It’s time to elevate the quality of Kia’s large sedan again. Like last time, we started in the early 2010s. The second full-size sedan that Kia developed under Hyundai’s control was the K7, or the Cadenza sold in all markets outside of Korea. It’s touted as a premium, good-value front-wheel-drive car that rivals the likes of the Toyota Avalon and Nissan Maxima, but lacks explicit comfort or sporty characteristics. Cadenza’s corporate designs are also bland, thanks to the company’s new European styling mission and former VW designer Peter Schreier.
Shortly after the Cadenza hit the market, Kia moved on to a bigger sedan: a new rear-drive sedan that takes up luxury space and is a notch above the Cadenza. It’s the largest Kia car in nearly two decades, the first rear-wheel-drive Kia car since the Kia Enterprise in 2002 (Mazda Sentia), and the first rear-wheel-drive Kia sedan to be sold in North America. It’s K9 time now.
As we mentioned in our previous article, the K9 uses the same platform as Hyundai’s new Equus flagship. The Equus launched its second generation in 2010 as it shed its weird roots of a front-drive longitudinal V8 designed in a joint venture with Mitsubishi. Since the Equus is the leader in the Korean market’s business luxury sedan segment, it’s important that it debuts first and gets a head start on Kia’s new large sedan.
Like the Cadenza, Kia sells its sedans under different names in all markets outside of Korea. K9 wasn’t viable in North America, so they put a couple of zeros on his badge. Hey, K900! Other export markets named the large sedan the Quoris, but North America didn’t choose that name because Kia flirted with (but never committed to) the K# sedan naming scheme.
Although it shares a platform with the Equus, the K9 is a very different vehicle, with its own exterior design and a different overall mission. That is, interference with Equus’ flagship status is not allowed. The Equus is still bigger, flashier, and has more chrome and optional hood trim. It’s kind of like GM makes a Cadillac Corvette that doesn’t allow me to interfere with another Corvette.
Both cars have the same 119.9-inch wheelbase, but the Equus has another version that’s 12 inches longer (131.7-inch wheelbase). Far beyond the long wheelbase, this Equus is sold as a luxury sedan. Vertically, the K9’s overall size is 200.4 inches, while the standard Equus shrinks it to 203.1 inches. Both cars are the same width, 74.8 inches, and have an overall height of 58.7 inches. They’re very similar at about 4,200 pounds, though the Equus weighs 4,497 pounds when fully loaded, about 100 pounds heavier than the K9.
The engine is mostly shared between the two cars, with most markets using a multi-port or direct-injection version of the Hyundai 3.8-liter Lambda II V6. The old version managed 286 horsepower and 264 torque, while direct injection meant 329 horsepower and 291 pound-feet. Available only in the K9, the 3.3-liter Lambda II V6 still has direct injection and handles better power than the 3.8 multiport. The 3.3 makes 296 hp and 257 lb-ft.
The Equus sometimes uses a 4.6-liter V8 that isn’t shared with the K9. Hyundai’s Tau range provides another powerhouse for the V8 in the Equus and K9, again in multi-port or direct-injection form. The K9 is only available with a 5.0-liter direct-injection engine that makes an impressive 419 horsepower and 376 lb-ft of torque.
For the U.S. market, all K900s come standard with a 5.0-liter V8, as Kia tries to differentiate its new luxury car from other V6-powered sedans. Canadians with their expensive fuel and their economic spirit can opt for a 3.8-liter direct-injection V6 or V8. Regardless of the market, all first-generation K9s use the same eight-speed automatic transmission.
When it comes to styling, the Equus goes for glamour and majesty in an almost American way, while the K9 takes a softer approach, much like the Cadenza of the day. The tiger nose is present and represented in the K9, and more clearly than in the Cadenza. The K9 uses a simple chromed vertical slatted grille surrounded by the soft edges of the front clip. The grille appears to be pressed lightly against the front. The lower valance carries another grille, much of which is obscured by glossy black plastic trim.
Although it debuted around the same time as the updated Cadenza, the fog lights and valance trim treatments are closer to the original, less aggressive Cadenza design. The lights between the two cars are very similar in shape, although the K9 is sporty LED, while the Cadenza has HiD bulbs. The K9 implemented square LED clusters early on, somewhat similar to those old camera flash clusters.
The K9 has a power bulge in the middle of the hood, with several character lines that run from the lower edge of the hood to the A-pillars that disappear. On the fenders, two circular fake vents are indicators of the K9’s potential customer base in North America.
The fender ports are located below a soft character line that runs along the sides and turns inward on the rear fender. Overall, it doesn’t look quite as aggressive as the Cucumber. There’s an almost identical strip of chrome under the doors, which onlookers can be forgiven for mistaking the K9 for a Cadenza and vice versa.
The K9’s shape somewhat hints that it’s a rear-wheel-drive car. Its door shape and side glass design are nearly identical to the Cadenza, and the K9 is slightly longer. At the rear, the K9 is more conservative than the Cadenza, with the headlight cluster (no LEDs) joined by a strip of chrome. The gentle curve continues and wraps around the rear, creating a sharper ridge on the decklid.
The rear-end handling is somewhere between the contemporary Avalon and the LS 460, but does little to inspire or suggest that this is a luxury car. Front and rear are large Kia logos with the usual black background and chrome rings. The overall look is very understated; the K9 is a “don’t notice me” luxury sedan.
The interior K9 was inspired by Cadenza’s new interior design with added buttons and electrical equipment. Has a winged dash shape and is usually a contrasting color (black plus seat color). A large infotainment screen in the center of the dash is a focal point, with a Cadenza-like floating center console. The seats feature contrasting piping that adds style, perhaps to distract from the very ugly three-spoke steering wheel that reminds your author of the last Monte Carlo.
The K9 went into production in 2012, and all prototypes (except the Russian ones) are produced at Kia’s plant in Gwangmyeong, South Korea. Production is not shared with the Equus made in Ulsan. In addition to rear-wheel drive and a V8 engine, Kia promises North America that the K900 comes with a lot of features, including many standard features that you’ll need to pay extra from other brands. Blind-spot detection and a head-up display are standard, and LED lighting is adaptive. There are even Audi-style climate and rear-seat controls on the armrests.
Curiously, it took a few years for Kia to start importing the new K900, as the first models arrived from the 2015 model year. Like the Cadenza, the K9 is seen as a more traditional version of a luxury car, one that cruises at smooth speeds when you use a V8 with a low hum. As a business outlook for 2015, you can see where it’s going.
Available in two trims, Premium and Luxury, the K900 starts at $54,500 ($69,099 adjusted) and tops out at around $59,900 ($75,945 adjusted). The K900 is significantly less expensive than other rear-drive sedans in its class, ensuring it offers value in its segment. Its closest competitor is probably the Infiniti Q70, which costs $49,850 ($63,203 adjusted) for the V6, but $62,850 ($83,489 adjusted) for the V8.
How does the K900 perform?In a world where luxury cars are dying comfortable car What’s more, the K900 had its best year ever in 2015, with 2,524 units sold. In early 2014, 1,330 people bought it. Sales never reached 1,000 again in 2016, 2017 or 2018. Like the Cadenza, Canadians avoided the K900 like the plague. In 2014, sales of 524 dropped to 36 In the first official year of the K900. The K900 is undoubtedly one of the rarest cars in Canada, with 25 sold in 2016, 7 in 2017 and 4 in 2018.
Two big cars, Kia’s two failures in North America. Unmoved by the K900’s first failure, the company will offer an all-new Cadenza to lure another front-drive sedan customer. We’ll talk about this next time.
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