Since its arrival in the U.S. 20 years ago, Kia has been moving steadily upmarket.

Now it’s finally arrived at that ultimate of segments: the luxury sedan.

Does the brand have what it takes to deliver a competitive premium car? After some brief seat time in late November in a pre-production, close-to-U.S.-spec model, we say the ’15 K900 has promise.

The K900, on sale in the spring, is Kia’s first attempt at the luxury segment, if you don’t count the front-wheel-drive Amanti (please don’t) or Cadenza sedans.

Despite Kia’s assertions to the contrary, the K900 bears a strong similarity to Hyundai’s Equus.
Both cars have nearly the same dimensions, though the K900 is 2.5 ins. (6.4 cm) shorter overall and a smidge wider, and each can be had with a 5.0L direct-injected V-8, a 2-time Ward’s 10 Best Engines winner.

However, the Equus has a higher-horsepower version of that mill, boasting 429 hp to the K900’s 420 hp, and has no V-6 option.

WardsAuto tested only the K900 with Hyundai/Kia’s Lambda 3.8L DI V-6, already used in the Hyundai Genesis.

Engineers reworked the mill for the K900 application, upping torque but lowering horsepower from 333 to 311, noting few drivers spend much time in the upper-rpm band anyway.

The K900 makes 293 lb.-ft. (397 Nm) of torque, up from 291 lb.-ft. (395 Nm) in the Genesis, and the peak arrives earlier in the K900, at 5,000 rpm vs. 5,100 rpm in the Hyundai.

That lower torque peak still isn’t low enough for some WardsAuto editors driving the car for 2014 10 Best Engines testing, who find passing on the freeway a white-knuckle experience due to scant midrange power.

In the mid-large luxury sedan category, the 3.0L turbocharged inline-6 BMW 535i peaks between 1,300 and 5,000 rpm. The Mercedes-Benz E350’s 3.5L V-6 has less torque, peaking at 273 lb.-ft. (370 Nm), but it comes at as low as 3,500 rpm.

Our combined fuel economy tops out at a measly 19.1 mpg (12.3 L/100 km) due to lots of cold-weather, city driving. Kia hasn’t announced figures for the K900, but the smaller Genesis with the 3.8L is rated at 21 mpg (11.2 L/100 km) overall.

The K900’s cabin is one of the quietest you’ll find, and its interior design is unique to the segment.

Wearing what some here refer to as the “Siegfried and Roy” white-tiger look, the K900 boasts plentiful glossy white-and-gray trim on the steering wheel and door panels.

The ivory leather with black piping on seats is sharp, although the color match between the leather and the suede headliner is a bit off.

The rear seat is cavernous and upmarket, with outboard heated seats and leather- and metal-wrapped grab bars.

The center stack is logically arranged with lots of buttons; they are big and easy to read.

However, they’re not all easy to reach, as the shifter blocks the bottom row of switchgear.

The LCD screen is controlled via a knob, not by touch, and its graphics are spectacular – crisp and clean.

We’re looking forward to spending more time in the K900, especially the V-8 model, and also to seeing where Kia will price the car. The brand has hinted cost will fall somewhere below the Equus base price of $61,000.

Anything near $60,000 will be a great challenge for Kia, whose most expensive model, the Cadenza Limited grade, now starts at $42,400.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com