2016 Kia K900 drive review: Great expectations

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Driving around in the Kia K900, I was thinking, “If this thing comes in at less than $80K, it’s a good deal.

“Holy mackerel! — look at that sticker! $68K!”

What do you get for that low, low price? Lots of power, effortless steering, a soft ride and a huge well-built interior.

The K900 is sort of old school in the sense that luxury and sport weren’t always seen on the same car. Kozak puts it nicely, “You helmed your big, comfortable family sedan during the week and zipped around in your dorky, underpowered but sporty MG on the weekends.”

Again, that’s not really a complaint, or at least not a big one as far as I’m concerned. The car has every kind of luxury feature as its competitors: LED headlights, nappa leather, gonzo stereo. It’s actually quite quick from a standstill, and out on the freeway it’s dead quiet, wafting along like an Olds 88. Sport mode makes the steering a little more responsive, quickens the shifts and improves throttle response. Still, in any mode, it’s old-school floaty. It’s one of the more relaxing cars I can recall. Personally I’d like things a bit tighter …

The big question is, are people willing to pay $66,400 for a Kia? Do upper-stratosphere buyers care about the badge? I think they do. This is a big, handsome, powerful, coddling car. Fit and finish is damned close to the Germans and Lexus, and it’s comfortable as all get out.

Do people care? Do K900s give the Germans heartburn? Or are we looking at a Korean Phaeton? The marketplace decides such things of course, though if Kia really wants to swim with the big fish it maybe should tighten up the ride — at least a little. That’s what I’d do if I ran the joint.

Walt Disney coined the poignant “do what you do and do it well.” Paraphrased, it can be taken to mean find your niche in the world and be the best you can possibly be rather than distracting yourself with grandiose and unrealistic goals.

Those sage words don’t stop brands from trying, of course, which is how I found myself behind the wheel of a Kia K900 stickering for $68,895.

Let’s parse this out: $70,000 luxury car? Sure, why not. Luxurious Kia? No issue there — you can get heated rear seats on a Forte. $70,000 Kia? Aha — that’s the disconnect right there.

I learned the hard way with my Optima review that Kia’s top U.S. brass have both an inflated sense of brand cachet and easily bruised egos, so I won’t bother to mince words: The K900 is simply too expensive to wear a Kia badge.

Though it won’t be perceived as such, I mean no disrespect. Kia makes remarkably good mass-market cars, and the brand has made unbelievable strides after peddling shitboxes for its first 10 years of existence here. That it suddenly feels the need to foist a $70,000 luxury car on an oversaturated market shows remarkable tone-deafness on the part of Korean bosses and the inability to learn from its predecesssors’ mistakes (see Phaeton, Volkswagen). As was the Phaeton, the K900 is a nice car, to the point of doing a convincing 550i impression when the road is straight and smooth and you dive into the 5-liter V8.

Remarkable ride isolation and an ultra-quiet interior begin to fool you into thinking, “Hey, maybe they’re on to something here.” Start asking for sporty handling, though, and things fall apart in a hurry. The K900 gets twitchy at freeway speeds, the steering is nonlinear and there’s a ton of brake dive. Still, I’m just a car reviewer, right? And one who’s made it clear he’s not in Kia’s good graces after inadequately fellating the brand’s best-seller. I could be both wrong and biased.

Could be, but I’m not: After January 2016 sales totaling 68 units, barely edging out the Cadillac ELR (a nameplate GM has already said will be euthanized when its current product cycle ends), the market is sending Kia a clear message about where the brand belongs — and where it doesn’t.