The death of the Kia K900 and Cadenza wasn’t a huge surprise; well reviewed cars that don’t sell don’t usually stick around. But the failure of those two models wasn’t due to lack of experience. As early as the late ’90s Kia was flirting with moving upmarket.
After a few Fiat 132s, Peugeot 604s, and somewhat blocky Mazdas, Kia’s first modern-looking luxury sedan came about in 1998 with the Kia Enterprise. Information on the Enterprise is scarce. A search of Kia’s archives brings up nothing but a couple of photos. An internet search for “Kia Enterprise” brings up either information about Kia the company or a dealership in Enterprise, Alabama.
The Enterprise was a rear-drive machine based on the Mazda Sentia/Mazda 929, and the resemblance is very clear.
Three Mazda V6 engines were available. A 2.5-liter, 160-horsepower V6 powered the base version. Big spenders could choose between a 3.0-liter, 205-HP V6 or a 3.5-liter, 230-HP V6.
The Enterprise ended up being relatively rare. It didn’t quite catch on with the luxury crowd, and after just four years on the market it was axed.
The replacement for the Enterprise was a car that introduced a lot of Americans to Korean cars, for better or worse. You may be familiar with the Amanti, but if not, here’s a little history. Kia got serious this time around and took development for the Amanti in-house. The result was known as Opirus in Korea and Amanti here in the states. The name was chosen via a survey released to customers online. Oprius won over Regent and Conzern. The name was a reference to the wealthy Biblical city of Ophir.
The Amanti had the distinction of being the first vehicle that rode on a platform shared with Hyundai. (The two companies had merged in 1998.) The platform, called Y4, also spawned the Hyundai XG/Grandeur/Azera. It was, in a literal sense, a value-oriented luxury car for older people. Kia said the target market for the car was people 40 to 60, something Kia struggled with.
In a presentation to Car and Driver, Wally Anderson, Kia VP of marketing at the time, explained that calling it a full-size sedan could make people think it was for old people:
The attitude is ‘I don’t want my father’s full-size sedan.’ Full-size sedan is a dirty word to these people. The Amanti is not a full-size sedan.
The assembly of auto writers at the Amanti’s launch in San Diego sang out in chorus, “Well, what is it?”
It’s a big car.
This was also around the time that Hyundai/Kia started their more-for-less value push. The Amanti’s $24,995 base price undercut competitors, which included the Buick Lucerne and Toyota Avalon, by thousands. It was even more of a value when its standard features were factored in. Things like leather seats with power in the front row, a CD player and a huge trunk were important to buyers in the segment.
A 3.5-liter 200-HP V6 moved the front wheels. Car and Driver, in its review of the car, noted that its power didn’t match its displacement, and they didn’t understand why:
Kia extracts only 200 horsepower from a displacement that yields 270 horsepower for Acura and 245 to 287 for Nissan.
Towards the end of its run, Kia installed the then new 3.8-liter Lambda V6 giving the Amanti 264 HP.
The Amanti lasted until 2012. Seven years is a surprisingly long time considering how poorly it sold. Its best year was its first. Kia sold 19,894 in 2004. That number plunged to 9,594 in 2006. In 2010 just 281 were sold. A handful of them, eight, were sold in 2011.
The Cadenza replaced it a year later. Both it and the K900 were nice cars, but the idea of a Kia luxury car may have been a bridge too far for most buyers. Then again, the Kia Telluride is selling well, so maybe the problem with the K900 and the Cadenza was that they weren’t crossovers.