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Kia’s K900 rear-drive luxury sedan matches wits with 2011 Infiniti – and that’s a good thing

Kia officially unveiled its anticipated all-new flagship sedan today, the K900.

Frankly, I like it a lot more in person than I did in its teaser photos. It looks like a Maserati Quattroporte had its way with a Kia Optima while an Audi A7 watched from the corner, chain smoking.

Hopefully, you won’t be able to get that image, and the Kia K900, out of your head for some time. I know I won’t.

Despite its impressively striking bodylines, the rest of the K900’s specs read like any other brand-new entrant into the full-size luxury market.

Separating itself from the rest of the Kia lineup, the colossal K900 is a rear-wheel drive, full-size luxury sedan powered by either a 3.8-liter, 311-horsepower V6 or a 5.0-liter, 420 hp V8. Both engines will be bolted to a new ‘smooth-shifting’ eight-speed automatic.

While these power numbers are great, Kia has yet to reveal acceleration times or fuel economy estimates. So unless it can hustle to 60 mph in under 4.5 seconds or get over 30 mpg, it’s not making many headlines in the engine department.

The conservative story continues into the cabin with optional Nappa leather available in black or white with contrasting piping, which is accented by genuine white sycamore or dark charcoal poplar-wood trim on the dash and door panels. This makes me think of Infiniti of, well, any kind from the last decade.

Where the K900 does stand out a bit is its 12.3-inch TFT screen instrument cluster and Kia-first head-up display (HUD). The K900’s HUD, just like that of every other automaker, shows turn-by-turn directions, vehicle speed, and blind spot and camera-based lane departure system warnings.

Over to the right of the large digital instrument cluster is a 9.2-inch UVO eServices screen, which, like German cars of years past, is controlled with a single rotary knob by the driver’s right hand. The Germans virtually pioneered this single-point interface. But after having been repeated derided for forcing users through dozens of menus, the Germans have moved to replace joysticks with a mix of touchpads and buttons. Kia, it seems, is playing digital catch-up.

Another area in which Kia is keen to catch-up the competition is in collision safety. Accordingly the K900 debuts Kia’s first implementation of Advanced Vehicle Safety Management (AVSM). The system, just like most every other luxury automaker, will warn the driver through the HUD of an imminent collision and pre-pressurize the braking system and the seatbelts to help limit crash-caused injury. Unlike the big boys in the segment, however, the system won’t take autonomous action to avoid the collision if the driver is unable to react.

While the Kia K900 is clearly a legitimate luxury land ship, it’s not a real competitor to the reigning kings like Infiniti or Buick. The bodylines, the power, and the technology are a few steps behind all the other ‘affordable’ luxury offerings on the market. Yes, designers made the Kia grille much more premium looking. But, frankly, that brilliant grille is not enough to justify a $50,000 to $65,000 asking price, I fear.

I wonder if Kia really needs a car like the K900 – and why it didn’t take a risk and break the flagship mold at least a little. Nothing on the spec sheet reads any differently than a high-end Hyundai or Lexus from a few years ago.

We’ll withhold our final judgments until we get behind the wheel – and after Kia releases pricing. The K900 goes on sale in early 2014 so look for more info soon.