By on November 12, 2019

Kia

A decade — isn’t that hard to believe? — after the debut of the radically styled third-generation Kia Optima, the automaker has another salvo waiting to launch against midsize boredom. Trailing its equally daring 2020 Hyundai Sonata sibling by a model year, the revamped 2021 Optima ditches the downgraded clothes that appeared in its closet for 2016.

Like Hyundai, Kia feels that style is its best bet to capture attention — and buyers — as the midsize sedan market contracts.

The model seen here dons the name K5, which is what Kia calls the Optima in its Korean home market. Same car, same changes. Retaining the brand’s signature tiger-nose grille, albeit now an integrated design (Kia claims the grille mesh is modelled after a shark’s skin), the new Optima aims for a flat hoodline and a coupe-like profile. Like the Sonata, LED running lights extend quite far aft of the headlamps, in two diverging directions.

Kia

Out back, you’d be surprised to learn this is a sedan and not a liftback. The Optima’s abbreviated trunk lid gives the Lincoln MKZ a run for its money in the short-deck championships. A strip of chrome trim begins at the base of the A-pillar and continues all the way to the base of the rear glass, framing the roof with tinsel. Taillights span the width of the car, no doubt causing Corey to employ the horrid term “heckblende,” while a sporty rear bumper valance and slim (possibly faux) exhaust ports amp up the sports sedan appearance designers were clearly going for.

Bolstering these visual changes is a narrow waist created by bulking up the car’s fenders. Length is up 2 inches, with a corresponding increase in wheelbase. Roof height sinks eight-tenths of an inch, while width increases by about an inch.

kia

Kia makes note of the car’s boosted visual muscularity compared to the outgoing model, which this writer last drove after leaving a rental lot. Kia would likely prefer that the new Optima take precedence over Camry and Accord in the minds of new car intenders, rather than simply tempt them at the rental counter. As for real muscle, there’s no word on engine availability just yet.

In the U.S., Optima sales peaked in 2015, with the model’s volume shrinking 36 percent between that date and 2018. Through October, Optima volume is down 5 percent for the year.

[Images: Kia Motors]

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42 Comments on “2021 Kia Optima: Look Over Here, Please...”


  • avatar

    This Optima K’s looks pretty good, better than the Sonata which needs to reel it in a bit.

    And the heckblende lamps would look better with a continuous line instead of Morse code.

    • 0 avatar
      ToolGuy

      The Morse code look was pioneered by the 2000MY Cadillac DeVille in around 2004, when the individual LED’s starting burning out. Kia is jumping ahead one step.

      (The racetrack style curve at each end is nice, but would it be possible to make it in the shape of the Nürburgring?)

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    My SIL bought a new Optima 5 yrs ago.
    A thousand dollar audio system amplifier failure (just out of warranty) and an engine failure (covered on extended mfgr policy) sent him to Honda for his next purchase. And the trade-in value was unfortunately quite low.

  • avatar
    HP440

    Polished turd

  • avatar
    Thomas Kreutzer

    I still think it looks a bit bunched up at the back but otherwise it’s quite pretty. If they had a few more inches on the trunk they’d have been 100 percent, in my opinion.

    That chrome line at the top is a neat trick. I like how it draws the eye to the sleeker line while leaving a higher roofline for the backseat passengers.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      Yes the chrome wrap around is a great touch. You get that floating roof look every designer seems to love these days but without the cheesy gloss black panel on the C pillar. Hard to make a sedan look good these days… as it seem most are going out of there way to make them look ugly.

    • 0 avatar
      Rick Astley

      There are some pretty interesting NHTSA regulations when it comes to continuous lights across the back of a car.

      If memory serves, there is a calculation as to the total width of the vehicle and maximum length of light, required gaps, etc. Something about being able to determine which side of the car you’re looking at from an angle? Was unable to produce the document which was posted on TTAC about it many moons ago.

  • avatar
    justinx
  • avatar
    JimZ

    front kind of looks like a blend of Charger and previous-gen S197 Mustang.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    I like it, even if there’s a *lot* of Lincoln MKZ here (check the greenhouse and the rear three-quarters view).

    I also like how Hyundai and Kia designs manage to be expressive and stylish without all the weird elements (or outright ugliness, depending on your eye) of the Honda Accord or Toyota Camry.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    I like it.

