It was no secret that the Kia Optima was living on borrowed time. While the current generation Optima was trying its best to stand out in a rapidly shrinking sedan segment, it was also aging, and it was falling behind in a few key categories. Kia is not ready to give up just yet, and has unveiled a radically revamped sedan that not only has a new design language, but a brand new name to signify its second chance at life.
Dubbed the K5, the model uses a name that has already been in use for several years in the international market, but never in U.S. soil, until now. The exterior styling pf the K5 is obviously an attempt to make the K5 distinct from the more elegantly honed Hyundai Sonata, but it appears that Kia chose to inject more of the Stinger’s DNA into its flanks. The front fascia features a wider “tiger nose” front grille that dives deeper into the headlights, while a redesigned lower air intake in the bumper gives the front end a sinister sneer that should please the desires of many enthusiasts. A neat feature that we liked is the way the hood is actually designed to have a contoured fit to the front grille. This is a nice touch, considering that many sedans these days often have unattractive panel gaps between the front fascia and the hood. All new LED daytime running lights now feature a heartbeat pattern, with Kia reps revealing that the pattern will spread to future Kia models.
The pointed front end gives way to an upward sloping hood, with a strong and prominent shoulder line going from the front wheel arch all the way to the taillights. The rising character line in the rocker panels is quite crisp, and the fastback profile is even more pronounced than ever. This helps give the K5 a subtle shark like appearance, and with the segment as a whole embracing sharper designs, this look should please sedan buyers looking for something that has character and distinction. The rear styling is not quite as composed as the front, but we do like the taillight design, and the way some of the core elements here do mix nicely into a pleasing form.
The interior of the K5 looks just as sporty as ever which is thanks in part to the flat bottomed steering wheel that is standard equipment on GT and GT-Line models. The energetic feel of the cabin is enhanced by the large traditional floor shifter, with other switch gear in the cabin being inspired by controls seen in actual aircraft. The infotainment system is revamped, and it even dove tails into the instrument cluster for a driver focused layout. Kia also revealed that the K5 will offer buyers a number of unusual styling traits including red leatherette, satin finish metallic trim, contrast stitching, and “wood like” accents on the dashboard. With so many of its rivals still out to convince you that it comes from trees, we will give Kia designers credit for openly admitting that the K5’s wood is far from being the genuine article. An 8.0 inch touchscreen infotainment system is standard equipment, but buyers can opt for an optional 10.3 inch unit. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability are on board, but only wired smart mirroring is available on the bigger infotainment system. The Kia Drive Wise System is also standard equipment on the K5, and it bundles items such as forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane keep assist, and driver attention warning. Navigation based adaptive cruise control, as well as lane centering assistance are some of the optional but welcome driver aides that buyers can equip to their K5.
The interior also benefits from the all new N3 platform which is also shared with the Hyundai Sonata. Like in that car, the platform makes the K5 longer, lower, and wider than the outgoing Optima. This pays dividends in certain regards, especially in interior head and legroom.
Performance for the Kia K5 comes from an all turbocharged lineup of engines. The base engine is the 1.6 liter turbocharged engine borrowed from the Sonata with the turbocharged four banger producing 180 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque. Mated to an eight speed automatic transmission, the 1.6 liter will be the standard engine at launch with virtually all trims being equipped with the engine. The motor is admittedly not the most exciting one in Kia’s arsenal, but it should be sufficient for the bulk of K5 buyers especially those that need it to tackle the rigors of the daily commute.
However, if you are an enthusiast that craves more power, the GT and its bigger 2.5 liter turbocharged four cylinder might be just what the doctor ordered. Perhaps serving as a subtle preview to the Sonata N-Line, the 2.5 liter speaks loudly, and carries a big stick with drivers being able to summon all of its 290 horsepower with a stab of the gas pedal. The 311 lb-ft of torque is nothing to sneeze at either, and it should further enhance the K5’s ability to move out of its own way. The GT also gains an eight speed dual-wet clutch transmission that was developed in house y Kia engineers. Kia thinks that the DCT can help the GT blast its way to 0 to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds which is very good for its segment.
In addition to the state of the art engines, the K5 will also be the first from wheel drive based Kia sedan to receive all-wheel drive, with the LXS and the GT-Line with the system boasting electro hydraulic operation, as well as a special drive mode for snowier driving. Kia did not confirm if the all-wheel drive system will make its way to the K5 GT or not, but it would be easy to imagine how it would play a role in greatly enhancing performance.
The 2021 Kia K5 will go on sale this summer in LX, LXS, GT-Line, and EX forms. As mentioned prior, the range topping GT will be a late arrival, and it will make its trek to showrooms this fall. Pricing information was also released, but look for the K5 to not stray too far from the pricing that we saw in the outgoing Optima, with base models possibly starting somewhere in the $24,000 to $25000 range. The GT would have a bit of a premium attached to it, and we suspect that the model would perhaps venture into the pricing territory that houses the $33,090 Kia Stinger GT-Line.
Regardless of how much the final sticker might be, look for the K5 GT to continue to offer buyers the same impressive balance of features, performance, and value that many Kia buyers adore, while also being a big leap towards the brand eventually morphing into a company that can offer sportier Korean alternatives to counter the benchmarks of the segment.
Carl Malek has been an automotive journalist for over 10 years. First starting out as a freelance photographer before making the transition to writing during college, his work has appeared on numerous automotive forums as well as websites such as Autoshopper.com.
Carl is also a big fan of British vehicles with the bulk of his devotion going to the Morgan Motor Company as well as offerings from Lotus, MG, and Caterham. When he is not writing about automobiles, Carl enjoys spending time with his family and friends in the Metro Detroit area, as well as spending time with his adorable pets.