That red key, as it turns out, belongs to the K900, Kia's all-new flagship sedan. Armed with rear-wheel drive, acres of genuine wood and leather, and a starting price around $60,000, Kia is aiming the K900 directly at the blue key luxury status quo that is BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi. But is the K900 really "the One"? Come with us as we find out.
Just as Genesis started a new vehicle family for corporate sister Hyundai, the K900 line is a departure for Kia. But first things first, why the name K900?
In other global markets, such as Russia and the Middle East, the K900 is sold as the Quoris. However, Kia peeked over the shoulders of BMW and Mercedes and quickly realized that most luxury vehicles use an alphanumeric naming structure, so Quoris was out. Kia also decided that alphanumerics would help differentiate its flagship sedan from the rest of its lineup, which uses a conventional naming strategy.
In its home market of Korea, Kia uses K9 for its big sedan. Not wanting to field a dog of a luxury sedan, Kia simply added two zeros and settled on K900 for the U.S.
Kia doesn't have any plans to suddenly rename its entire lineup à la Infiniti, but we could see future Kia luxury vehicles branded with alphanumeric nameplates.
An Equus by another name
The Kia K900 isn't an all-new vehicle, but rather a different take on the Hyundai Equus that has been with us since 2011.
The K900 shares its platform and wheelbase with the Equus, but tighter proportions mean the K900 is about two inches shorter than its Hyundai-badged brother. The K900 also rides on a conventional coil suspension while the Equus utilizes airbags.
Like the Equus, the K900 is currently rear-wheel drive only, but Kia promises that all-wheel drive is on the way. The K900's weight distribution is a near-ideal 52/48 in V8 form.
Looking the part
The K900 follows Kia's latest design language, with several of the sedan's design cues lifted from the smaller Cadenza. Up front the K900 is easily recognizable as a Kia thanks to the company's signature Tiger Nose grille.
That grille is flanked by adaptive LED headlights that feature soft-glow LED frames. Daytime running lights, located in the lower portion of the bumper, are also LED.
The K900 boasts classic rear-wheel drive proportions with a long hood, swept-back passenger compartment and short deck lid. Staggered 19-inch wheels fill the K900's wheel wells nicely.
The rear of the K900 is highlighted by integrated dual exhaust outlets and LED taillights. In fact, the only lights on the K900 that don't use LED technology are the backup lamps.
Overall the K900 is a handsome vehicle, albeit squarely on the safe side of conservative. We can definitely see some influences in the K900's design, particularly at the back where it's a doppelganger for the current Lexus LS.
The interior of the K900 is appointed as nicely as you'd expect from an S-class rival. Virtually all surfaces in our top-of-the-line V8 VIP tester were covered in leather or soft-touch plastics. Although we tend to prefer matte finishes, the K900's accents are at least real wood.
Slip behind the K900's leather and wood steering wheel, hit the push button start and you're greeted by a 12.3-inch reconfigurable LCD screen. As with modern Land Rover and Jaguar vehicles, the LCD screen replaces all of the vehicle's typical analog gauges.
In standard mode, the LCD screen takes the form of a typical gauge cluster - a dial on the left for the speedometer and one on the right for the tach. Fuel level and engine temperature are integrated into the twin-pod setup. Engage the K900's Drive Mode and the gauges transform into a sportier layout with large, digital readouts.
In order to keep the driver's eyes on the road, the K900 is equipped with Kia's first-ever head-up display.
A 9.2-inch LCD screen sits atop the K900's center stack and handles all infotainment duties. The system is controlled via a Driver Information System (Kia speak for an iDrive-like joystick) located on the center console. We didn't get much time to play around with the K900's UVO infotainment system, but we can confidently report that the sedan's 17-speaker Lexicon audio system is one of the best on the market today.
The K900 comes with a host of safety systems, including Blind Spot Detection, Surround View Monitor, Lane Departure Warning, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, a crash avoidance system and Smart Cruise Control.
And, of course, the K900 wouldn't be a luxury vehicle without its requisite analog clock.
The overall dash design of the K900 is kept interesting with a 3-D layering effect. Red mood lights accent the K900's interesting architectural touches.
The K900's seats are La-Z-Boy comfortable, including headrests that would be worthy of first class on any airliner. If you're not driving, the K900's spacious rear seats are where you want to be. Both rear thrones are power-activated, and a fold-down armrest provides controls for the heated and cooled seats, climate control and rear-window sunshade. A massage function, however, is glaringly absent from the K900's spec sheet.
During everyday driving, the K900 is exactly what you'd expect from a large luxury sedan - smooth, quiet and comfortable.
The K900's coil suspension is perfectly tuned for soaking up road imperfections, although we did find that some mid-corner bumps - such as expansion joints on the freeway - can upset the car's chassis. Both road and wind noise are virtually undetectable in the K900's cabin.
The K900 is powered by a 420 horsepower, 376 lb-ft of torque version of the 5.0L Tau V8 found under the hood of the Equus, while shifting duties are handled by an in-house designed eight-speed automatic transmission. A less-expensive 3.8L V6 with 311 horsepower and 293 lb-ft of torque will eventually be offered.
Mileage in the K900 V8 is a thirsty 15mpg city and 23mpg highway. Kia says the upcoming V6 model will return a more reasonable 18/27mpg city/highway.
The K900 doesn't feel as quick as its power number might suggest, thanks to a hefty curb weight of 4,555 pounds. Still, the K900 should be more than fast enough for the average buyer.
Kia's eight-speed gearbox provides silky shifts and even holds gears in sport mode. You can row through the K900's gears via the console shifter, but paddle shifters are not available.
Despite its rear-drive, near-perfect weight balance and staggered wheels, you won't soon mistake the K900 for a sports sedan. Steering is about as numb and indirect as grandpa's Lincoln, and the K900 likes to lean through the corners. The brakes are just fine around town, but the four-wheel discs are quickly overwhelmed by spirited driving.
The K900 is best suited for a relaxing cruise to the country club, which is probably just fine for the car's intended target audience.
Leftlane's bottom line
Offering full-size amenities at a mid-size price, the Kia K900 is an interesting proposition in the luxury sedan segment.
Though not quite as sporty as some of its competition, the K900 is a comfortable cruiser that can be had for around $20,000 less than a comparable Bimmer or Benz. Those kind of savings might be enough to lure us to a Kia showroom, but it remains to be seen if the average luxury buyer is ready to pick the red key.
2015 Kia K900 V8 base price, $60,400.
Photos by Drew Johnson.