9 Lives: Kia's new top-shelf sedan geared to go toe-to-toe with 'name' luxury carmakers while saving buyers thousands of dollars

This new Kia K900, the carmaker's first luxury sedan, is parked at North Charleston Coliseum recently. The model retails for around $60,000. Leroy Burnell/Staff 8/25/2014

Kia Motors bet this year that customers would be ready for a plush, powerful vehicle from a brand known for frugal compacts. The result: the K900 four-door.

Priced in the $60,000s, the brand-new 2015 edition sells for 75 percent more than Kia's next most pricy model, the spiffed up Cadenza sedan.

But the carmaker made a calculated play: rather than basing costs on the rest of its fleet, Kia studied the luxury sedan competition. Then the Korean manufacturer set out to design a model with all the leather, torque, polish and performance of its rivals while stripping 20 percent or more from the final bill.

At the same time, buyers will benefit from Kia's top-of-the-charts loss protection packages, notably an industry-leading 10-year, 100,000 mile limited powertrain warranty.

And, as the tour de force, owners receive a slew of perks on every one of the rear-wheel-drive cars - panoramic sunroof, 419 hp V-8 engine and front and rear cameras - rather than having to fork over thousands of dollars in options to secure just what they want.

"There's no bad way to get one of these," said Jason Orvin, sales and leasing consultant with Stokes Kia in Goose Creek.

The first K900s rolled onto the dealership lot at 202 S. Goose Creek Blvd. this spring. There are two versions: the standard trim at just more than $60,000 and an added "VIP package" boosting the total tag to a pinch above $66,000. "This is a $100,000 car," Orvin pledged. "They didn't cheap out."

Consider: One of the first perks the consultant cited in a walk-around of the $60,000 model was the suede headliner. Leather seats come standard; the only difference with the premium package is a finer-stitched fabric.

"A lot of times, Kia is considered a value brand," Orvin said. "But with this type of (largesse), you get to know Kia's product," he said. Still, the price really isn't that high compared with the six-figure models offered by various luxury automakers. With the K900, "You could get a second car," he said.

The luxury sedan's fuel numbers tally 23 miles per gallon on the highway, 15 mpg city for an 18 mpg average overall.

Among the convenience touches is a power liftgate, activated either by pressing a button near the trunk or alongside the driver's seat, exposing 15.9 cubic feet of cargo volume.

As for high-tech safety features, there are blind spot indicators that flash in the side view mirrors if a car is moving up fast on the left or right and a lane departure system that chirps if the vehicle drifts too far one way or the other.

Then there's the 5.0-liter engine, sporting 376 pounds-feet of get-up-and-go torque and further juiced by a Gas Direct Injection system.

The techy-ness doesn't stop there. Other spectacles include:

- An 8-speed automatic transmission that can be adjusted so that the driver can manually switch gears.

- LED (light-emitting diode) fog lights, and headlamps that lead the car around corners.

- Dual climate control settings throughout, and heated and ventilated seats for driver and front passenger.

- Push-button start as well as tabs to unlock the driver's side door and all the doors with key fob on hand.

- Multi-way power seating including lumbar support.

- 19-inch chrome alloy wheels.

- Side view mirrors that fold in when the car is turned off.

The VIP level does carry certain extras, such as reclining back seats, a heads-up windshield display showing mph, and a panoramic view from the center console screen. Other perks include a "certified" sales person and technician as well as no waiting for service.

Kia intends to bring out a companion version of the K900 next year with a 3.8-liter six-cylinder engine pushing out 311 hp, Orvin said.

Judging from an afternoon behind the wheel of the less than $61,000 model, Kia has taken a big step beyond its budget roots with its first full-scale luxury design.

From a looks perspective, the K900 offers a streamlined appearance similar to its Cadenza sister - elegant if not flashy.

The sedan this week served up a quiet, eminently comfortable ride, accentuated by ample legroom and headroom front and back. A top-notch Lexicon sound system was crisp and clear at high and low volumes. Driver visibility was more than adequate, and the car braked easily and promptly.

There were nice interior touches such as the sunroom stretching over front and back seats, a well-laid out navigation and communications grid controlled by centralized knobs and a powerful climate control system to keep everybody cool on a warm day.

As a brand new car, the K900 also revealed a few places for improvement. Despite its 419 horses, the V-8 engine lagged a little in the acceleration department. Handling was a tad loose. The gear shift, meanwhile, took some getting used to, requiring the driver to push in on a side button to switch from Park to Drive, then shift upwards past Neutral to get to Reverse.

Yet, fine-tuning and upgades are almost expected from an all-new model. Kia won't make anyone forget about its luxury competitors with the K900, but the Asian carmaker could be laughing all the way to the bank if it can perfect a premium sedan priced in line with what many upward professionals can afford.

To learn more, visit your local Kia dealer.

For extra information and photos, go to www.postandcourier.com.

Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or jparker@postandcourier.com.