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2015 International Car of the Year Celebrates 19 Years - This year's winner goes to 2015 Kia K900.

- KIA K900
Honored -
2015 International Car of the Year Award

Kia K900 Named 2015 International Car of the Year by Road & Travel Magazine

Most Emotionally Compelling Vehicle for 2015

Review by Martha Hindes

“Welcome." That was the feeling we got when we approached Kia's new K900, with key fob in hand. It sensed our presence instantly, unfolding and lighting up its side view mirrors that had been neatly tucked near the front door windows. That was our first hint that Kia's all new 2015 flagship K900 luxury sedan was bringing something special to the party.

For a company that only a few years ago was mostly recognized for its small, fuel efficient compacts, this is a growth spurt designed to put the company on par with some of the most luxurious vehicle nameplates in the world. And the K900 wastes no opportunity in showing off the kind of high-end amenities one would find on a Teutonic rival steeped in years as a luxury frontrunner.

The journey upward hasn't gone unnoticed. Kia has continued to gain attention for its increasingly sophisticated and technically-advanced autos, adding many honors along the way including the International Car of the Year Award three years in a row (ICOTY).

And the winner is... 2015 Kia K900 for the 2015 International Car of the Year
Photo credit: John Rettie

The all-new stunning 2015 Kia K900 took the coveted top honor for the 19th annual International Car of the Year Award.
 
“This is a first in ICOTY’s 19-year history,” says founder Courtney Caldwell, “that one automaker has won the award for three consecutive years. That says a lot about Kia’s growth and continuous introductions of exceptional new product.”

“Not only did we love the way car looked, felt and handled, the public reaction during test drives was pretty remarkable, and emotional,” she said in informing company executives of the decision. One of the highlights was how well the car had been marketed prior to its launch as most people on the street found it instantly recognizable, asking rhetorically, "is that the new Kia K900?" Not only is the car a beautiful piece of art inside and out but Kia agencies did an excellent job of getting it into hearts and minds of consumers before it even hit the road.

The K900 was in good company among the top five finalists for the award, beating out the BMW i3, Hyundai Genesis, the Mazda Mazda6, and even its electrifying sister Kia Soul EV, all of which deserve honorable mention and full attention from consumers when shopping for a new car.

Kia K900 Wins 2015 International Car of the Year Award
Accepting the award for the 2015 Kia K900 is Michael Sprague, executive vice president marketing and communications, KMA.
Photo credit: John Rettie

“Since arriving in the U.S. market 20 years ago, Kia has become known for being disruptive and the K900 is our boldest move yet. The 2015 K900 is a significant leap forward for the brand and has brought new and affluent customers into our retail showrooms; people who had never considered Kia before,” said Michael Sprague, executive vice president of marketing & communications, KMA. “To win the prestigious ICOTY award three years running is a clear indication that our products continue to offer a world-class balance of design, amenities, luxury and value for today’s discerning car buyers.”

Disruptive perhaps, and rebellious for sure. Potential buyers reflected the same sentiment once they laid eyes on it in person.

Repeatedly, people on the street stopped us getting in or out of the K900, asking questions, peeking inside, walking around the vehicle with one hand sliding down its side as if it were velvet. It provoked the kinds of oohs and ahhs and emotional adulation that only a beautifully sculpted, stunningly appointed auto can earn. They treated it as a desirable, artistically designed example of what a luxury auto should be.

Those are qualities that have defined the ICOTY award since its inception in 1996. “The ICOTY Award is not about power, performance, innovation or ingenuity, nor camshafts and chrome, as are most other awards, separating ICOTY from the sea of auto awards that are presented each year,” said Caldwell. It's about the emotional connection we have with our cars, and how they reflect our personalities and lifestyles; a statement of who we are and where we are in life. When in public, our car is the ‘first impression’ we make before even putting a foot on the ground, and that's important to most people,” she adds.

That said, consumer reaction to, and feedback on, each vehicle that RTM editors test drive carry a great deal of weight in the final award outcome. When it comes down to the finish line, ICOTY is as much a ‘people’s choice award’ as it is a Road & Travel Magazine award. Their input tells the winning automaker that they loved the car in person, not just seeing it in commercials or in advertising.

Pioneering the “emotional connection” theme as it relates to cars and consumers was designed to help raise awareness that consumers develop a strong emotional bond with their vehicles throughout the purchasing process and during ownership. “I’ve seen people get married with their car, name their car, treat their car better than their family, get divorced over a car, even get buried with their car,” adds Caldwell. “Tell me those are not emotional attachments! Almost everyone has a love story to tell or a history to share about a car, and the stories usually begin with a big smile on the teller’s face.”

Why is this so important? Simply put, it helps designers, engineers and marketers to fine-tune vehicles to consumer lifestyles instead of making cookie cutter models or one size fits all. As humans, we embrace our individuality and surround our lives with things that reflect our self-image and status in life, from the homes we live in to the dogs we adopt to the cars we drive. And you don't have to be rich to accomplish that mission.

