Rare Journey Codes: A History of Kia’s Larger and Full-Size Sedan Cars (Part Twelve)

August 19, 2022 5:13 pm
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In the latest edition of Kia’s big sedan history, we took a look at the second generation Cadenza. With its second launches in the likes of the Toyota Avalon and Buick LaCrosse, Kia planned to capture the semi-luxury sedan customer who cared about value. Unfortunately, the Cadenza didn’t excel at anything in particular, failing to stand out in the face of more established competition.

A similar story arose a few years ago when Kia introduced its first ever full-size rear-wheel drive luxury car built in-house. Dubbed the K9 (Quoris or K900 elsewhere), the large sedan shares a platform with a new rear-wheel drive Hyundai Equus. Both cars were major offerings in their respective brands.

The Equus was flashy and almost American-inspired, while the K9 was conservative and understated. But it turns out that a large, faceless luxury car was not to the taste of most customers. Even in the domestic market, buyers largely preferred the Equus and the decoration of the large winged hood. What did Kia have to do?

The first generation K9 was introduced in the South Korean market for the 2013 to 2018 model years, but was only offered in North America from 2015 to 2017. Select international markets also received the K9, although its sales story was pretty similar no matter where it landed. . But this did not delay Kia, and in 2019 the company was ready with the second generation of the K9 model. It was bigger, bolder, more luxurious, and more impressive than before.

As before, the new K9 borrowed its platform from the existing Hyundai. Hyundai changed its branding approach between the first and second K9s: it launched its separate luxury brand Genesis, then switched the Equus from Hyundai to Genesis. The transformation occurred in 2015 when Genesis introduced the new EQ900 in South Korea (the G90 is elsewhere). The EQ (uus) part of the model name ran until 2018 when the sedan was updated. At that point, all markets had received Genesis’ biggest brand name as the G90.

The G90 used a HI rear-wheel drive platform, which Kia renamed RJ for K9 purposes. Hyundai had a strong four-year start with the EQ/G90 on Kia, as it needed time to launch the Genesis brand and convert the Equus faithful. Due to its second-tier position, Kia was prevented from designing a flagship car the size of the G90.

The new K9’s wheelbase was 122.2 inches, while the G90’s was 124.4 inches. The K9’s overall length was 201.6 inches, which is noticeably shorter than the G90’s 204.9 inches extension. Both cars share the same 75.4-inch width and roughly the same overall height (58.7 inches on the Kia and 58.9 inches on the Genesis). However, like the previous Equus, the G90 was offered in limousine form with a 135.8-inch wheelbase. This kind of lavish luxury was not allowed for the K9.

Engines were shared between the two cars, with Hyundai and Kia closing the gap and eliminating engines developed by Kia throughout the 2000s. Only one of four engines available was new for 2019: a 3.3-liter Lambda II turbocharged V6 with direct injection. The turbo engine produced impressive numbers, like 365 horsepower and 376 pound-feet of torque. The base engine on the new K9 was the 3.3-liter Lambda II with direct injection, the engine a carryover from the old model. It produced 250 horsepower and 256 pound-feet of torque, which doesn’t seem like enough for such a large car.

The largest V6 engine available on the K9 was the 3.8-liter Lambda II, in a normal look. With 311 horsepower and 293 pound-feet of torque, it lagged significantly behind the smaller turbocharged engine. Top spec was again Hyundai’s 5.0-liter Tau V8. With direct injection, it achieved an impressive 419 horsepower and 383 pound-feet of torque.

All versions of the K9 used the same eight-speed automatic transmission from the G90. And like its older brother, the K9 was newly available with the optional HTRAC all-wheel drive system. The K9 didn’t have stellar performance with the base 3.3-liter: it hit 62 mph in a long 8 seconds if it was rear-wheel drive, or 8.4 seconds in the all-wheel drive format. The 4,700-pound sedan was impressive with the V8, and with all-wheel drive it climbed to 62 in just 5.7 seconds. Top speed on all models was 149 mph.

As far as the design is concerned, the new K9 has maintained its own identity, not sharing body panels with the G90. It also completely cut itself off from its previous self, and with Kia as a whole. Bend again by Peter Schreyer, the K9 looked more upscale on its second iteration. Lower and wider in its stance, it more reflects the proportions expected of a rear-wheel drive sedan. The new K9 had two more inches in wheelbase and overall length than the old model.

At the front, the intensity of Kia’s Tiger Nose treatment has been reduced: there are still upper and lower indents in the middle of the grille, but that’s all that’s left. Unlike the previous model, the new K9 did not have a front end dominated by Tiger Nose principles. The grille had a large grille design, and looked more upscale than the previous model’s vertical chrome slats.

The headlights are no longer adjacent to the Optima, but adjacent to the S-class. Large and filled with simple two-level LED elements, the headlights seemed more suitable for a large sedan than for the old K9. The lower valance had two false eyelets on either side surrounding a dark mesh slit under the bumper. Other than the thin chrome strips across the valance and around the grille, the front end of the K9 was devoid of flashy embellishment.

The hood was lightly bouffant, and flowed into a gently creased front fender. Along the side, the new K9 retained the same basic look as the old model but carried it in a more upscale Germanic style. The chrome trim around the windows looked a bit like the 7 Series, and so was the lower chrome trim strip that runs from the rear to the front frame through the tailgate.

This chrome bar continued past the rear frame, and wrapped around the beautiful new rear of the K9. The design moved away from the general Toyota-like look of the old model, and went for sharper edges and a straighter rear section. The brake lights were large, mostly square, and had the appearance of a two-level LED. Comparisons could be made with the Mercedes or Bentley rear-end processors, but the K9 was different from either. The trapezoidal exhaust ports on both sides look sporty and purposeful.

Inside, the K9 embraced the conservative side of luxury and modern technology, with swathes of leather upholstery that included contrasting tubes, and plenty of velvety wood. The dash had a large center screen and radio controls decorated entirely in metal. It also has the oldest luxury feature, the analog clock. The fit, finish, and materials on the inside all looked excellent, which fit in the very narrow gaps of the outer panel.

The K9 was ready for production by 2018, and Kia chose to debut it in New York, again with the revamped K900 brand. Did everything go smoothly? not exactly. Next time we’ll meet and talk about money, sales, and emergency plastic surgery.

[Images: Kia]

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