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Sibling Rivalry

2015 Kia K900 Sedan

Kia is generally referred to as the sister company of Hyundai. That’s not an entirely accurate depiction, as Hyundai actually owns about a third of Kia Motors. But if we go with the “sisters” analogy, Hyundai would be the studious, sober sister, while Kia is the prettier, sluttier one. That’s not to say that that Hyundai is above flashing a little cleavage, in the form of the Genesis Coupe, which in its 6-cylinder Track or Touring spec, is pretty sexy in Korean car terms. But, in general, Kia’s cars are more fun to drive Hyundai’s.

Kia K900 Sedan

But now Kia has come up with its own version of the 420 HP Hyundai Genesis sedan, which Kia calls the K900, for the 2015 model year. One would expect that Kia would take the Genesis and kick it up a notch over the Hyundai offering. And so they have. But not, maybe, in the way you’d think.

How it looks

There’s no denying that, at first glance, the K900 is an attractive car. While the Hyundai Genesis is ugly—in an entirely inoffensive and boring way—the K900 is not. In terms of looks and styling, both inside and out—the K900 is better in every possible way.

And yet there is a niggling little thing about the exterior styling that I find enraging in a car that costs $65,000 when nicely optioned. I’m referring specifically to the “vents” at the rear of each front fender. Apparently, because the BMW M-series cars have such a vent, everybody now has to have one on their flagship 5-series competitors. Jaguar, for instance, has them on the XF. And the K900 has them, too. Except that, in the K900’s case, they aren’t vents. They are silver and black vent imitators. Kia has cut a hole in the sheet metal for the specific purpose of covering the hole with a hideous piece of plastic. The Jag’s vent is made of chrome, at least. Not so the K900’s.

At first, I didn’t mind it too much. But then I started thinking about it. And I started to think about the K900’s sticker price. And it began to grate on me. Now, I’ve gotten to the point where I want to firebomb every K900 I see, simply because of the vent. Admittedly, I am perhaps, somewhat less than perfectly objective on this whole vent thing.

And I really should be more objective about it, because everything else about the K900 is quite nice. The exterior lighting consists entirely of LEDs, including the headlights. There are cameras fore and aft to give you a top-down 360-degree view of what’s around the car, too. There’s also a suite of parking sensors, lane deviation sensors, and blind spot sensors all ‘round. In back, there’s what I like to call a “two hooker” trunk.

Kia K900 SedanThe headlights are cunningly designed to rotate left, right, up, and down, depending on the terrain, your speed, and where you’re turning the wheel. They project wider beams when you’re driving slowly, and narrower, more road-focused beams when you’re driving quickly. Apparently, the headlight projectors are spinning around at all times like the ball turret of a B-17 fighting off a squadron of Focke-Wulf 190s. You don’t notice this from the inside, of course. All you see is the perfect light in the perfect place for whatever it is you’re doing.

Actually, you don’t notice the headlights at all from the inside, because your attention is taken up by the vast swathes of wood and stitched leather that coat nearly every surface. This car is the nemesis of cows—the righteous infliction of retribution for their horrific bovine sins, manifested by a Korean car company. All of the bits that may regularly touch your delicate skin are Napa leather, while more pedestrian leather coats the dashboard, doors, and steering wheel. The seat leather is perforated, so that appropriately warm or cool air can be wafted onto you through the perforations by the climate control system. The seats are almost infinitely adjustable as well, as is the steering wheel, all of which is done through the magic of electricity.

In the front seats, the only analog instrument is the small, mechanical clock in the center of the dash. The driver’s instruments and center screen are all bright, color TFT screens. The driver’s cluster displays various styles of instruments depending what on what drive mode you select. Normal mode brings up analog-style speedometer and tachometer needles, for instance, while Sport Mode displays digital large digital numbers for speed and RPM, surrounded by thin, circular gauges. The center of the driver’s screen displays various types of information on demand, including the menus to configure the heads up display that is projected onto the windshield, in case you’re too lazy to look down.

Kia K900 InteriorThe center console screen displays all of the entertainment, video, and satellite navigation functions. It is not a touch screen, but, instead, is controlled by a joystick/twist-knob arrangement, much like the controls in a Mercedes or BMW. Kia also seems to be the only automaker that understands how to make the center screen intuitive and easy to learn. This is the center screen control and menu system that should be in every car made today.

The K900 is also roomy in back. You could stable a horse back there. There’s simply loads of room for rear passengers. Kia has also come up with the idea that right rear seat is the VIP seat, the reasoning being that, if you’re being chauffeured, that’s where you’ll sit. So, in addition to the stereo and climate controls mounted on the rear center armrest, with the VIP options package, the passenger in the VIP seat can touch a control to move the front passenger seat forward, and fold the seat back forward.

After crushing his extra security man into the dashboard, then, the chauffeured VIP can take a little jog. The rear VIP seat also reclines for a little nap afterwards. The side and rear windows come with privacy screens that are mounted in the doors and rear deck, thus preventing the dirty, poor people from seeing the VIP, though not, sadly, the hideously mangled security man in the front passenger seat.

It’s rather hard to believe that this level of niceness is found in a Korean car. It’s just not the sort of thing they’re known for. In any event, the K900’s cabin is nicer by far than the Hyundai Genesis. Though, to be honest, there are little things here and there that don’t scream luxury. The switchgear is a little down-market, as are the plasticky bits that show up here and there in the cabin. These are minor things, maybe, but I noticed them.

