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The darkhorse in the luxury mid-size sedan race?

S. Muralidhar | Updated on: Jun 07, 2018
Creature comfort The K900’s cabin is plush and comfortable, with perforated seats

Creature comfort The K900’s cabin is plush and comfortable, with perforated seats

The second generation of Kia’s flagship sedan sees a leap in build quality and performance. But can it woo buyers away from the German big three?

Kia Motors’ maturing into a premium car manufacturer has been rapid. Its global success with cars like the Optima, and SUVs like the Sportage and Sorento is testimony to this coming of age in design, engineering quality and performance. With its products and customer interface, the brand delivers a unified message that it is a manufacturer of premium automobiles and that it can take on the heavyweights in key markets in Europe and the US. Kia now sells over 3.5 million vehicles worldwide and its bright red and white brand colour theme gives it a unique recall.

But, while its small cars like the Soul and Picanto, and its compact sedans too have won hearts and carved out a share of the big markets in the west, does Kia have what it takes to strike out into the bigger, luxury family sedan category? Recently, Kia unveiled the second generation of the K9 sedan (called the K900 in other markets globally). This is a sedan that is bigger than the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, and the company’s ambitions include competing with the big three German brands.

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The K900 was first introduced in 2012 and has been Kia’s flagship luxury sedan. With the second generation of this model, and a fresh design and plusher cabin, Kia has positioned itself as a serious competitor in the luxury mid-size sedan segment. By now, we all know that Kia is set to enter the Indian market next year with a compact sports utility vehicle (SUV) being the first offering. The vehicle will be based on the SP2 Concept that Kia showcased at the Auto Expo earlier this year. On the other hand, the K900 is unlikely to be one of the cars that lands on our shores even in the near future. But since it is such a demonstrator of what the Korean company is capable of coming up with, I accepted Kia’s invitation to test drive the new model in its home town, Seoul.

Design and build

My first interaction with Kia’s flagship sedan was at the ‘Salon de K9’ located at the centre of the Korean capital city — a showroom dedicated to the aspiring luxury saloon and meant to provide potential customers an immersive experience with the car. With sophisticated decor and product managers in suits who could pass off as Korean supermodels, the ‘Salon’ attempts to make the process of shopping for a K900 very special and personal.

The K900 has the dimensions and visual heft of a modern day saloon. It is longer, with increased wheelbase and shorter overhangs compared to its predecessor. It is also bigger than some of its global competitors. A long bonnet, low-set profile and a coupe-like rear design gives the K900 an air of strength and prestige. The Tiger’s nose bonnet grille is the introduction to this Kia model too — a design signature which, with mild model-specific variations, is what Kia’s Chief Designer Peter Schreyer introduced after he took over in 2006. The two-layered LED daytime running light signature in the headlamps seems a bit overdone, but still manages to sit well with the overall design language of the K900. There are quite a lot of chrome elements around the car including the window frames, the grille frame, highlight garnish on the front fender and the rear bumper, and around the edges of the tail-lamps (in some trim variants). The tail-lamps also sport matching two-layered LED tubes; and the stubby boot lid features an integrated spoiler to give the K900 a touch of sportiness.

 

 

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Cabin

Kia’s design direction after Peter Schreyer took over has taken a distinctly European turn. There is much less of the Asian excess in the character lines and glass elements. In keeping with its stately image, the K900 tries to match the design and build philosophy of luxury cars from a segment above. Surprisingly, it manages to pull it off quite well with its plush and well-appointed cabin. There are acres of leather and real wood veneer inserts adorning the dashboard, door panels and centre console. The perforated seats offer generous amounts of thigh and back support, and the rear seats also get fat side bolsters and a thick arm rest with multiple controls for seat adjustment, cabin temperature and infotainment.

A 12.3-inch touchscreen crowning the centre stack is the control centre for the infotainment package, which includes a 17-speaker Lexicon music system. To woo luxury car buyers, the K900 also gets a dashboard analogue clock from Swiss luxury brand Maurice Lacroix. Chunky aluminium control knobs and buttons combine with the leather and wood trim elements to lift the plushness of the cabin. But, just like some of the exterior design elements seem to have been inspired by some of the German luxury car brands, the interior of the K900 is very reminiscent of being in a Mercedes-Benz.

However, some interesting bits in the cabin include the exquisitely finished steering wheel, the digital instrument cluster, which also doubles up as a blind spot camera display when the driver engages the turn indicator, and the discreet ambient LED mood lighting for which Kia has tied up with the Pantone Color Institute to develop exclusive shades. Many of these warm light shades are said to have been influenced by colours from nature. With its wheelbase being longer than many European luxury cars in the mid-size segment, there is a lot of room in the K900’s cabin. It is easy to find a comfortable position to stretch into with multiple electrical adjustments available for the front and rear seats. Overall, the cabin is plush, luxurious and very upmarket and the NVH packaging and premium audio also come together and managed to keep me entertained, and keep out the traffic noise while on the busy roads of Seoul’s Gangnam district.

Performance

The K900 is offered with four petrol engine options worldwide, three of which are available in the Korean-spec — and they include two V6s and a top-spec five-litre, V8 GDI engine. All the engines are paired with Kia’s quick-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission. The two powertrains that I could test drive were the turbocharged 3.3-litre T-GDI (a variation of the unit offered in the Stinger) and the five-litre V8. Of the two, I liked the 3,342 cc turbo engine better. Though I couldn’t really put the car through its paces on the crowded streets of Seoul and the narrow rural roads on the outskirts of the city, the 3.3 T-GDI felt like it was inherently sportier than the V8. Delivering 370 PS of peak power and about 510 Nm of torque, the turbocharging makes this powertrain feel really quick. The V8 on the other hand generates a higher 425 PS of peak power and about 520 Nm of torque, but it is meant to be a sedate performer at average highway speeds.

I was driving the K900 mostly on smooth tarmac with the exception of a few rough patches on country roads near Seoul. The suspension couldn’t really be put to test like on Indian roads, but the ride quality is plush, not too rigid and with a focus on keeping the rear passenger comfortable.

An electronically controlled suspension system is an optional addition. The electromechanical steering is precise and offers a fair bit of feedback. A torque vectoring all-wheel drive system is standard in the five-litre V8 and is also on offer in the other two powertrain options.

Bottomline

The second generation K900 also gets a lot of safety equipment, including lane following assist, forward collision avoidance, driver attention warning, head-up display, adaptive cruise control and a whole battery of technologies to offer excellent braking control and performance.

The K900 is unlikely to make it to India anytime soon. Also, for now, Kia may not have the brand power to really shake up the luxury mid-size market in the US and Europe with this sedan. But, like the company’s tagline goes, the K900 certainly has ‘the power to surprise’.

Published on June 07, 2018

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