The thought that an auto could match the status of some with six-digit price tags, while still being considered a bargain was almost an afterthought with those we met, as the idea of paying for luxury finally entered the equation. Only after an appropriate amount of time of satisfying the eye-candy appeal, checking the beautifully appointed interior and expressing surprise at the numerous top notch amenities did the question of cost come into play. And, that’s when it became clear that this super luxury auto wouldn't require giving up one's firstborn as a financing guarantee to own it.

There's a lot to like about the K900. When considering the $66,400 (including destination) price tag of our loaded test model that included $6,000 in extras, one should consider that the same auto with an elite international badging probably would go for at least $20K to $30K more. Other than an elite 3-pointed star or similar logo, it's hard to find something missing on the K900.

Kia K900 InteriorWe opened the door of our sleek Sapphire Black VIP edition K900, and found a stunningly attractive interior of black Nappa leather trim paired with white leather seating accented with black piping. Burled real wood trim in a soft gray-tone finish with glossy chrome hardware trim made for an irresistibly eye-catching combination. We noticed something recently missing on many luxury vehicles that have taken electronics to the max. Knobs! The Lexicon surround-sound audio's master control knob midway in the center console of the K900 wasn't an orphan. For those who like the tactile feel and ease of using a knob rather than touch-screen only, they were there also. (That's something some competitive luxury auto brands might note.)

The K900's navigation system is big and bold enough to provide easy programming, although still in a setting from another state, it didn't recognize some out-of-state addresses, an easy fix. In fact, we found the entire K900 dashboard quite easy to learn and navigate, not requiring a Ph.D in technology or engineering to figure out, thus keeping luxury logical as well as attainable for both young and their more mature counterparts.

Kia k900 Heads up displayBehind the wheel, we immediately noticed the Head-Up display with its ever-changing vehicle speed showing in small white letters along with small yellow blind spot detection icons when vehicles in the next lane approached. When another vehicle got too close while we backed out of a parking spot, its rear cross traffic alert sent warning chimes into action. Lane departure warnings kept us in lane, while a front camera and surround view overhead camera told us of curbs and other impediments ahead when starting out.

The full-sized K900 is a truly big car for a smoother, more luxurious ride, especially over rough roads, augmented by 19-inch chrome alloy wheels. Pleasingly quiet and supple in ride, it exudes the kind of unspoken comfort that just feels the way luxury should.

Despite its size, its appearance is longer and somewhat leaner in look than some earlier luxury cars were noted for. Instead, it has a well-defined silhouette without an appearance of zaftig that could make an auto look overblown. Unlike its cousin Hyundai, Kia didn't skip on identifying itself when moving upscale. The Kia name is prominently displayed on the nose between the headlamps with fluid light bar trim and adaptable headbeam levels.

The full-complement of standard safety equipment also includes air bags throughout, stability and traction control and vehicle stability management that promises to rank the K900 well when govern-ment safety ratings are complete.

Three modes alter driving characteristics. With a big 5.0-liter direct injected V-8 powerplant paired with an eight-speed automatic “shift-by-wire” transmission, we skipped “eco.” A 420-horsepower vehicle made that seem somewhat implausible on a car that rates an 18 MPG average. (mostly in sport mode, we eked out a 16-plus rating with lots of city driving and a few idling stops.)

We found “normal” extremely comfortable especially for long-distance trips, but somewhat lacking in driving excitement. When we switched to “sport,” the standard speed and tachometer display dials switched to bolder, digital readout gauges. While sport mode firmed the suspension and added enough steering resistance to provide some kick, it didn't achieve the spirited driving one would expect from a high-end European counterpart. But it did give us the punch and control with quick accelerations that had us watching our speed. We wouldn't want to try hairpin curves in a hurry, however.

Perhaps that's not the point of the K900 anyway.

 

While driving, one with longer legs could adjust the driver's seat extension cushion for more comfort. And power-front headrests with a shallower forward pitch added to head position comfort while driving. But the VIP designation of our top-line test model was evident when in the power reclining rear seat with lumbar support beneath the panoramic sunroof. Manual side and electronically-activated rear rise-up window shades can add privacy or mute strong sunlight.

Kia K900 ConsoleA pull-down center console had a full complement of comfort controls, including heated and air cooled rear seats. It even would allow the rear passenger (aka executive) to control the front seat passenger's space – moving the front seat fore or aft or adjusting the recline of its seat back. Think limousine-ish here.

This is a car for those with ambition, a mind-set that is hard-wired for success, perhaps already there; yet confident and comfortable enough in her own skin to be emotionally vulnerable. Perhaps a “think big” entrepreneur planning to move up several levels once his red-hot, newly-launched smart phone app takes off. You know. Start with the K and the IPO surely will follow.

With all this and more, it’s no wonder that Kia outran the competition, and drove home with the International Car of the Year award for the third year in a row! Let the party begin!

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