Kia has been signalling its upmarket intentions for years now, and is really acting on that ambition in a pretty remarkable way.
The upcoming flagship Kia K900 is not priced yet, but is set to arrive in spring 2014 across the U.S. with rear-drive and the choice between a 310-horsepower V6 engine or the 5.0-liter V8 from the Hyundai Genesis R-Spec.
But what is Kia’s real ambition in the executive limo market? The company is realistic about the challenges in luring conquest sales from BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi and Lexus. The K900 is a long-term vision for the company, asserted with a 120-inch wheelbase and swanky tech.
Developing a luxury flagship can have numerous benefits outside of direct profits and revenue. As VW showed with the Phaeton project, luxury standards are able to be passed from top products downward into even the lowly Golf and Polo.
Would VW have known as much about NVH isolation without Phaeton? Or realized the limits of its U.S. sales network – dingy, old-Kmart-looking “import” dealerships?
No, Phaeton taught these lessons and they are still being learned across the VW Group.
Kia wants a share of luxury knowledge and innovation, as well as a bit of an edge versus the goody-goody Hyundai brand that enjoyed the RWD Genesis launch all to itself until now.
Will the K900 be any good? That is not immediately clear.
What is clear is that the K900 is very homely. It looks sad and grumpy from all angles. This is the second version of the international Kia Quoris/K9 – and both are equally unappealing.
The double quad LED low and high-beams (standard on the K900 V8) are the best part of a dull design.
Overall, the K900’s design is a mash-up of tired old Lexus and BMW themes, but tweaked to avoid it looking like a copy.
Like a fake “Rucci” or “Pardo” handbag – this thing still looks as fake as the Daewoo Leganza when sitting next to its S550 4Matic, 740iL and LS460 peers. Tacky chrome treatments on the V8 model are especially garish, including the chromed wheels that look repulsive.
Performance promises to be lackluster, with an estimated 8.0-seconds to 60 mph for the V6, and barely an estimated 6.3 seconds for the V8.
The back seat – ever a prestige area for limo buyers – of the K900 looks huge, but the numbers tell a very different story. With only 38.2 inches of rear legroom, the K900 has about a half-inch less than the Hyundai Genesis – and a whopping three inches of missing legroom versus the Toyota Avalon.
A K900L could solve this problem easily, but will likely worsen performance and handling to unknown depths. (And bump prices far beyond Kia clientelle.)
Shoddy steering feel in $25,000 cars is not a big deal: most buyers care more about colors and tech and style.
But bad handling dynamics in a $50,000-plus limo? Buyers will know how a real luxury car should drive.
That takes us to the last, and largest, question mark.
Kia has been very ambitious with its pricing lately, losing focus on its value market positioning. The K900 cannot afford to be priced anywhere near established players like BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
Worth recalling is that the 1990 Lexus LS400 – originally – cost barely half the price of the equivalent 740i or Mercedes 500SEL. That made buyers overlook certain deficiencies.
With Cadenza styling virtually identical, that FWD large car tops out at about $47,000. THis points to a $50,000 base for the K900 V6, and a projected $60,000 base for the K900 V8.
Will it sell or achieve success at those prices? No, it will not.
So Kia has many elements to sort out with this big K900 if it is to be popular anywhere outside of the home South Korean market.
This is a very ambitious and tactical company, however, that is very nimble and responsive to market demands. As even Cadillac tries for a piece of the $70,000-plus market, Kia has a lot of work do to on this K900 to even be vaguely competitive with the best.
One thing is for sure: K900 is better than the original name: The Kia K9.