For those of you paying attention in1989, you know we’ve been here before. That fall, both Toyota (via its new Lexus brand) and Nissan (with Infiniti) took on Benz and BMW, along with – to a lesser extent – Cadillac and Lincoln. The end result, some 25 years later, is a luxury market exponentially larger than the one we knew in the ‘80s. And it’s a market that Korea, Inc. – with its recently introduced Hyundai Equus and just-launched Kia K900 – would also enjoy sharing in (and profiting from). From where we sit, both carmakers stand a pretty good chance…
From Hamsters (which comprise Kia’s marketing Heart and, uh, Soul) to the Hamptons is quite the leap, especially when taken in less than a generation. Kia’s first overture in the U.S. was with its credible Sportage SUV and less-than-credible Sephia, both sold through a network of dealers just one step up from Self-Serve gas stations. And while Kia never suffered the pushback here that Hyundai experienced (largely because it never tried to stuff Excels down the throats of consumers ill-equipped to nurse them along), neither did it begin to resonate with consumers until its Soul intro, underwritten – as mentioned – by its own Rat (or was it Rap?) Pack.
Today’s Kia showroom is supported by sales of the Soul, Sportage, Sorento and (upcoming) Sedona, along with Rio, Forte, Optima and Cadenza. And that showroom would seem to have every conceivable segment filled save a pickup, halo GT, body-on-frame SUV and espresso bar. From $15K (Soul) to $35K (Cadenza), a consumer can walk in and satisfy most of the automotive needs served by a Toyota, Honda or Hyundai, while thinking they’re spending less for the privilege.
Kia’s K900 follows a marketing dictum similar to that proffered by Lexus and Infiniti back in the day. Build a platform that delivers on the tangibles, add comfort and convenience fully competitive with the best in the class, and figuratively screw tradition or provenance. Neither Toyota nor Nissan had won at LeMans or secured an F1 championship prior to their respective upmarket launches, but that didn’t (ultimately) stop them from selling a buttload (make that ‘boatload’) of luxury cars and SUVs to urbanites, suburbanites and most points in between. And while Kia plays in U.S. roadracing, and may sell one or two Fortes as a result, the K900 isn’t built on a performance heritage; rather, it’s built on its promise to perform.
Thankfully, it does that rather well. We were impressed by the alacrity of its 5.0 liter, 420 horsepower V8, and connection to the road via a well-damped, independent suspension. It didn’t attach itself to the asphalt like a 5-Series did a decade ago, but seemed every bit as connected as that 5-Series built for today’s showrooms (and luxury mindset). And while this is a big sedan, with a wheelbase of almost 10 feet and an overall length of over 200 inches, it didn’t feel ponderous, helped by reasonably weighted steering, good sight lines, and an interior that – while expansive – is able to feel personal.
Of course, while the interior passes the Luxe test, it’s the sheetmetal that wows. This, in our admittedly uninformed view, is what Jag’s XJ should look like, with a penetrating nose, aerodynamic windscreen, and an athletic feel that the big Jag 4-door hasn’t conveyed since Nixon’s first term. In an era where overcooked seems to be the stylistic norm, the Kia design team – and management – deserves a nod for their obvious restraint. This is a classy chassis, deserving of a far better descriptive than – you guessed it – ‘classy chassis’…
In sum, we rather liked the K900, while still unsure of a window sticker surpassing $65K. We’ll give you the $59,500 base price; a base 740i is $75K, the Benz E550 4Matic starts at $65K, and both Germans can climb in price faster than Chuck Yeager can climb in altitude. But on top of the Kia’s $59K base is a $6,000 VIP package, which includes (among other non-essentials) a 12.3-inch LCD TFT instrument cluster, power reclining rear seats and rear seat lumbar support. A V6 is coming, with 311 horsepower and – hopefully – a well-equipped price point under $50,000; if that happens it might prove compelling. But then, you have to buy it from a Kia showroom.
That Kia showroom, of course, is probably new; or – at the very least – newish, built on the backs of those with subprime credit buying low-priced sedans at sky-high interest rates. Kia’s sales people are inevitably clean-cut, courteous and informative, but they won’t sneeze without the express permission of a sales manager. And the desk still ‘desks’, with sales strategies which remain – in 2014 forgawdsake – decidedly Machiavellian.
I might go to a Kia retailer for a Soul, but wouldn’t sell my soul for the K900. With that, I’d be all about this K-Cup in three years, at around $35,000 for a nice CPO. That, Dear Reader, is design within reach!