    I don’t like that it is a true sedan, that tiny trunk screams for a hatchback (so well integrated that you can’t tell until you pop it open.)

  • avatar
    TheDutchGun

    Manual transmission?

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      If the Sonata is going wet DCT for the performance model then I’m sure the same thing is going to happen for the Optima.

      I don’t believe the base version has been available with a manual since the dawn of the current generation.

      IIRC frequent commenter Arthur had/has a Sonata GLS (base) with manual and heated seats. A combo you could only get in Canada.

      • 0 avatar
        TheDutchGun

        You’re probably right. To me the stinger really needs a manual and so does the G70 with the 3.3. I understand you can get a manual in the 4 cylinder G70.

        I also understand the take rates don’t justify offering it.

        I’m shocked it’s still available in the accord.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        And thanks to the take rate (basically nil) on manual Sonatas, when/if I ever need the clutch replaced, I may just have an anchor in my driveway.

        You don’t go out trying to find an unobtanium part, for a fully depreciated vehicle. :-(

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      Exactly

  • avatar
    jkross22

    Looks like a Peugeot and Audi spawn after a weekend bender. That’s a compliment.

  • avatar
    d4rksabre

    If KIA is going to make good looking cars they really need to update their branding to something more stylish.

  • avatar
    don1967

    Another day, another stunning liftback that isn’t.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Like the existing Optima, I assume this will sell to the traditional Kia consumer base of the credit-challenged, having a negative effect on the overall image of the model.

    • 0 avatar
      quaquaqua

      Not sure what you’re getting at, other than your own perception. Fleet sales are what hurt a car’s value, not if the “right” type of person buys them outright.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        Optimas in my area are usually seen with pitted 20″ rims and questionably installed stereo additions. That definitely affects the willingness of other consumers to buy the same car.

        • 0 avatar
          ajla

          You see that on the *usual new* Optima? I see some third owner Optimas (and Altimas and LX sedans) like that but I don’t know if Kia can really do anything about that phenomenon.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            Much more often than with other newish family sedans, except maybe Altimas. I attribute it to the traditional Kia customer base.

          • 0 avatar
            TMA1

            The only thing Kia can do about that phenomenon is make their cars less reliable. There’s a good reason you don’t see a lot of dunked out Audis around.

            German looks + reliability + time = questionable aesthetic choices.

  • avatar
    ShoogyBee

    I’m kind of surprised there hasn’t been an “Ace of Base” feature on the 2016-2020 Kia Optima LX yet. It’s a pretty solid midsize sedan and a very good value.

  • avatar
    MKizzy

    Like the 2020 Sonata, the Optima’s longer and lower design combined with their refusal to offer the vehicle as a liftback despite its short rear deck indicates that like consumers, HK has given up on the idea of the sedan as mainstream family vehicle.

    With that in mind, they have their expanding CUV lineup for that purpose, allowing HK to trade in traditional sedan practicality for design and market their sedans as the stylish niche vehicles they are fast becoming.

    • 0 avatar
      TMA1

      I wonder if you’re right. Walked out of the subway station in Seoul today, saw a Hyundai ad showing 6 different crossovers, at least 3 of which we don’t have in the States.

      Koreans still buy sedans, but I’m seeing more crossovers than I did a few years ago (though they’re still not a huge part of the market). The looks of the new Sonata probably won’t help that car, particularly the nonfunctional fast back shape and tiny trunk.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    “Like Hyundai, Kia feels that style is its best bet to capture attention — and buyers — as the midsize sedan market contracts.” Mistake.

    Reality: Customers are fleeting the segment for vehicles which offer more utility/usability.

    OEM Response: Make more sacrifices of utility/usability in the name of styling.

    Result: Segment will die faster. BUT – the last three sedan customers on the planet will absolutely *love* the look of their vehicle.

    [Refer to minivan segment for lessons not learned.]

  • avatar
    Jeff Weimer

    If you’re going to have a back glass with an angle like that, put a wiper on it. I know it can be done on a sedan, I’m not sure why it isn’t. I assume some kind of safety regulation.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    Looks pretty good. I’m sure it will imitate the new Sonata’s engine offerings with base 2.5 and 191 HP or the 180 HP 1.6T. With Ford, GM and FCA killing off most of there sedans this might work in favor of what is left in the 25-35K bracket.

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