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Kia steps up a gear, veers into luxury market

Cut-rate Kias once sang solely in the key of cheap.

Coarse plastic creaked and squeaked over bumps. Suspension pieces clunked and clanged darkly somewhere underneath, giving the cars a slightly haunted feel.

Their four-cylinder engines — driven by pistons smaller than soup cans — thrashed and bashed like Iggy Pop and the Stooges as they struggled to muster 100 horsepower.

It was the sort of melancholy industrial music that rarely rockets to the top of the charts.

Of course, that was long before massive design changes throughout Kia, before the current Optima rose to become one of the most stylish sedans in the midsize segment and way before 100,000-mile warranties made some level of quality absolutely mandatory.

Still, stringy remnants of Kia's back-of-the-lot history cling to its new image.

So maybe you ought to sit down while I tell you this: Kia's latest vehicle, the oddly named K900, is a 4,600-pound luxury — yes, luxury — sedan with rear-wheel drive, a five-liter V-8 engine, eight-speed automatic and acres of nappa leather inside.

Seriously, and the 2015 model I drove recently had a US$66,400 sticker price to prove it.

That's almost as otherworldly as me announcing on my new Twitter account “catch my kicks and twirls at la bare's this weekend.” (And sadly, I really do tweet like a little bird now.)

But Kia and big brother Hyundai really do seem determined to prove that they can build everything short of full-size pickups and SUVs.

Considering what they've accomplished in the last decade, I don't really doubt them. But the 2015 K900 faces some really substantial obstacles in the road — called Audi, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Lexus and even Cadillac.

The dark metallic gray K900 I had certainly looked big enough to grapple with those guys.

The large, somewhat bulky sedan shares a platform and powertrain with Hyundai's Genesis and Equus sedans, and it's nearly as large as a 7-series BMW.

Slightly slab-sided, the K900 offered an appropriately long hood with a silver chain grille that barely retained Kia's signature “tiger-nose” shape. (Too proletariat, perhaps?)

Meanwhile, bold LED headlamps flowed into long front fenders with modern short overhangs.

Well-executed Interior

Enormous doors hinted at the generous space inside the K900. (Is it just me, by the way, or do you think “pooch” when you hear that name?)

Like way too many Kias, the K900 also sported a terrible plastic nonfunctional vent at the top of its front fenders. (C'mon, Kia. Even the bling-mobile Escalade ditched that tired look.)

But a gracefully curved top dropped down to a stylishly tall trunk, giving the car a slight Lexus-like feel in back.

Polished turbine-style 19-inch wheels wearing 245/45 tires added a dash of upscale to the big sedan, while a conventional character line running through the door handles kept things conservative.

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The 2014 Kia K900, which aims to compete with the big names in the luxury segment, shares a platform and powertrain with Hyundai's Genesis and Equus sedans. (MCT)

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