First drive: 2015 Kia K900

Kia brings back your father’s Oldsmobile

Published: December 26, 2013 04:30 PM

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If you long for the return of old-style American cruisers like those once made by Cadillac, Lincoln, Buick, and Oldsmobile, maybe a Korean limo such as Kia’s new K900 flagship will give you hope. As today’s premium Detroit brands have shifted to the firm-riding, crisp-handling doctrine of European sports sedans, Kia apparently believes there’s an underserved U.S. market hungry for the cushy, plush, and undemanding.

The rear-drive K900 targets the full-sized Lexus LS, Mercedes S-Class, and Audi A8 according to its size and power, but costs thousands less: about $65,000 in top trim instead of about $90,000 or more for the sexy Europeans. As expected, active safety features such as lane-departure, blind spot warning, and collision alert are part of the package. The K900 goes on sale in spring 2014 as a 2015 model.

Driving impressions: The up-level K900 we rented from Kia was packed with the 420-hp, 5.0-liter V8 rather than the standard 311-hp 3.8-liter V6. The slick, powerful V8 and its eight-speed automatic produces effortless acceleration delivered quietly and competently. The car wafts along quietly with a cushioned ride well isolated from the rude world outside. Isolated it might be but steady it is not. There’s enough of the floaty buoyancy familiar from grandpa’s Florida car and undulating corners have the K900 wallowing like a waterbed.

Clearly, handling isn’t the K900’s forte. The light-effort, slow-responding steering is devoid of feedback, and early onset of body lean also harks back to the Nixon era. It doesn’t take much wheel-winding to get the tires squealing and the body tilting.

The sumptuous interior is plush and well put together. Its suede trim feels luxurious, and the leather, stitching, and plastics look good, but the ambience still seems a bit austere. One concession to modernity is a central unified-controller knob that might be daunting at first, but at least the K900 has some familiar hard keys and switches to work the climate system, heated seats, and steering wheel. Unfortunately Kia took a page from the Toyota book with a light switch that makes it too easy to cancel the daytime-running lights. The shifter is a copy of BMW’s electronic shifter. And the door-mounted seat adjusters are like those in Mercedes-Benz models.

The rear seat is enormous and on the version we drove, passengers are able to adjust recline angle. Unfortunately, the side windows’ sunshades are manual rather than power operated as in competitors. But the soft-closing doors show how ambitious Hyundai/Kia is.

The K900 is a cousin of the Hyundai Equus and a shade larger than Kia’s other large sedan, the Cadenza. Its Korean name, K9, had to be changed for an obvious reason (woof!) and an interim moniker, Quoris, didn’t make the grade either, so the namers-in-charge came up with the innocuous K900. Prices start at about $50,000 for lower-trim V6-powered version.

CR Take: People who yearn for a relaxing freeway cruiser like the Roadmasters of yesteryear and also have $65,000 to reenact the experience might happily inhabit a K900. They’d get a big comfy car with a modern powertrain and bespoke interior. But it’s an open question how many luxury-sedan customers will be willing to be seen behind the Kia emblem, a name more readily associated with K-Mart than Cartier.

—Gabe Shenhar

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