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Kia goes for the bold with K900 luxury sedan

The K900 is a full luxury sedan from Kia, which continues to remake its image.
The K900 is a full luxury sedan from Kia, which continues to remake its image.Paul Borden

With the launch of the K900 sedan, Kia continues to move up the automotive food chain, challenging not just the entry-level luxury models from German and Japanese manufacturers (as with the Cadenza last year) but those company’s top offerings as well.

Move over, Mercedes-Benz S-Class, BMW 7 Series, and Lexus LS!

Yes, the Kia folks are serious.

Why the move into the segment?

Michael Sprague, executive vice president of sales and marketing for KMA, told a group of automotive journalists getting a close look at the K900 at a preview this week in Southern California that the time is simply right.

“We see luxury brands moving down into the mass market space with under $30,000 price points,” Sprague said. “And so we asked ourselves, ‘If they can move down into our space, why can’t we move up into their space? Who says we can’t?’

“A lot of people have been saying, ‘Oh, you can’t do that.’ Well, why not?

Sprague sees the K900 as appealing to buyers who aren’t as hooked on brand image as older traditional, luxury shoppers but still want all the bells and whistles and technological and beauty features typical of the segment.

Luxury is “not necessarily about tradition and heritage any more,” Sprague said. “It’s about design. It’s about the technology you put into vehicles. And it’s about quality.”

Value was the word kicked around a lot at the media briefing.

Consider, a rear-wheel-drive K900 (Kia’s first such platform) with a 420-horsepower V8 engine and the VIP package will bear an MSRP of $66,400 (including destination and deliver), almost a $20,000 break over a comparably equipped BMW 740i, according to Orth Hedrick, K900 product planner.

Not that Kia people see the K900 knocking the BMW 7 Series, Audi A8, Mercedes-Benz S-Class, or the Lexus LS off the charts.

Even with its good looks, stunning array of technology and interior refinement, and smooth, quiet, confident ride, the K900 isn’t expecdted to be a big seller. In fact, the company isn’t even putting out any projected sales numbers, lest sales do come up short

But there is more about the K900 than mere numbers any way.

As the flagship vehicle of the Kia portfolio, the K900 will help raise the company’s overall image, an issue the South Korean automaker has had to contend with since it came to the U.S. market two decades ago with a lineup of cheap economy compacts that were viewed as “disposable” cars.

Said Sprague: “If consumers can see, ‘Wow, if Kia can produce a true luxury vehicle, imagine what they can do with the Rio, the Sportage, and the Forte’ and all of the other products that we have in our portfolio.”

The K900 is scheduled to go on sale as a V8 later this quarter with a V6 model scheduled to hit showrooms later in the year.

But Super Bowl viewers -- and there were many of them -- got a sneak peak of what the K900 is all about during the game. The Matrix-themed commercial featured Laurence Fishburne and aired during the third quarter of the game, which happened to be the most-watched quarter of Seattle’s rout of Denver.

The K900 campaign actually debuted on Christmas Day when the company featured previews during telecasts of NBA games.

It will be ramped up in the coming months, especially in the top 20 markets (including New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Texas, etc.) in an attempt to get more people behind the wheel to experience what the car has to offer.

Luxury from Kia is not something you just throw at people. You have to woo them to the notion.