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Kia K9: From sketch to sheetmetal

Kia K9 front three-quarterRecently, Korean automaker Kia released sketches of a full-size luxury sedan called the KH. The intent was to build a flagship car that would erase Kia’s reputation for building cheap, disposable cars. That car is no longer just a drawing: Kia just released photos of the production version, now called K9.

As was hinted at in the sketches, the K9 takes Kia’s design language and adds some formality, appropriate for a car that will likely compete against BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Lexus. The signature Kia “Tiger Grille” is more upright and sports vertical bars instead of mesh. The roofline and taillights bear a family resemblance to the Optima’s but also look somewhat like pieces from the new Lexus GS. The exhaust outlets in the rear bumper resemble the ones on Lexus’ LS.

At the front, it looks like Kia’s ex-Audi head designer, Peter Schreyer, was copying BMW. The headlights look like they came off a 5-Series, and the blunt front bumper and hood line could easily accommodate a BMW twin-kidney grille. Given Schreyer’s amazing work on the rest of the Kia range, it’s a shame that taking styling cues from other cars seems to have taken precedent over uniqueness. The LED headlights and side vents carry over from the concept sketches.

Kia said the K9 will offer the “best of the best” in handling, technology, and design. The car will be based on the Hyundai Genesis, but Kia did not release any other technical details. Given the Genesis’ performance in comparison tests, Kia will really have to sharpen up the K9’s handling to compete with the Germans. It also means that the K9 will be Kia’s first rear-wheel-drive car.Kia K9 rear three-quarter

The biggest selling point will probably be the K9’s price. If it is anything like the Genesis, the K9 will be a BMW 7 Series-sized car for the price of a 3 Series.

It is still unclear what engine will power the K9. Kia could easily use one, or all, of the Genesis’ engines (3.8-liter V6, 4.6-liter V8, or 5.0-liter V8), or possibly the 3.3-liter turbocharged V6 from the GT concept.

The K9’s name may only consist of one letter and one number, but it has a lot of significance for Kia. The company says the “K” stands for Kia, Kinetic, and Kratos, the Greek word for domination. Calling the car K9 instead of KH fits with Kia’s domestic models, the K5 (Optima) and K7 (Cadenza, not sold in the U.S.).

The K9 will go on sale in Korea in the next few months. Kia did not say where else it would be sold, only that it would not be sold in Europe. When the drawings were first shown, Kia’s overseas marketing director, Soon Nam Lee, did say that Kia plans to export the car to other markets. The company is now saying that it will be renamed for foreign markets as well.

The K9 is a major leap forward for Kia, and a novelty in the luxury car market, it may need more substance to stand out. It will need to offer the technology and performance of its more expensive rivals, and may be hurt by its derivative styling. Regardless, a luxury Kia may be on its way to the U.S.