Sometimes, when you’re the scrappy player in a big game, you have to make a bold move to get ahead and stand out. Think of the bench-warmer on a football team, who’s put into the game to replace an injured wide receiver and goes on to score a game-winning touchdown. That player’s career just had a turning point.
Okay, so think of Korean automaker Kia as that third-string player in the American auto business. Little by little, it’s put itself into the game of car sales and scored points over the past 20 years. Once just offering bargain-basement cars for the subprime crowd, they now offer truly nice sedans and crossover SUVs.
Now, Kia’s biggest play yet is underway. Behold the $60,000 V8-powered luxury sedan called the K900. It’s large, it’s stylish, and it’s crammed with just about every upscale amenity you could possibly want in a high-end car. It’s a lot of car for sixty grand, but sixty grand is also a lot of money for a Kia.
The waters have already been tested by Kia’s corporate sibling Hyundai. They boldly introduced the Genesis sedan several years ago, and the Kia K900 shares a platform with Hyundai’s even larger sedan, the Equus. So far a lot of buyers seem to be okay with the idea of an upscale Hyundai, and a second-generation Genesis is just now rolling out.
But Hyundai played it a bit sneaky when the first Genesis came onto the scene. The word “Hyundai” was found nowhere on the car–only emblems and badges that said “Genesis.” They weren’t keeping the brand name a secret, necessarily, but they also weren’t exactly trumpeting it either.
Kia’s being much braver with the K900. Right there on the front and rear of the car are large oval insignia with KIA on them. The company’s thinking is that over the years many buyers have come to count on being able to get a lot of value for their money when buying a Kia. So, why not extend that value philosophy to the luxury arena.
The big car has all the nice trimmings, and many parts of the K900 will remind you of other premium cars. The grill is pure Jaguar and Bentley. The taillights look like they came off a Lexus, and the interior sort of suggests Audi. Also inside, the gear selector seems right out of a modern BMW, and the door-mounted seat controls are very Mercedes-Benz-ish.
Under the hood, a 420 horsepower V8 makes smooth, silent power. There will be a V6 version of the car coming along later in the year, but right now Kia is featuring the V8, to show that the K900 can compete in the full-size luxury class. Four hundred horsepower is the price of admission if a car is to be taken seriously, apparently.
The ride is, of course, composed and supple. You won’t necessarily think you’re in a Mercedes-Benz S-class, but you also know you’re in something much nicer and better than a Kia Optima. The same goes for the way the controls feel. It doesn’t feel like a $90,000 car for two-thirds the price; it feels like a very good value at $60,000, which is what the K900 costs.
Oh, and then there’s the name. What does K900 mean? Well, in Korea the car is called the K9, but that wouldn’t really work in English. A police vehicle with a canine unit on board is usually labeled “K9,” so the jokes would surely ensue. In some other markets, the car is called the Quoris, but apparently that wasn’t going to fit here. Kia explains that other luxury cars have names with one letter and three numbers, so there you have it. K900.
Will luxury buyers have it, however? They may, if they want a lot of car for their money. The K900 is expensive for a Kia, but it’s a deal for a big luxury car.
I’ll see you down the road.
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net Twitter: @ABC7DaveKunz, Facebook: ABC7DaveKunzT