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Affordable Korean Luxury Cars Aim to Make Dent in Market

Hyundai Equus
Back in 1990, when Toyota first entered the luxury car market with its Lexus LS400 model, a lot of analysts dismissed the move as a somewhat pretentious gambit by the Japanese automaker. At that time, Toyota was better known for its lineup of affordable family cars like the Corolla and Camry. Few gave it much of a chance in a luxury segment dominated by the likes of Mercedes, BMW and Audi. Yet, a quarter century later, the Lexus has established itself, and Toyota, as a genuinely serious player in the luxury automobile space.

A Leaf from the Past

Korean carmakers, such as Hyundai and Kia, are exactly in the same place that Toyota was back in 1990. Both companies are firmly entrenched in the economy car market segment and notions of Korean luxury cars currently appear as alien as the notion of Japanese luxury cars did 25 years ago. However, that may be changing. Both Kia and Hyundai are attempting to impress U.S. car buyers with affordable luxury cars that offer all the trappings of really high-end vehicles at a fraction of the price.

The Kia K900

Kia’s 2015 K900 is targeted directly at buyers shopping for Toyota’s Lexus and other cars that are a step or two below true luxury vehicle category. With a base price of $59,500 the Kia luxury car offers substantially more bang for the buck than much higher priced cars. The car, powered by a 420-horsepower, 5.0-liter V8 engine tied to an 8-speed automatic transmission, can go from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 5.5 seconds. It offers more cabin space than the $93,000 Mercedes-Benz S-Class or the $74,000 BMW 7 Series, while also offering the same kind of bling. The dashboard, seats and steering wheel are outfitted in expensive-looking leather. The car comes standard with a panoramic moonroof, a large, configurable 12.3-inch display, a modernistic instrument cluster and a shift-by-wire gear selector similar to the one in the BMW 7 Series. The rear seats on the K900 come equipped with individual AC zones and power-articulated seats with heating and cooling controls.

The Hyundai Equus

Hyndai’s Equus is a similarly upscale luxury sedan with a starting price of around $62,000. Like the Kia K900, the Hyundai luxury car is positioned as more an affordable alternative to cars like the BMW 7 Series, the Lexus LS Series, and the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. The car’s most striking feature is its powerful 5.0-liter, 429 horsepower V8 engine that can propel the vehicle from standstill to 60 miles per hour in a shade over 5 seconds. Other signature features of the car include its Xenon headlamps, 19-inch allow wheels, tri-mode suspension, power-adjustable heated seats in the front and back, all-leather interior, multi-zone temperature control and a plethora of other features that make the car every bit as luxurious and function-laden as its much higher priced rivals. Some examples of other standout features in the Equus include front and rear parking assist, adaptive cruise control, rearview camera, and rain-sensing wipers. Both the K900 and the Equus have received rapturous reviews from auto critics. The real challenge for both companies will be to get U.S. buyers to take them seriously in the luxury car segment.