Commentary: Kia's New Flagship Has a Name…No, Seriously…

Photo courtesy of Kia Motors, Inc.

A Q-what?!?

When Kia presented their rear-drive flagship sedan, questions began as to where exactly the sportier half of its partnership with Hyundai was going. Called the K9, one could hear jokes that would not sit well with pet lovers and animal rights activists. K9 is part of a nomenclature scheme Kia is using for some of its markets.

For Kia, they had little success at the top of their range outside of their home market. The Opirus/Amanti was truly a dog. It was an overstyled front-drive luxury sedan that found homes with those who could not understand the attraction of a Buick Lucerne, a Mercury Grand Marquis, a Toyota Avalon or a Hyundai Azera. Frankly, the Amanti lacked honest value – a cheap luxury car that is truly cheap.

With the K9, Kia will return to the premium game with a product that looks worthy of battle. There are a few things to discern about the flagship – some that make you say "hmmmm."

For example, does Kia need a flagship outside of their home market? In Europe, they made inroads with good small cars – namely the Rio and C'eed. These two models are important as they represent a bulk of auto sales, even in an economic slowdown. Over on this side of the Atlantic, the Optima and Sorento spurred the brand’s growth in sales, as well as being the bedrocks of their sole assembly facility in West Point, Georgia. Between these four models, Kia felt compelled to follow the footsteps of its partner, Hyundai, and reach for the upper echelons of the marketplace.

It is no secret that the K9 is based off of the Hyundai Genesis – somewhat. Hyundai-Kia has taken an approach that goes beyond badge engineering as products built off the same platform are created separately by each brand to match the image and marketing strategy for each side of the group. While the Genesis is positioned towards the likes of the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Infiniti M and the Lexus ES, the K9 has its sights on the BMW 5-Series, Lexus GS, Audi A6 and Acura TL. Clearly, Kia wants a piece of the sporty side of the premium/luxury mid-sized sedan market.

There had been some criticism over the K9's styling. Some pundits claimed that a chunk of the Kia's exterior design was cribbed from the current 5-Series. Granted, I could see some glaring similarities, but I wonder how much comparison one could do side-by-side to ensure that Kia had their own design apart from the Bavarians.

From what I have seen inside, there are a few BMW-esque cues. Yet, anyone who has experienced a Kia lately will point out that most of the interior design came from the Optima – for the most part. Rather, the cabin appears to be an elevated experience based on the Optima with aspirations towards Lexus and Infiniti.

Then, there is the name. Kia has always been adventurous in their nomenclature conventions. For example, the Carens – what we called the Rondo stateside. Kia's MPV may not mean much to you, me and everyone else at Kia's marketing team, but the name has stuck for a very long time elsewhere. Other names support this idea of naming originality such as Magnetis, Opirus, Amanti, C’eed, Sephia…and so forth.

Hence that Kia has named the K9 the Quoris.

What is a Quoris? According to a video on Kia's global YouTube page, it is the object of a quest by two cool looking dudes traversing across the globe. They found it in the most obvious place – the Republic of Korea. Since the Quoris is a luxury sedan, why would you want two young-ish traveler types driving that thing?

Then again, I am bellyaching at this point.

A question came up whether the Quoris is coming to North America. Though not entirely confirmed, Kia is planning on sending their front-drive premium sedan, the Cadenza, for sale here in 2014. Would it be logical to send the Quoris here, too?

Two things seem to be pointing to these potential moves. Defining Kia's place in this market as the sportier brand within Hyundai-Kia would create the conditions for expanding into larger, more expensive vehicles. The second stems from the notion that the upscale/luxury market has room for growth and stable enough to have more choices for the consumer.

Agreed that Kia's brand image has leaned towards a customer who wants more driving dynamics and performance at a good value point. Yet, Kia's pricing is now in line with the competition. The value proposition might not be an advantage as it was a few years ago. This is probably why you would see the Cadenza priced in the low-$30,000 range and the Quoris starting below $40,000 when they do arrive here.

As for the notion that the premium market still has growth to go, I may have to disagree. It is stabilizing – that is for sure. Yet, if the economy dips again by the Presidential election in the States, the luxury market will peak again. If this occurs, then any new luxury model on top of what is currently offered would be left behind in the sales race. The European market is already unstable with the bubble firmly in place over its luxury brands. This may not be a good time to introduce new additional luxury models in this marketplace.

Maybe we should welcome the Kia Quoris to world. Maybe this is a very good car. At least it would not be a dog. Nor should I recommend naming a dog "Quoris." Or, go any further on the bad joke route…

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