BMW 5-Series, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Kia K900 – which one doesn’t belong?
If you said the K900, those are fighting words at Kia Motors. The correct answer is “none of the above.” Truth is, the K900 is a bold and fearless automobile. Imagine a discussion in which Kia, Mercedes and BMW are mentioned in the same breath. How audacious.
Less than 16 years ago Kia was bankrupt, a casualty of the 1990s Asian financial crisis. Hyundai Motor eventually beat out Ford and Daewoo for Kia’s assets. In what has to be among the auto industry’s great stories of rebirth and redemption, Kia is challenging the best luxury cars in the world.
You bemused cynics and snobs out there, stop. Stifle your guffaws, your wicked howls of derision. Kia’s goal with the K900 is modest and smart. It’s brand-building at its best.
Let me put it in moon-shot terms that boomers understand: in 1961, John F. Kennedy said the United States would put a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s and Neil Armstrong stepped off the lunar module eight years later. The launch of the K900 is Kia’s Kennedy-esque moon-shot announcement. BMW and Mercedes needn’t worry about Kia today, but by the early 2020s, let’s revisit the luxury space race.
In the meantime, it makes sense for Kia to introduce a luxury sedan to sell through a small number of “premium” branded Kia dealers in Canada. This stretches the brand, raising it and raising expectations, as well.
But with realistic goals in mind. Rob Staffieri, Kia Canada’s marketing boss, says the plan is to sell 34 K900s this year, not 500 or 1,000. For context, BMW Canada sold 2,717 of its 5-Series cars last year, and Mercedes moved 1,032 E-Class models. Fifty will be easy. Kia Canada has 181 dealers, so if only every third one sells a K900, the car’s sold out in Canada.
Pricing? This is where it gets interesting. Kia would have made more noise if the base sticker had come in it at $44,995. BMW’s 528i starts at $54,600 and the all-wheel-drive E-Class has a base price of $66,800. A $10,000 or $20,000 price advantage would have slammed the Germans with a staggering “value proposition.” Because, branding aside, the K900 presents a reasonable alternative to a 5 or an E.
As it is, the K900, even the cheapest one, comes packed with things luxury car buyers want: navigation, 17-speaker sound system, air-cooled front seats, three-zone climate control, heated rear seats, rain-sensing wipers, power everything (right down to the rear curtain and the trunk). And, in a nod to Kia’s competitiveness versus its corporate sibling, the K900 Premium model with a V-6 engine ($60,995) is nearly $4,000 less than the Hyundai Equus Signature model, though the Kia gets a panoramic sunroof and a 16-way power driver’s seat compared with the standard sunroof and 12-way power seat in the Hyundai. The comparison is apt because both cars share all their basic mechanical pieces.
Certainly the car has been styled for this role. The sheet metal is handsome, though not daring, and would be at home in a parking lot in Stuttgart or Munich. The look is solid and well-proportioned and on top of that, Kia chief designer Peter Schreyer has taken a page out of his former Audi employer design manual: LED lighting.
Great lighting dresses up a car better than anything. The K900 has LEDs for the full adaptive headlights (Elite model), as well as for the positioning lights, the daytime running lights, fog lights and signal repeaters. The LED extravaganza is stunning at night and screams “Audi!” Meanwhile, the basic shape of this big sedan has a touch of the Porsche Panamera in it. For colours, Kia Canada is offering only black, a pearly white and gun-metal grey called “Sterling.”
The cabin is more impressive. Once you get into the premium version, you are surrounded by genuine walnut trim, aluminum inlays, Nappa leather and seats stuffed with rich padding that can be controlled right down to adjustable back and lumbar support. The navigation and sound system are managed through a multimedia controller that’s a lesson to BMW and its iDrive.
Then there’s the performance. Kia is selling only a rear-drive K900, though Hyundai Canada is readying an all-wheel drive Equus. The Kia types want AWD, but not this year. What Kia now has is an excellent all-around cruiser, with balanced responses and a silent ride.
The nuts and bolts are in place for Kia’s version of a moon shot. The question is, will this end in a safe landing?
(Editor's note: An earlier online version of this story incorrectly stated that Kia Canada plans to sell 50 K900s a year. In fact, the company plans to sell 34 K900s this year.)
2015 Kia K900
Type: Large luxury sedan
Base price: $49,995-$69,995
Gas engine: 3.8-litre V-6 and 5.0L V-8
Output (horsepower/torque): 311/293 lb-ft and 420/376 lb-ft
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Drive: Rear-wheel drive
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): TBA
Alternatives: Hyundai Equus, Jaguar F-Type, Lincoln MKS, Acura RLX, Cadillac XTS, Infiniti Q70, BMW 5-Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
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