It’s nicer than a Cadillac CTS inside the K900. It’s not as nice as a Mercedes E-Class, or Jaguar XF.

How it drives

Now that you’ve gotten used to the rather luxurious appointments in the K900, it’s time to press the start button and see what that 5.0L V8 does with its 420 HP and 376 lb.-ft. of torque. And when that baby fires up, the first thing you notice is…nothing much.

Kia has fitted the K900 with double-paned glass all ‘round. They’ve stuffed the frame full of foam. They’ve done everything possible, in fact, to ensure you are as isolated as possible from those plebian road, wind, and mechanical noises. They claim that the interior of the K900 is merely 2% louder than a Rolls Royce Ghost. There’s none of that piping the engine noise into the passenger cabin, like those working class yahoos at BMW. Apparently, Kia has decided that when you spend 65 large on a car, the last you want is engine noise. So, there really isn’t any. You can barely tell that the vehicle is running.

Kia K900 Rear SeatsOnce you get moving, though, you can tell the K900 is fast car. Or, rather, you infer it from the fact that you feel inertial forces, and things outside the car seem to be moving very quickly. But Kia has done everything that they can to spare you from what they consider the burdensome minutia of acceleration, or, what I consider “fun”.

Still, the K900 gets from 0 to 60 MPH in 5.5 seconds, and does the quarter-mile in the high 13-second range. If this was 2002, those would be fantastic numbers. In 2014, however, the Mercedes E550 gets to 60 MPH and hits the quarter-mile marker more than a second faster than the K900. Of course, the E550, while having only 402 horsepower, has 443 torques, which is 68 more than the K900. Torque rules.

Kia has continued their philosophy of isolating the cabin from unpleasantness by ensuring that in addition to noise, the road is also completely isolated from the driver. What are the road conditions like? How much grip do the tires have? What is the front end doing? You do not want or need to know these things, so Kia has provided numb electric steering and a suspension that prevents this information from ever reaching you.

Kia apparently believes that if you are driving the K900, you should be scanning the road for IEDs of other disturbances that may frighten or confuse the passenger in the VIP seat. This especially important when the security man has been squeezed into pulp beside you.

What Kia hasn’t done, however, is ensure you are isolated from bumps and potholes very well on bad pavement. In essence, they’ve numbed the things you don’t want numbed, while failing to numb the things you do. In good conditions, the ride is nice, but the ride quality in a $65,000 car should be a bit better.

Frankly, one gets the idea that Kia wishes you weren’t driving at all, but rather sitting in the VIP seat, reading the Financial Times while sipping XO Cognac. Driving is for the little people, much like being squeezed into three cubic inches of space in the front passenger seat is.

Kia K900 SedanYou can, however, tell quite clearly when the K900 is turning. Not even the engineering geniuses at Kia can figure out how to keep 4,624 lbs. of metal and glass from rolling like an 18th century frigate when the steering wheel is turned. Perhaps they should make a phone call to Castle Bromwich and ask the guys at Jaguar how they do it. Jaguar’s first answer would probably be to lose 600 lbs.

The power gets from the engine to the rear wheels through an 8-speed, shiftable automatic transmission. But, even though it’s shiftable, you won’t want to, even in sports mode, because it doesn’t want to listen to you. When you press the shifter lever in the center console, the transmission considers your input for a moment, thinking, “You’re not the boss of me!” then grudgingly assents to your request. You get the sense that the transmission would really rather be left alone to get on with its job without you trying to micromanage everything.

The K900’s brakes, on the other hand, are pretty hard to beat. They haul the portly sedan to a stop from 60 MPH in 113 ft. That’s four feet less than a Subaru WRX STi. That’s outstanding. They’re pretty fade-resistant, too.

What’s good about it

As I just mentioned, the braking is outstanding. It’s very roomy and comfortable inside. It’s mainly a good-looking car on the outside, if you can ignore the fake vents. Despite some plastic bits, the interior is quite nice, with loads of wood and leather—though the wood is so heavily covered with sparkly lacquer, you might think it was plastic at first glance. It has every technological gimmick you can think of, including adaptive cruise control, full Bluetooth and USB hookups, navigation, and electronic instrument gauges. You get an amazing amount of luxury for the price. The menu system is very intuitive and simple to me, though other reviewers I’ve read didn’t like it.

What’s bad about it

Basically, the K900 has the exact straight-line performance specs as the BMW 535i. But, if I wanted 6-cylinder levels of performance, I’d buy a 6-cylinder BMW. It’s not a driver’s car. It’s not fun to drive, and everything about it feels numb. Kia markets it like it’s a sports sedan. It’s not.

Conclusion

If you don’t care about driving—and, frankly, most people don’t—and you value your creature comforts, then this might be a good choice for you. It’s competitively priced compared to the Germans. It’s even $6,000 cheaper than a Cadillac CTS-V. Compared to its sister car, the Hyundai Genesis, the K900 is noticeably more luxurious and attractive. In those terms, the K900 beats the Genesis soundly. But the Genesis is noticeably more fun to drive than the K900.

If you’re looking for the sort of performance you get from the Mercedes E550, though, you’ll need to look somewhere else.

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