The illusion of brand can be undone by the reality of value. It is a truth dangerously ignored by companies steeped in the glory of past successes, wrapped in gilded notions of heritage. South Korean automobile manufacturer Kia Motors is counting on that ignorance in its drive to upend the world’s traditional purveyors of automotive luxury.
In its push, Kia is employing the democracy of technology, impressively used in its new full-size, rear-wheel-drive sedan, the 2015 K900.
The democracy of technology? Think of it this way: The smartphone in your pocket, purse or briefcase is a great equalizer. It puts you in touch with a world once available only to people of means. Travel to any “underdeveloped” country. There are smartphones everywhere along with their many electronic siblings — laptops, electronic notebooks, and other personal computing and communications devices.
The poverty of isolation is being eradicated, slowly but surely, by the democracy of developing technologies. Similarly, automotive luxury dependent on notions of exclusivity is being undermined by rapid developments in equalizing technologies — widely accessible and increasingly affordable.
The 2015 Kia K900 is a prime example. The car offers as standard equipment nearly everything found on substantially more expensive automobiles. That includes advanced safety technologies such as blind-side and lane-departure monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, advanced navigation and communications systems, front and rear camera display, and other items.
It is loaded with value — and with quality in terms of fit, finish and overall engineering. It is offered well-equipped at a base price of $59,500, well below most of its similarly outfitted competitors. For $6,000 more, you can add a “VIP package” that includes white nappa seat coverings with contrasting piping and poplar wood trim.
But it falters in its unfortunate embrace of the belief that the only good horsepower is more horsepower, regardless of the cost of fuel consumption. The car, as presently offered, comes with a 5-liter gasoline V-8 engine that develops a maximum of 420 horsepower and 376 pound-feet of torque. That’s great oomph, worthy of a traditional luxury car. But it comes at a politically, and increasingly economically, incorrect cost of 18 miles per gallon in the city and 23 miles per gallon on the highway — using premium fuel.
It would be wonderful if Kia could apply its commendable technological prowess to the reduction of that consumption, even in a full-size sedan such as the K900. The company’s executives say they are moving in that direction and will soon offer a more fuel-efficient, six-cylinder engine in the K900 without any appreciable sacrifice of power.
We’ll see. But after more than a week in the K900, in drives along the highways and byways of Virginia, I am willing to give Kia the benefit of the doubt.
The car is thoroughly enjoyable, as likable as any top-end products I’ve had from Acura, BMW, Cadillac, Lexus or Mercedes-Benz. That is saying a lot for a company that made its debut in the United States barely 15 years ago with economy cars of suspect quality.
Kia’s remarkable advancement is largely due to its creation of value through the democratization of technology, becoming, if you will, the cellphone of automobiles. That is a good thing, especially in the matter of automotive safety.
I have long and loudly complained in this space about the tendency of European manufacturers, particularly BMW, to load their expensively priced automobiles with options prices on most things that the K900 now brings to us as standard equipment. Kia is to be congratulated for its approach to the market.
The K900 might lack the prestige of heritage. I don’t care. I suspect that as more people get to drive the car, to experience its remarkable comfort, respectable highway performance and smart use of the latest automotive technology, I won’t be in a minority in that assessment.
Bottom line: Anyone who is shopping for a full-size luxury sedan and who fails to consider the Kia K900 could be throwing away lots of money.
Ride, acceleration and handling: The K900 gets good marks in all three.
Head-turning quotient: Imitation seems to remain the best form of flattery in automotive styling. The K900’s exterior carries hints of things Jaguar, Aston Martin and even luxury Buick. It matters not. The car is put together well.
Body style/layout: The 2015 Kia K900 is a full-size, front-engine, rear-wheel-drive sedan with a formal notch-back trunk. It sits at the top of Kia’s global offerings.
Engine/transmission: The car comes with a 5-liter, 32-valve gasoline V-8 with variable valve timing (420 horsepower, 376 pound-feet of torque). The engine is linked to an eight-speed automatic transmission that also can be shifted manually.
Capacities: Seats five people in a capacious tufted cabin. Cargo capacity with all seats in place is 15.9 cubic feet. The fuel tank holds 19.8 gallons of gasoline. Premium fuel is recommended.
Mileage. Miserable. And I don’t buy the nonsense that people who can afford a luxury automobile don’t mind paying for the gasoline that goes along with it. They didn’t get to be rich by being stupid. And it is just plain stupid nowadays to drive a car, such as the V-8 K900, that gets 18 miles per gallon in combined city/highway mileage. Methinks that is flirting with a federal gas-guzzler tax, although I did not see one listed in its pricing information.
Safety: Loaded. Four-wheel disk brakes (ventilated front, solid rear), four-wheel antilock brake protection, emergency braking assistance, electronic brake-force distribution; stability and traction control; side and curtain head air bags. Advanced safety equipment includes blind-side and lane-departure monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, front and rear camera display, front and rear parking sensors.
Pricing: Pricing for the 2015 K900 starts at $59,500 with a dealer’s invoice price of $55,227. Add $6,000 for the Kia “VIP Package” (white nappa seat coverings, windscreen head-up display, around-view monitor, sound system and other items). Price as tested is $66,455 with a dealer’s invoice price of $61,737.