It's known as the K9 in Korea but for now, its maker has no plans to bring this luxury saloon to the UK. We find out what we’re missing
Mark Tisshaw
14 October 2018

A twin-turbocharged V6-powered Kia sports saloon developed by BMW M’s former chief engineer seemed like a fairly outrageous idea a few years ago, but the Stinger turned out to be so credible that you wouldn’t believe it was a first attempt from its maker.

In that context, a 5.1-metre-long, V8-powered, four-wheel-drive Kia luxury saloon to rival the Mercedes-Benz S-Class might not seem quite such absurd an idea as it once might have done. Perhaps more far-fetched, yes, but not completely a cause for spitting out your cornflakes.

And yet such a car is not an idea, but a reality – and one that has been a part of Kia’s range further afield for a few years now. The K900 (known as the K9 in Korea, but renamed for export for fairly obvious reasons) is indeed the manufacturer’s answer to the S-Class.

The car has now entered its second generation, having been launched in its home market this summer as a range-crowning technological tour de force. It has wider significance across the Hyundai Motor Groupas the first car to use a new rear-wheel-drive platform that will also underpin Hyundai’s new Genesis premium brand and its G80 saloon, a car that will have greater export appeal than the Kia and is destined for mainland Europe and the UK.

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The K900, meanwhile, will be sold in the Middle East and US but not Europe, because the idea of a Kia rival to the S-Class is unlikely to be one to find much credibility no matter how good it might be or how much post-Stinger glory there is to bask in. We’re in Seoul to drive it but before we do, a chauffeur drives us.

K900s are mostly experienced from the back seat by their buyers. What do they experience? Plenty of space, that’s for sure. A big comfy chair with lots of adjustability, and a decent enough ride. The feel is less luxury, more premium, perhaps like an Audi A8 from a decade ago: it ticks all the right boxes on paper but you don’t really feel all that special. The chauffeur gets the really interesting job. From the driver’s seat you get to experience the V8. Powering the K900 is a 5.0-litre unit with 419bhp and 383lb ft, driving all four wheels through a very smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission.

It’s good for 0-62mph in 5.5sec. Yet this is no performance car. Instead, the V8 has been tuned the other way, to deliver effortless performance of the kind that quickly and effortlessly glides you through traffic, in a quiet, unassuming manner. There’s no bark or growl from the engine, rather a calming, reassuring presence.

We need to talk about the ride quality, though. From the driver’s seat, luxurious it is not. Although primary body control is fine, the way the car crashes over even the most innocuous-looking bump in the road is not. What’s strange is the contrast to how it feels in the back seat. Perhaps that’s where the chassis engineers spent most of their time. This car’s spec is that of a Korean domestic market car, with robust all- weather tyres and suspension tuned for negotiating Korea’s scarcely believable number of speed bumps. A different tune for the US and other markets is promised.

The uncomfortable ride up front is a shame, because the front cabin is a more interesting place than the back, with quilted Nappa leather and real wood (beech and ash trims are offered, among others). The wood feels like wood, the metal feels like metal, and everything is executed with a premium mindset. It even extends to the inside of the door bins, which are as nice to the touch as the rest of the cabin.

There’s some clever technology too. Indicate, and in the digital instrument binnacle appears a camera image of your blind spot. It’s a welcome and useful piece of safety kit. The infotainment screen is a nice one too. It’s quick to operate, even if the lack of perceived quality surfaces when you recognise the graphics from other Kias.

The K900 is really at its best at isolating you from the outside world. Seoul’s traffic isn’t for the faint-hearted, with lanes frequently swapped and aggressive stopping and starting that seems only to make the traffic run less smoothly. Yet in the K900 you’re rarely bothered or wound up by it, which is a key part of any luxury model’s brief.

The K9 isn’t really an illustration of Kia moving upmarket and becoming a full-blown luxury car maker; it’s more a reflection of it needing to offer a complete range of cars in a home market where dominance with group sibling Hyundai is almost absolute.

The world is no worse a place for this car, though. Ride quality aside, I rather like it. And it makes you ponder: might Kia ever get to the point where it could offer such a car as a genuine and credible alternative to the likes of the S-Class? Perhaps. Then again, perhaps not, badge snobbery being what it is, even when you consider the astonishing progress the brand has made in little over a decade. But then we said the same about the Stinger.

Seoul power: 

Located in a trendy part of Seoul among almost a dozen other flagship luxury car showrooms is the Salon de K9, where the K900 is on display.

Prospective buyers can drop in and learn about the car, feel the leather, touch the wood trim and listen to the sound system. But they can’t buy one: they must go to the more conventional-looking Kia dealer next door to do that.

This is a fashionable ‘brand space’, then, although it doesn’t feel overly premium. Crammed in are more than half a dozen K9s in different conservative body colours, Koreans apparently keen to see every option.

