, which is the one we tested.  The K900 is handsome inside and out; it offers a very high level of fit-and-finish plus quality materials; it is filled to the brim with luxury equipment, and it drives with the competent demeanor of a vehicle that is completely sure of itself.  In short, by every functional measure it has the goods to compete against the elite luxury sedans.

That said, we'd be missing a key point if we ignored the fact that many (most?) luxury sedan buyers make their purchase (or sign their lease) based on what the vehicle says about them.  Prestige plays a big role in the acquisition decision, and that is one area in which Kia, despite its rapid strides upscale, falls short of BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus and Cadillac.

This potential issue is certainly not unknown to top Kia executives.  In the press conference that accompanied the driving event Kia marketing and communications EVP Michael Sprague spoke about "defying industry convention."

"We zig when others are zagging," he said.  "We take a different approach, and there has never been a better time for us to introduce this vehicle." Sprague also seemed quite realistic about the kind of luxury buyer who would gravitate most to the Kia K900.  Think self-made, confident individualist. "They are looking for something intriguing and unique," he said.  "They have a more pragmatic approach to luxury; they're looking for new and upcoming brands.  They are not concerned about what everybody else thinks." 

An appealing way to make life's journey

Well, what we think is the K900 makes a very appealing traveling companion.  Quiet and poised, it does what you want it to do without making demands.  For instance, its ride and handling fall nearly in the center of the soft ride versus performance handling continuum.  We expect that when really pushed hard the German sedans might display an edge in overall handling, but the K900 is certainly up for some spirited driving.  At the same time, on the Interstate it will cruise in stately, serene comfort mile after pain-free mile.  You can chalk all of this up to the combination of 5-link fully independent front and rear suspension, the use of high-tensile steel, plenty of sound-deadening efforts, laminated front and side window glass and staggered tires.  The front tires are P245/45P-19 and the rears are P275/40R-19 fitted on standard 19-inch chrome alloy wheels. Not the norm, but it works.

"Acceleration?" you ask.  "Yes," the V8-powered VIP version of the K900 answers.  In fact its Tau dual-overhead-cam 5-liter engine is Kia's first V8, and that is reason for celebrating.  Delivering 420 peak horsepower and a significant 376 lb-ft of peak torque, the all-aluminum engine features direct injection and variable valve timing for both intake and exhaust.  The smooth, quiet V8 is mated to a ZF 8-speed automatic transmission that is rapidly become ubiquitous in luxury sedans. The high-tech transmission offers Eco, Normal and Sport modes with the requisite adjustment in shift-mapping. Changing modes also alters the settings on the electric power-assisted steering, but it doesn't adjust shock valving or other suspension settings.  

Electronic driver aids in abundance

While the suspension is not computerized, there is no shortage of electronic driver assists on the K900.  The V8 version of the car offers Kia's first installation of a rear cross traffic alert system and Kia's first installation of what it calls Advanced Vehicle Safety Management.  The latter integrates various vehicle monitoring systems, primary among them electronic stability control, with seatbelt and warning systems to alert the driver in case of danger.  If a potential collision is detected AVSM alerts the driver in three stages: audible alarm, visual warning on the head-up and dash-mounted displays and, finally a tightening of the front seatbelts.  The system does not, however, apply the brakes to avert or mitigate the crash.  The K900 can also be equipped with blind spot detection, lane departure warning and radar-based Advanced Smart Cruise Control that enables you to set a desired distance between your luxury K900 and the vehicle in front of you.  For those of you who are intimidated by parallel parking, your fears will be allayed with the Surround View Monitor system.  Using four wide-angle mini-cameras, the system displays on the dash-mounted screen where you are in relationship to potential hazards like curbs, parking meters, bushes and stray dogs.  It doesn't steer you into the parking place, but it helps take the worry out of being close.  

Even in the absence of the Surround View Monitoring system, parking the K900 is pretty easy.  Front and rear park-assist sensors are standard on each and every K900, and the display on the in-dash monitor indicates distance between your vehicle and objects via an intuitive green, yellow and red line system, accompanied by an ever-more-insistent buzzer.

As you can guess the K900 offers an expansive in-dash display.  The VIP V8 is equipped with a 12.3-inch screen, the largest TFT instrument panel ever offered in a Kia.  Based on driving mode, the display shifts from traditional round speedometer and tachometer to higher tech digital readouts reminiscent of Formula One cars. It also features a full-color head-up display, which is configurable to offer info on speed, turn-by-turn navigation and alerts.  Easily legible in sunlight or darkness, it vanished when I put on my polarized sunglasses.

In-car entertainment that will blow your socks off

On the in-car entertainment front even buyers of V6-equipped K900s will be blown away - perhaps literally - by the 900-watt Lexicon audio system, which, as you might have guessed, is the most powerful and advanced audio system ever offered in a Kia.  The system features a trunk-mounted 12-channel digital amplifier, a subwoofer below the rear parcel shelf and 17 strategically placed speakers.  Its many wonders are easily accessible via a 9.2-inch center console screen that is the gateway to Kia's UVO eServices telematics software.  The various UVO functions are easily accessed via a rotary knob on the center console that is flanked by a small array of direct access buttons to things like navigation and radio.

The interior of the K900 is extremely accommodating to both front- and rear-seat passengers. Luscious Nappa leather and genuine walnut or poplar wood trim are spread lavishly around the interior, and we appreciated the added comfort of the 16-way power-adjusted driver's seat that is both heated and ventilated. Lighting is with "soft-hue" LEDs. Via controls on the fold-down center armrest, rear-seat passengers can not only manipulate the cabin temperature but also adjust seat heating and the power rear sunshade. They can even fold up the front passenger seat at the touch of a button for more legroom. In the VIP versions the rear seats also independently recline and feature power lumbar support.  All V8 models are equipped with a mammoth panoramic sunroof with retractable sunshade.

Looking good in the (upscale) neighborhood

Oh, and did we mention that the K900 is attractive on the outside, too?  In the driveway of a prestigious Santa Barbara hotel it drew covetous glances from the well-heeled patrons, based on its handsome profile, interesting grille and technologic-overkill front headlights. These last consist of 16 LED bulbs grouped into clusters below clear lenses, and they adjust to point out bends in the road ahead.

In an effort to cater to the luxury customer who would be interested in the K900, Kia is upgrading the sales and service experiences at the selected dealers who will carry the model when it comes to market later this year.  Kia is also set to offer a three-year, 37,500-mile complimentary scheduled maintenance program that additionally includes the use of a loaner Kia Cadenza or K900 when yours is in the shop.

So to recapitulate, the 2015 Kia K900 is not only a satisfying luxury sedan, but it is also a major step in Kia's evolution from super-value specialty brand to premium full-line brand.  Kia executives know the journey won't be completed in a day or a year or even a few years, but they have definitely taken the initial step.  

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