You (Don't) Know My Name: Say Goodbye to Kia Optima, Hello to K5

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

A rumor that began spreading last year seems to be borne out. Those whispers, which grew in volume after company executives failed to downplay the suggestion, hinted that Kia’s midsize Optima could see a name change for the 2021 model year.

Following its Hyundai Sonata sibling by a year, the radically redesigned midsizer could be the automaker’s last attempt to woo the American public and solidify its standing in the shrinking segment. At this point in the game, will a name change help at all? Maybe the better question is: would it hurt?

First noticed by Motor Trend, the Environmental Protection Agency’s fuel economy listings added a new entry this week: the 2021 Kia K5.

In the brand’s home country of South Korea, the Optima name is unknown. There, K5 replaced the Lotze nameplate for the third-gen model. North America and other regions get the familiar Optima name, though the earliest generations of the model went another direction in Canada and Europe (Magentis). Still, for the U.S., “Optima” has been Kia’s answer to Sonata since the model’s arrival in 2000.

Until now, it seems.

For whatever reason, Kia seems determined to place all of its midsizers under the same John Hancock. The EPA listing reveals something else, too. All-wheel drive.

While the Sonata makes do with traditional front-drive to go with its new engines and polarizing styling, the Optima K5 is shown bearing AWD and a turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine. An eight-speed automatic channels the power. This is likely the first of many configurations to see an EPA rating, as it’s unlikely Kia would opt to leave traditional FWD buyers in the lurch (if you’re curious, the model’s fuel efficiency comes in at 26 mpg city, 34 mpg highway, and 29 mpg combined).

Looking quite fetching in its new clothes, the K5 revealed for the Korean market last year goes a long way to memory-hole the lackluster current-gen model, which was seen as a tepid step down from the third-gen model that appeared in 2010. Go big or go home, Hyundai Motor Group’s reasoning seems to say.

Get noticed, or give up for good.

It shouldn’t be long before Kia Motors debuts the U.S.-market K5 for American buyers, likely staging the launch online.

[Images: Kia]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • Inside Looking Out Inside Looking Out on May 21, 2020

    Once upon a time there were G5, G6 and G8. Do you remember the brand name? Kia apparently will declare soon that it makes fine (premium) automobiles. Korean Mazda.

  • Lightspeed Lightspeed on May 22, 2020

    Maybe it's good they went to K5, because this doesn't look nearly as good as the original Optima.

  • Redapple2 Another bad idea from the EVIL gm Vampire.
  • Daniel J Alabama is a right to work state so I'd be interested in how this plays out. If a plant in Alabama unionized, there are many workers who's still oppose joining and can work.
  • ToolGuy This guest was pretty interesting.
  • NJRide So this is an average age of car to be junked now and of course this is a lower end (and now semi-orphaned) product. But street examples seem to still be worth 2500? So are cars getting junked only coming in because of a traumatic repair? If not it seems a lot of cars being junked that would still possibly worth more than scrap.Also Murilee I remember your Taurus article way back what is the king of the junkyard in 2024?
  • AMcA I applaud Toyota for getting away from the TRD performance name. TuRD. This is another great example of "if they'd just thought to preview the name with a 13 year old boy."