The next-generation Kia Optima has finally been announced for the United States, but, as has often been speculated, it’s no longer called Optima. For 2021, Kia Motors America has adopted the Korean name of their mainstream midsize sedan. Luckily, the K5 is a lot more than just a name change.
The brand new platform, dubbed the “N3” platform, underpins a sedan that’s longer, wider, and lower than the Optima.Combined with its new more aggressive styling, the K5 is a more worthy successor to the revolutionary 2011 Optima than the outgoing model.
The new Kia K5 offers two turbocharged engine options. Most trim levels receive the venerable 1.6L turbocharged four cylinder we’ve seen in countless Hyundai and Kia models in the past, making 180hp and 195 lb-ft torque. The engine has been upgraded with a new Continuously Variable Valve Durationtechnology designed to optimize both fuel economy and performance, and is mated to a new 8-speed automatic transmission. Some K5 models with this smaller engine also receive an all-wheel-drive (AWD) system that actively distributes torque to the front or back wheels when needed for traction and performance. AWD K5 models also gain a “Snow” drive mode for winter weather.
Also announced was the sportier 2021 Kia K5 GT, which will come standard with the brand new 2.5L turbocharged inline four generating 290hp and 311 lb-ft torque. There’s a unique “Sport+” drive mode on the GT to get the most out of this engine, including an estimate 0-60mph time of 5.8 seconds. The GT’s power is connected to the front wheels via an in-house 8-speed dual-clutch transmission, but this trim level does not offer the AWD system.
US market Kia K5s will be produced in the same West Point, Georgia factory as the Telluride, but neither the AWD nor the GT variants will be available until later in the year. Expect all other K5 models to start arriving at your local Kia dealer in the next few months.
Beyond what we’ve already seen of the K5’s exterior from launches in other markets, it’s apparent that the US spec Kia K5 adds amber LED daytime running lights to high-end trim levels, along with LED fog lights on the lower fascia. The K5 LX comes standard with 16” alloy wheels, but 18” and 19” wheels are also available on the GT Line, EX, and GT trim levels, and those larger wheels come standard with high performance Pirelli P-Zero tires.
Before you enter your K5, you can use Kia’s new Smart Key, which provides remote engine start and climate control functionality right from your key. You can also set up user profiles in the UVO smartphone app for each driver to control the seating position, mirror placement, and radio presets before you get in the car.
Stepping into the car, you’ll find an available widescreen 10.25” infotainment screen, which features wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and allows two Bluetooth devices to be connected simultaneously. The optional wireless phone charger offers a faster charge rate than previous Kia models, and adds a cooling fan to make sure your device doesn’t overheat while charging.
There’s also an available 12-speaker Bose sound system with Bose Centerpoint surround sound, and Dynamic Speed Compensation which automatically adjusts the volume based on road noise at different driving speeds.
Unfortunately, one cool piece of tech which has not made its way to the US-spec Kia K5 is the digital instrument cluster. You can only get traditional gauges, regardless of trim level. However the GT Line and GT both receive a flat-bottom steering wheel to give you a little more of a sporty feel.
The K5 also offers red leatherette seating, and higher trim levels come with a combination satin chrome and faux wood finish on the dashboard and door panels for a premium feel. Overall, the interior appears modern, spacious, and inviting.
From a safety perspective, the K5 gets standard forward collision warning and active accident avoidance, but there’s also an available feature that enhances this system to understand drivers coming from the opposite direction when you are turning in an intersection, and stops the car to avoid an accident in more scenarios. Other optional safety features include navigation-based smart cruise control, which lowers the car’s speed when curves are noted ahead while cruise control, and Parking Collision Avoidance, which brakes the car automatically when objects or pedestrians are detected while parking.
In conclusion, the fully reimagined 2021 Kia K5 brings a sporty and forward-thinking style back to Kia’s midsize sedan, and offers a compelling option for those of us who haven’t bought into the SUV hype.