A History of Kia’s Big and Full Sedans (Part IX)

A History of Kia’s Big and Full Sedans (Part IX)

It’s time once again for the best Kia big sedan. Like last time, we started in the early 2010s. Kia’s second full-size sedan produced under Hyundai’s control was the K7, or Cadenza in all markets outside of South Korea. Billed as a top-of-the-range, front-wheel-drive sedan, it competed with models such as the Toyota Avalon and Nissan Maxima, but lacked comfort or sporty features. The Cadenza also had a lighter body design thanks to the European styling company’s new mission and former VW designer Peter Schreyer.

Shortly after the Cadenza went on sale, Kia turned to a larger sedan: a new hatchback sedan to replace the luxury, a class above the Cadenza. It was Kia’s largest sedan in nearly two decades, the first rear-wheel drive Kia sedan since the 2002 (Mazda Sentia) Kia Enterprise, and the first rear-wheel drive Kia sedan ever sold in the North American market. It’s K9 time.

As mentioned in our last entry, the K9 used the same platform as Hyundai’s new Equus flagship. The Equus was in its second generation in 2010, when it moved away from its legendary roots as a front-drive, longitudinal V8 developed in partnership with Mitsubishi. Since Equus was the leader of the luxury business segment in the South Korean market, it was very important that it start first and get a head start on Kia’s new large sedan.

Like the Cadenza, Kia marketed its sedan under a different name in all markets outside of South Korea. The K9 didn’t work in North America, so they added a few zeros to its badge. Hello, K900! Other export markets received a large sedan like the Quoris, but the name was not chosen for North America as Kia toyed with a plan to call it the K# sedan (but never committed).

Although it shared a platform with the Equus, the K9 was a completely different car with its exterior design and a different overall mission. That is, it was not allowed to interfere with the status of the Equus flag. The Equus was still slightly larger, brighter and had more chrome and an optional hood ornament. It was like when GM made a Cadillac Corvette that wasn’t allowed to interfere with other Corvettes.

Both cars shared the same 119.9-inch wheelbase, but the Equus got another version, stretching it 12 inches (131.7-inch wheelbase). Other than considering the long wheels, this Equus was marketed as a limo. In length, the K9 measured 200.4 inches overall, while the regular Equus cut it to 203.1 inches. Both cars had the same width of 74.8 inches and an overall length of 58.7 inches. Their weights were very similar at about 4,200 pounds, though the Equus weighed up to 4,497 pounds fully loaded, about 100 more than the K9.

Engines were mostly shared between the two cars, with most markets using a multiport or direct injection version of Hyundai’s 3.8-liter Lambda II V6. The old version managed 286 horsepower and 264 torque, while direct injection meant 329 horsepower and 291 lb-ft. The 3.3-liter Lambda II V6 was only offered in the K9, which still had direct injection and better power handling than the 3.8 multiport. The 3.3 made 296 horsepower and 257 lb-ft.

The Equus sometimes used a 4.6-liter V8 that was not shared with the K9. Another V8 engine in the Equus and K9 was provided by Hyundai’s Tau series, again via transmission or direct injection. The K9 only received a 5.0-liter direct-injected engine, which produced an impressive 419 horsepower and 376 lb-ft of torque.

For US market purposes, all K900s came with a 5.0-liter V8 as standard, as Kia tried to differentiate its new luxury sedan from its other V6-powered sedans. Canadians with expensive fuel and a penchant for economy can opt for the 3.8-liter direct-injected V6 or V8. Regardless of market, all first-generation K9s were powered by the same eight-speed automatic transmission.

Using sensible styling, while the Equus sought to be stylish and elegant in an almost American way, the K9 took a smooth approach like the current Cadenza. The Tiger nose was present and represented in the K9, and is more defined than it was in the Cadenza. The K9 used a simple vertical chrome grille, surrounded by the smooth edges of the front clip. The grille seemed to be gently pressed forward. The bottom space sported another grille, most of which was covered with black plastic wool.