Read more 

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Comments
16

14 October 2018

  It’s a nice shape, the interior looks good also, infact, it’s rear end is better resolved than Mercedes Cars.

Peter Cavellini.

14 October 2018

Thirty years ago, people would have said the same thing about Japanese! Toyota launching Lexus.

Or, for that matter, about Mercedes Benz's 1960s relaunch of Audi as a budget brand metamorphising into an actual Mercedes Benz competitor under VW ownership. Audi used to make only one car, a well made but inferior Peugeot 504 competitor.

BMW before the first 7 series were likewise in nowhereville, a 'recovering from bankruptcy' newcomer that had started making Austin Sevens under licence and had to make an Italian low budget bubblecar, again, under licence to stay in business.

I think Hyundai will be fine. Their products aren't as flawed as an Audi 80, BMW E20, or BMW Isetta were in their time.

14 October 2018

This Kia looks so much more appealing and desirabe looking than the S Class and, more importantly at this level, it looks classier and more expensive inside while it seems the interior quality is better too than the S Class which has too many cheap materials which is frankly scandalous in this type of car. And one thing is for certain is that the K900 will be a hell of lot more reliable than the S Class which, like all Mercedes, suffers from too many build and quality niggles. Unless you desire the Mercedes badge, there is no reason to choose the S Class over what seems to be the superior K900.

15 October 2018
Roadster wrote:

This Kia looks so much more appealing and desirabe looking than the S Class and, more importantly at this level, it looks classier and more expensive inside while it seems the interior quality is better too than the S Class which has too many cheap materials which is frankly scandalous in this type of car. And one thing is for certain is that the K900 will be a hell of lot more reliable than the S Class which, like all Mercedes, suffers from too many build and quality niggles. Unless you desire the Mercedes badge, there is no reason to choose the S Class over what seems to be the superior K900.

 

You tell 'em, Ratter!

15 October 2018
Roadster wrote:

This Kia looks so much more appealing and desirabe looking than the S Class and, more importantly at this level, it looks classier and more expensive inside while it seems the interior quality is better too than the S Class which has too many cheap materials which is frankly scandalous in this type of car. And one thing is for certain is that the K900 will be a hell of lot more reliable than the S Class which, like all Mercedes, suffers from too many build and quality niggles. Unless you desire the Mercedes badge, there is no reason to choose the S Class over what seems to be the superior K900.

What planet do you live on?

14 October 2018

To secure a place in the premium-luxury sector would require much more flair than this. To stay there is even harder.

Lexus thought it had made it with the LS (quiet, smooth, reliable) but subsequent models have the LS sink back into quasi-oblivion (at least in Europe)

Jaguar is another case in point. The original XJ was a credible competitor to the Mercedes W108/109, being fast, rode magnificantly, and undercut the Mercedes substantially in price. The latest XJ manages to sell only a fraction of the S-class.

BMW's E3 was a game changer and defined the sports-saloon that Mercedes wasn't. But I don't think the latest 7 series is a big seller. The first generation Audi A8 promised much but its replacements delivered little.

There's also the beautiful Lancia Flaminia, Fiat's aspirational 130 (no further comment on the various vulgar looking Maserati 4-porte) but all these are dead.

None of the sub-S-class offerings eg. Volvo's & Saab's largest, Alfa 164 etc. manages to move up to the S-class territory. Cadillac tried, tried again, failed again, failed better ... 

14 October 2018
I wouldn't put it past Kia and Hyundai (with its Genesis arm) to eventually crack the European luxury market. If they keep on producing cars like the Stinger, the G70 and this sooner or later they will have enough brand cachet to rub shoulders with Europe's finest. Their cars are good enough already quality-wise; now it's just a matter of brand perception to take them to the next level.

15 October 2018

Which will never happen.

Lexus haven't managed it in europe, nor Infiniti, why would Kia/Hyundai manage it?

Mercedes-Benz is one of the most valuable brand names in the world, developed over a century.

Borrowed far eastern tech and some bling isn't going to make many dents in that.

14 October 2018

When (if) Kia starts selling this in Europe, BMW & Mercedes will get worried & cry wolf to the German government & say that the Koreans are dumping cars in the EU at unfair advantage & then the German's will tell the EU to slap an import duty on these luxury cars to protect the home grown European luxury brands!!!

16 October 2018
jagdavey wrote:

When (if) Kia starts selling this in Europe, BMW & Mercedes will get worried & cry wolf to the German government & say that the Koreans are dumping cars in the EU at unfair advantage & then the German's will tell the EU to slap an import duty on these luxury cars to protect the home grown European luxury brands!!!

 

The EU had been doing that to Japanese, American cars for a long time, they've been having to compete very hard to stay competitive beyind pricing.

 

In saying this this Kia looks very Mercedes, whilst Hyunday makes cars looking very Audi/lexus/BMW

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