By on May 21, 2020


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]

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34 Comments on “You (Don’t) Know My Name: Say Goodbye to Kia Optima, Hello to K5...”

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “Optima” is a really good name. I hope “K5” isn’t the beginning of an alphanumeric trend at Kia for the US market, although I guess the obscure K900 was really the start of it.

  • avatar

    K9 replaces K900

  • avatar

    As a guy that bought a fancy brand new Kia I am 100% against any switch to alpha-numeric names.

    I’m not necessarily saying that wouldn’t have bought a Stinger if it was called a K8-R instead, but the actual name certainly did nothing but help its case.

    • 0 avatar

      The Stinger is still the Stinger, but the Korean version has a cool Stinger script across the back, and a unique badge on the hood, rather than the Kia logo in both of those places in the U.S.

      I always liked the “K” badging for their regular sedans. K3 (Forte), K7 (Cadenza), K9 (K900).

      • 0 avatar

        Yeah, aside from the Kia “light trucks”, the Stinger is the exception in Korea, so wouldn’t change.

        The large scripted Stinger across the rear was also available in other markets and it seems like we’ll be switching over to the more aesthetically pleasing look finally (so owners no longer have to go thru the trouble of debadging and adhering).

        Supposedly, Kia will also switch over to their (much needed) new emblem in about a year or so.

    • 0 avatar

      My condolences on your purchase.

    • 0 avatar

      Kia is saving the KR-8 moniker for their version of the Nissan Cube.

  • avatar

    We live in interesting times. In the past carmakers would disguise hatchbacks or “liftbacks” with vestigial trunk appendages to give a sedan-like appearance. This car (as seen in photos on other sites) has blackout trim on the forward 1/3 top surface of the trunk, thus attempting an illusion that the rear glass is larger than it actually is. So I guess this is now a sedan trying to look like it has a rear liftback (?). I initially wasn’t sure about the brightwork starting at the A-pillars and looping all the way around, but now I think I like it. Overall, I think this looks good, or at least interesting. I feel the same about the latest Hyundai Elantra. Nice to see some design risks.

  • avatar

    IF the Korean K9 is going to be K900 in North America then the Optima should be K500 otherwise this is all ridiculous.

    I actually might have some interest in the rumored Kia K5 GT that would be the same as the Sonata N-line but if I were to buy a K5 I would likely debadge everything but the KIA logo because the automaker doesn’t have some sort of unified naming convention.

  • avatar
    Mike Beranek

    “(if you’re curious, the model’s fuel efficiency comes in at 26 mpg city, 34 mpg highway, and 29 mpg combined)”

    Huh? my Bush-era full-sized Buick LeSabre does that. Nice “progress”.

    • 0 avatar

      You probably forgot that the EPA completely revised fuel economy ratings DOWN by 15% or so about a decade ago, after they finally heard people’s complaints that the advertised mileage was a hoax.

      Go on — tell us your beloved Buick makes those old EPA figures, I’ll believe you. Thousands wouldn’t.

  • avatar

    I know what an Optima is: decent sedan from Kia. I have no idea what a K5 is.

    I’m still looking for person who made the G37 to Q50 decision because they deserve a smack upside the head.

  • avatar

    I have mixed feelings about the name change. I think the Optima name has earned a decent reputation but the name itself is not that great. I’m not a fan of alphanumeric naming either—and K always sounds cheap to me (K-Car, K-Mart…) but the name change makes sense considering sedans have to work extra hard to get noticed these days. The Optima name doesn’t cut it for younger buyers, that’s their parent’s car.

  • avatar

    Great idea to throw away any model equity that the name “Optima” has. This follows on the heels of abandoning “Legend”, “Taurus” and “Impala”. I’m always shocked that auto companies pay people to come up with these idiot moves.

  • avatar

    Unless your car is a household name like Corolla, Camry, Civic, or Accord, most people will only remember these cars as small, medium, or large Kia. Alphanumeric like K3, K5, K7 makes sense. (Same goes for Mazda)

    We’ll probably be seeing KX3, KX5, and KX7 soon for their mainstream crossovers too.

    I doubt they’ll be renaming something more unique like Soul or Stinger, so I’m not too worried.

  • avatar

    Will there be a Cheyenne package with AWD and body cladding?

  • avatar

    The top dog in the range will be the K9, and performance editions will be the FeLine.

  • avatar

    This means Kia is going up market like the Genesis. Nice move.

  • avatar

    When I hear “K-5”, I think of the Chevy Blazer.

    Then again, this is about as close to what that vehicle was as the new Chevy Blazer.

  • avatar

    Keep the optima name. Dont go down the alphabet soup of alphanumeric names. Unless uve done it forever like the germans it only creates confusion like Acura and Cadillac.

  • avatar

    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.

  • avatar

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

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