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Kia K900 First Drive: Are We Ready For a $65,000 Kia?

by Roy Choi | March 30, 2014March 30, 2014 1:00 pm PDT

Kia invited TechnoBuffalo to take a drive in the Kia K900 around Southern California for the day. And I mean AROUND Southern California. A 163 mile round trip. I enjoyed nearly every moment of that ride.

Kia-drive-k900

Note: This route is a great route if you ever want to take in a drive to test out different types of driving elements (e.g., freeway, surface streets, hills, sharp turns, etc.) It is simply a great leisurely drive.

You may have seen the Kia K900 commercial based on the Matrix films during this year’s Super Bowl. This commercial is very deliberate and poses the question of choosing between traditional luxury and Kia’s interpretation.

If you haven’t seen it, check it out below.

Also I’m told there are 13 easter eggs in the commercial, let me know if you find them all.

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First let’s talk about the name: K900, why the alpha-numeric name for a car company that has typically stuck to monikers like Rio, Soul or Optima? For one, the Kia marketing team claims the target demographic associates luxury with alpha-number cars (think car names from BMW, Mercedes or Audi). While Kia could have named the car the K9 (as it is named so in Korea) and the Quoris (named so in other markets) it has chosen the K900 moniker for the U.S. market.

The Kia K900 is without a doubt a beautiful car. The designs are definitely rooted in Kia’s existing design cues, though with a bit more sophistication. Certainly the wheelbase places the vehicle amongst large luxury vehicles. The K900 boasts a 119.9-inch wheelbase, just a tad shorter than its cousin the Hyundai Equus. The fully loaded V8 VIP K900 (priced at $65,500) will be available first while the base V6 model (priced at $50,000) will be introduced sometime later this year. While Kia calls the V6 a “base” model it certainly has most features you’d find as added options on other vehicles. We drove around in the V8 VIP model for the purpose of the first drive.

The K900 is an extremely nice car. While Kia targets the vehicle to compete against top of the line luxury models from BMW and Mercedes-Benz (7-Series, S550) that are priced $15,000 to $40,000 more than the K900. Though, one could argue folks that are forking out $120,000 for a car aren’t necessarily looking for a bargain. So admittedly Kia is looking for a specific buyer, someone who enjoys luxury but isn’t worried about branding or a certain stigma tied to a brand. Though, I’ll explain later, Kia doesn’t expect to sell many of these cars.

The K900 comes loaded with surround view, blind-spot detection, lane departure, customizable dashboards, and dozens of other luxury features. I would say my two favorite features have to be the adaptive cruise control and the HUD (Heads Up Display). The cruise control regulates the car speed, including braking to a complete stop. The K900 was an absolutely fun car to drive, this sentiment was shared by nearly every journalist gathered at this event. Then again the statement is followed up with, how does Kia change the customer perception of its brand? That is a hard formula to crack. It appears Kia is in it for the long haul. Even if it means a decade of little or no sales for this new flagship car. Kia’s volume sales are strong for its low-end and mid-range vehicles, enough so that Kia announced last year it rolled out its 1 millionth car from its West Point, Georgia assembly factory.

A $65,500 Kia, Really?

It’s a bit of an interesting problem. We live in a cynical world where people will question whether or not a Kia is worth $50,000-$65,500. I will say the car is absolutely a steal at $65,500, it looks nice, drives well, and has a bunch of tech that will make most gadget enthusiasts blush. It’s fully loaded at $65,500. But would I buy one (if I even had the income to do so)? That’s the million dollar question, or in this case the $65,500 one. In the consumer tech world, fans call each other out for buying devices just because it carries a certain brand or image. How many times have you read comments on social media, this site or others like it, regarding “Oh, Apple Fanboys, you’re just buying into the name?” Yet I’m inclined to feel that those same critics won’t bat an eye in regards to car brand affinity.

Does that sentiment means that people are willing to fork out more without the Kia branding? Well Kia quite frankly doesn’t expect to sell the same quantity of cars as its Soul or Optima cars. But it wants these cars to be placed at a local Kia dealership and ask “Why the heck would you buy a $66,000 Kia?” Which I suppose is a great reason why Morpheous asks us to choose between the blue pill or the red pill. Then again it could be a hard pill to swallow at this price. At any rate, Kia looks to make these types of cars to change the perception of the brand itself and it knows it is in it for the long haul to get consumers to start thinking of Kia in a different way. It has worked for them thus far. Just look at how many Kias you see on the road today compared to a decade ago. For Kia there is very little additional cost to develop this car, it is being sold in other markets. As far as it is concerned the K900 could just sit in the U.S. market as a mere marketing halo, and Kia would be fine with as long as people know the car exists.

Drive Experience

Kia mapped out a really fun drive, having lived in Southern California my entire life, I can honestly tell you I’ve never driven this exact route. It started by driving down the California coast to open freeways, and some tight corners along some mountain roads. It was an absolute perfect route and it runs through the entire gamut of car driving elements.

The K900 on paper has the specifications most luxury cars hold. The model that we drove holds a 5.0 liter V-8 engine that puts out 420 horsepower with 376 pounds-feet of torque. It rides quite smoothly. As a driver the ride is very responsive, and you can choose to switch between a sportier mode that tightens up the drive a bit more, though you can’t call this car a sports car. I think Kia itself tries to market away from the “sporty” branding so it doesn’t directly compete with the sportier cars you’d find from more established European manufacturers. The K900 sits between a “floaty” drive and a sportier one, its not really the best in either category, but still ends up being pretty decent in both categories.

The corners! My goodness does the car drive well around the sharpest corners. Even though the K900 is a larger sedan, it handled quite nicely. I found it more enjoyable driving in sport mode during this portion of route.

The engine is extremely quiet, though you can get it to sound fairly menacing in a 0-60 mph situation. If you were to slap a European car brand on the car and were to drive it you wouldn’t question its pedigree whatsoever.

As for passengers, the back seat is truly one of the most comfortable backseats on the market. With reclining seats and enough legroom to stretch out, in fact you could even push the front passenger’s seat forward from controls in the back. Why? Because when you’re the boss, you determine how much leg room you get. Of course there are the controls for climate control, and the arm rest/compartment has room for storage as well as charging ports.

Final Thoughts

The car drives smoothly like any luxury car should. It has decent pick up and while we’ve driven nearly the complete U.S. Kia Motors lineup of cars, each proceeding model surprises us. Probably because of the negative image the car manufacturer has held. But the most recent line-up of cars, of which Kia had seven new releases or redesigns in just 2014 (Cadenza, Optima, Sorrento, Soul, and three variants of the Forte), continues to surpass expectations.

I will admit it is a hard sell to purchase a Kia at $65,500, considering there are so many great options in the price point. Though who knows where Kia will stand in a decade, maybe buyers won’t bat an eye at the sight of a $65,500 Kia. And you do have to admire how far Kia has come from its Sephia days. So I don’t find it impossible to see Kia push out more luxury vehicles in the near future. I may even be inclined to own one if they are anywhere near as a nice as the K900.

Disclaimer: Kia invited us to a 3-day K900 First Drive event in Newport Beach, CA where we were briefed on the vehicle and were allowed to drive the vehicle for 4-5 hours.


Roy Choi

Roy Choi is a Southern California native. He has been infatuated with technology reviews ever since he bought his first crummy laptop in the summer...

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