(MCT) -- 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 $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.
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.
And that word - conservative - kept popping up in my notes on the K900.
It's a quite handsome sedan. But to be honest, I think it really needs a few more of Kia's bold lines and shapes.
Likewise, the car's black interior felt well-executed and luxurious, just not especially distinctive.
If you have gigantic kids, though, or want your spouse to drive you around on Saturdays while you sit in back sipping margaritas, the K900 might be just up your avenue.
The back seat is immense, with vast leg- and headroom. It's the sort of highly accommodating space Jerry Jones might appreciate on his, uh, out-of-town trips.
Up front, a big, square, well-proportioned dashboard in stitched black leather tumbled down onto a broad console trimmed in wood.
The dash, which had a great shape, featured a large 9.2-inch touch screen in its center trimmed in shiny piano black.
One oddity with the instrument panel on the dash: When the K900 was in sport mode, the digital facsimiles of gauges disappeared, replaced by numeric readouts of the car's speed and revs.
It was something I never quite got used to - but maybe I'm just being grumpy.
I didn't care much for the car's gray headliner, which just seemed out of place in the black interior of a luxury sedan.
But the K900's perforated, well-stitched seats felt finely supportive, and the door panels also looked luxurious with smooth leather tops and padded centers.
Fortunately, the K900 relies on Hyundai's refined 420-horsepower V-8 and eight-speed automatic for motivation - or motor-vation, as the case may be.
While the big sedan wasn't blazingly fast, it was definitely quick on its feet, sprinting to 60 in 5.5 seconds.
The powertrain also delivered 15 miles per gallon in the city and 23 on the highway, which these days qualifies as just barely average, even in a big sedan.
Nonetheless, I've long admired this engine and its silky wall-of-power shove, which felt kind of like surfing in a lake.
Though quiet, subtle and highly Lexus-like, it never felt out of breath even when pushed past 6,000 rpm.
As you might expect in a large cruiser with a long wheelbase, the ride was pretty sublime, soaking up just about every bump with minimal motion.
But the K900 was strictly an interstate animal, ready to whisk you and the duchess 300 miles in a few easy hours.
As you know, though, Hyundais and Kias rarely distinguish themselves in the handling department, and the K900 didn't make many advances in that area.
Even in sport mode, it seemed awkward in corners, leaning more in tight curves than I liked and feeling slightly uncomfortable - like a silk-stocking Republican at a restaurant in Oak Lawn.
Although the car never lost its composure in hard curves, it exhibited just enough lean and stumble to make curves a mild irritant.
The numb steering also kept me well-behaved.
While reasonably quick with lots of power assist, it felt kind of isolated and artificial - sort of like the numeric tach that told me I was turning 2,107, nope, 2,110, nope, 2,206 rpm.
Look, I give Kia points for jumping into this demanding, highly style-conscious segment. I'm just not sure where they landed.
At 66 large, the Kia is $6,000 cheaper than an entry-level Lexus LS, the car it most closely resembles in ride, performance and driving dynamics.
But it is roughly the same price as an aggressive BMW 550, a lovely Audi A7 sedan or a loaded Mercedes-Benz E-class.
As I see it, Kia's new challenge - its biggest yet - is to persuade consumers sitting on 70 large to spend it on a Kia rather than those pedigreed choices.
It could be tough.
AT A GLANCE: 2015 Kia K900
Type of vehicle: Full-size, rear-wheel-drive, five-passenger luxury sedan
Price as tested: $66,400
Fuel economy: 15 miles per gallon city, 23 highway
Weight: 4,624 pounds
Engine: Direct-injected 5-liter V-8 with 420 horsepower and 376 pound-feet of torque
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Performance: 0 to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds
SOURCES: Kia Motors America; Motor Trend
ABOUT THE WRITER
Terry Box writes for the Dallas Morning News. He may be reached at email@example.com.
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