2019 Kia K900 First Drive

Premium Luxury Without the Prestigious Badge

Kia, a brand known for economical cars, introduced the K900 luxury sedan to the U.S. in 2015. It was intended to elevate the South Korean automaker's standing, with the hope of shoppers saying, "That's a Kia?" In some respects, it worked. The K900 was exceptional for the money and a decent luxury sedan overall. Whether or not it elevated the brand in the eyes of the American car shopper is difficult to prove, and perhaps that single example isn't enough to yield a definitive answer.

That leads us to the fully redesigned 2019 Kia K900. It addresses almost all of the drawbacks we point out in our reviews and maintains its value proposition. A scant three weeks after its global debut at the 2018 New York Auto Show, we had a chance to sample it for ourselves in South Korea.

2019 Kia K900

Compared to its predecessor, the 2019 Kia K900 is marginally bigger on the outside yet significantly roomier on the inside. Under the hood is a turbocharged 3.3-liter V6 engine that produces 365 horsepower and 376 pound-feet of torque. It's the same powerplant found in the sporty Kia Stinger. Attached to it is an eight-speed automatic transmission that sends power to all four wheels. When it goes on sale this fall, prices will start around $55,000. So far, those are the facts that we're assured will carry through to production.

As we're still about six months from the on-sale date, the feature content (what will be standard and optional) has not yet been determined. It's important to also note that the vehicle we drove was built for the Korean market and some items may not make it stateside. The suspension, specifically, will receive a different tuning for U.S. customers.

Raising the Curtain
Up front, the 2019 Kia K900 displays a wider grille flanked by narrower headlights compared to the last generation. The new face gives the impression of a wider and more substantial sedan, though stylistically, it's a bit anonymous. Initially, we didn't find the dual accent lights all that attractive. In an anthropromorphic sense, it reminded us of the bags under our eyes when we're sleep-deprived. The radar sensors in the grille could also be better integrated. The profile better defines the trunk section, giving it a more conventional sedan shape, while the more upright taillights seem Bentley-esque in their execution and have accent lights that mimic the headlights. Overall, there's nothing jarring about the K900's style, but there's nothing particularly inspiring either.

2019 Kia K900

On the inside, the K900's horizontally dominant dash has hints of the BMW 7 Series, with a matching trapezoidal infotainment screen mounted top and center. The quality of the materials has definitely improved, with leather upholstery that looks, feels and even smells more premium than before and open pore wood trim that is much less plasticky. Adding even more panache is an analog clock from luxury watchmaker Maurice Lacroix, serving as a centerpiece of the cabin.

As far as we could tell, the K900 entrusted to us included every feature available. Up front, the seats are both heated and ventilated and have an abundance of adjustments. Facing the driver is a virtual instrument panel, as well as a wide head-up display. Filling the cabin with sound is a powerful Lexicon audio system, while a wide 12.3-inch touchscreen handles the typical infotainment functions, backed up by a dial controller on the center console. Also in the center console is a wireless charging pad.

Helping the driver is a suite of advanced safety features and automated driving assistants that includes adaptive cruise control; lane trace assist, which helps keep the vehicle in the center of a lane; a surround-view camera system; and a drowsy driver warning system. In addition to blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, a new camera system displays the blind spot in the instrument panel.

2019 Kia K900

Rear passengers are also treated to deluxe accommodations, with heated and ventilated outboard seats that have almost as many adjustments as in the front. The center armrest/middle passenger seatback folds down to provide a large armrest with another wireless charging pad along with numerous controls that include seating position, redundant infotainment control and rear climate. The right rear passenger can recline fully with the tap of a single button that also slides and folds the front seat forward to provide maximum legroom. Returning to an upright position requires only another single tap of a button. Missing is a deployable ottoman or foot rest, but dual rear entertainment screens were included. A power rear sunshade rises from behind the rear headrests, while the side window sunshades are manual. These power rear seats do not fold to provide additional cargo space, but there is a center pass-through for longer items. Fortunately, the trunk is spacious in every dimension and will easily carry an impressive amount of luggage.

