The 2015 Kia K900 is South Korea’s version of the Westminster Kennel Club dog show. It’s a display of automotive breeding that takes the most expensive luxury sedan from its Hyundai sister company — the Equus — and tweaks it for an even more value-oriented buyer.
Offered as Kia’s best in show, the K900 is a premium five-seat sedan that is also its first to be driven with a V-8 engine and rear-wheel drive, the math being that power plus performance equals luxury. It’s an equation that has long worked for the Germans. But a $60,400-plus Kia is quite the departure.
Kia is South Korea’s oldest car company. Founded 70 years ago as a bicycle maker, it began building cars in 1974 and selling them in the U.S. in 1994, at which point the brand quickly became synonymous with cheap. It’s a reputation Kia has struggled to shed ever since, despite offering increasingly higher-end vehicles, such as its Optima sedan.
So the K900 is a huge leap. Costing almost twice as much as its previously most premium offering, the $35,100 Cadenza sedan introduced last year, the K900 may be a celebration of Kia’s 20 years in the U.S. market, but it is also a grand experiment to test the idea that a luxury experience trumps brand status.
Kia spent much of last week wooing the automotive press with the highest-end version of its highest-end car at a high-end event based at the swanky Pelican Hill resort in Newport Coast, Calif. For a day, I spent almost 200 miles in its $66,400 V-8 K900 equipped with a VIP package that adds power reclining and ventilation to the rear seats and various technological firsts for Kia. That includes a head-up display in the driver’s windshield, a surround-view monitor that displays all four corners of the car on the center console screen to help with parking, and advanced smart cruise control that not only maintains the car’s following distance but can bring it to a full stop as well as re-accelerate.