And although it debuted around the same time as the refreshed Cadenza, the fog lamp and valance trim treatment more closely resembled the original, less aggressive Cadenza design. The headlights between the two cars were very similar in shape, although the K9 sports headlights while the Cadenza has HiD bulbs. The K9 had an early implementation of square LED clusters that somewhat resemble old camera clusters.

The K9’s bonnet had a powerful central grille and a few character lines that ran from the lower edge of the bonnet and disappeared into the A-pillar. The smooth round arch had few distinguishing features and rounded out the area very much like the Cadenza. . On the fenders, two round faux air vents were a sign of the K9’s potential North American customers.

The protective ports sat below a smooth character line that ran along the sides and turned inward on the rear fender. Overall it felt less aggressive than the Cadenza. With an almost identical chrome strip under the doors, onlookers would be forgiven for mistaking a K9 for a Cadenza or vice versa.

The profile of the K9 gave a slight nod to the fact that it was a rear-wheel drive vehicle. The shape of the door and the design of the side glass were almost identical between it and the Cadenza, the K9 was slightly longer. At the rear, the K9 became more conservative than the Cadenza, with large clusters of lights (no LEDs) combined with a chrome belt. The gentle curves continued around the back, where they formed a sharper edge on the trunk lid.

The rear treatment was somewhere between a modern Avalon and an LS 460, but it did little to inspire or give any indication that this was a luxury car. On the front and back there were big Kia logos, in classic black with a chrome ring. The general appearance was greatly reduced; The K9 was a kind of “don’t recognize me” luxury sedan.

The interior of the K9 was inspired by the Cadenza’s new interior design, with additional buttons and electrical accessories. There was a winged dash shape often in different colors (black plus the color of the seat). The large infotainment screen in the center of the dashboard was the highlight, with a floating center console similar to that of the Cadenza. The seats had different piping for added flair, perhaps to distract from the awful three-spoke steering wheel that reminds your writer of the last Monte Carlo.

The K9 went into production in 2012, and all models (except the Russian models) were manufactured at the Kia plant in Gwangmyeong, South Korea. Production was not shared with Equus, which was made in Ulsan. Along with its rear-wheel drive chops and V8, Kia promised North America that the K900 was loaded with features and included many of the usual things you’d pay more for from other brands. Blind spot detection and head-up display were standard, and the LED brightness changed. There was even Audi-style climate control and armrest-mounted rear seat controls.

Oddly enough, it took Kia a few years to start ordering the new K900, as the first models arrived from the 2015 model year. Like the Cadenza, the K9 was hailed as a traditional luxury sedan, the kind of car where you cruise around with a V8 with a silent murmur. As a business prospect in 2015, you can see where this is headed.

Available in two trims, Premium and Luxury, the K900 started at $54,500 (adj. $69,099) and topped out at around $59,900 (adj. $75,945). Cheaper than other sedans of its ilk, the K900 certainly delivers value in its segment. Its closest competitor was probably the Infiniti Q70, which was asking $49,850 (adj. $63,203) with the V6 but was (wowza) $62,850 (adj. $83,489) with the V8.

And how did the K900 do? In a world where the luxury sedan was dying and where a comfort sedan moreover, the K900 had its best year ever in 2015 when it sold 2,524 units. 1,330 people bought it in early 2014. Sales didn’t reach 1,000 again in 2016, 2017 or 2018. As with the Cadenza, Canadians avoided the K900 like the plague. 524 sales in 2014 were down 36 in the first official year of K900. Certainly one of the rarest cars in Canada, the K900 sold 25 units in 2016, seven in 2017 and four in 2018.

Two big cars, two failures for Kia in North America. Undeterred, with the K900 in the middle of its first phase, the company would release an all-new Cadenza to capture another front-wheel drive customer. We will come to that next time.

[Images: Kia]

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