In addition to the 64 colors available for interior mood lighting, Kia partnered with Pantone color specialists to select seven distinct hues. Unfortunately, our daytime drive didn't allow us to experience the full effect.

2019 Kia K900

Ensemble Performance
Unlike the previous-generation K900, this new model will not have a V8 engine option. After spending some time with the turbocharged V6, however, we don't see the need for a bigger powerplant. The 2019 K900 gets up to speed with ease and authority, accompanied by smooth and quick gear changes. Passing slower traffic is just as effortless as the transmission responds immediately by selecting lower gears. We noticed a marked improvement in handling. The predecessor's lazy and soft ride has been replaced with a more taut and responsive suspension that instills significantly more confidence when cornering.

While we applaud the more athletic suspension, we think the tuning has gone too far in the sporty direction. At least for a large luxury sedan, the ride quality is too firm as it transmits even small imperfections into the cabin. Our vehicle's driver-selectable adaptive suspension lacks the kind of initial compliance we expect, even in the softest Comfort setting. The U.S.-bound K900s will receive a different suspension tuning, but historically the U.S.-specific tuning has been stiffer than for the Korean-market cars. If this is the case, the ride quality could be unreasonably firm. Selecting the stiffer Sport setting doesn't yield that much of a difference either. More noticeably, Sport mode automatically moves the driver-seat bolsters inward to provide better lateral support. Wider drivers may find this somewhat problematic. In addition to the stiff ride quality, we also deduct points for the noticeable amount of road noise on the highway. By our account, it's louder than the previous K900, which we praised for its hushed cabin.

Ride quality and road noise notwithstanding, the 2019 K900 is a pleasure to drive. The advanced safety features function as they should with no false alarms. The adaptive cruise control is pleasantly smooth in its application of throttle and brake pressure, while the Lane Following Assist manages to keep the vehicle in the center of the lane whether on a straightaway or in a curve. Another feature uses map data and rolls up the windows and switches the air conditioning to recirculation mode just before entering the many highway tunnels in Korea. This function has a likelihood of being implemented in the U.S. market, although South Korea's comparably extensive map data means that it might not be as effective here in the States.

The vast amount of South Korean map data also allows for far more informational and navigation features. Too much for our tastes, as we discovered. Along with the typical navigation prompts, the system also announces the approach to speed cameras, traffic congestion, changing speed limits, collision zones and other road hazards. As helpful as all of this sounds, in practice the frequency of these alerts is as off-putting as an overly chatty backseat driver. We attempted to disable these prompts, but in the short time we had with the car, we couldn't find that system setting. Hopefully it exists.

The new Blind Spot View Monitor takes a page from the Honda LaneWatch playbook, with some notable enhancements. When the driver activates a turn signal, a camera on the appropriate side projects a live view of the blind spot in the instrument panel to ensure the space is clear. Honda's system displays only the right-side view in the central infotainment screen, which we deem too much of a distraction, especially at night. We wouldn't be surprised if Kia's monitor is equally distracting.

The Big Finale
After our brief time driving the Korean-spec 2019 Kia K900, we left impressed on a number of levels. In terms of price, it's comparable to midsize luxury sedans such as the BMW 5 Series and the Mercedes-Benz E-Class. For that money, however, you're getting a larger sedan that is similar to the 7 Series and the S-Class. The K900 gains an even greater advantage for its feature content. A similarly equipped 7 Series or S-Class would easily cost twice as much and Kia's industry-leading 10-year warranty is unassailable. Even against sedans from Lincoln and Genesis, the K900 maintains a strong price advantage.

As much potential the K900 has, its greatest obstacle remains prestige. In the large luxury sedan class, a premium badge carries a lot of weight and that's something the Kia badge is most certainly lacking. For potential shoppers unconcerned with brand prestige, the 2019 Kia K900 will likely be an excellent choice that will leave them with money in their pocket. Our main gripe of the overly stiff ride could very well be addressed before the car hits showrooms later this year, leaving us with no deal-breaking critiques, so we'll reserve our judgment until we get the opportunity to drive a U.S.-spec K900. At least from what we've seen so far, this K900 has a far better chance of elevating Kia's standing than its predecessor.

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