2021 Kia K5: Pour One Out for the Optima, Then Forget

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The name Americans have come to associate with Kia’s midsize family sedan is dead, but you probably knew that already. Hopefully you’ve recovered.

On Tuesday, Kia pulled the wraps off the U.S.-market K5, the automaker’s replacement for the long-running Optima (which carried the Magentis name in Canada until 2010). Riding atop a third-generation N3 platform, the midsizer grows in length, wheelbase, and width, while slouching closer to the road.

For the coming model year, Kia also saw fit to equip the newly renamed model with a more potent uplevel engine and all-wheel drive, but the liftback you might think exists behind the backseat is all in your head.

It’s a sedan, period. Don’t let the sloping, fastback-style roof line fool you.

Two inches longer than before, one inch wider, and 1.8 inches lengthier in wheelbase, the K5’s roof sits eight-tenths of an inch closer to the ground. The bland exterior of its Optima predecessor has given way to a chiseled skin with slender headlamps and a far bolder version of Kia’s corporate Tiger-nose grille. The sedan’s greenhouse now comes topped with a metallic strip that flows down the C-pillar to the trunklid.

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Out back, Kia could be accused of getting too busy with its fascia game, though in this day and age it’s perhaps a better option than not getting noticed at all. And full-width taillight arrays are so in right now.

With a stiffer body and a suspension setup redesigned for improved handling, Kia aims to put the K5 on the radar of those looking for a sporty-ish front-driver at a reasonable price. The former Optima, while a breath of fresh air, design-wise, upon its 2011 launch, lost something in its subsequent generation. Naturally, Camry and Accord stepped in to collect what midsize buyers remained in the segment.

Two engines are on offer: a turbocharged 1.6-liter (180 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque, up 2 hp from before) found in base LX, LXS, GT-Line, and EX trims, mated to an eight speed automatic. Last year’s base 2.4-liter four-cylinder is gone. Meanwhile, the LXS and GT-Line can be ordered with all-wheel drive.

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Move up to the range-topping GT and Hyundai Motor Group’s new turbocharged 2.5-liter appears, making 290 hp and 311 lb-ft. A “wet” dual-clutch with eight forward speeds is the only available transmission with this engine. In this guise, Kia has something to potentially persuade buyers to reconsider a possible Toyota or Honda purchase.

Inside, you’ll find a revised cabin that telegraphs its newly discovered refinement at every opportunity, as well as sport in GT-Line or GT guise (flat-bottom steering wheel? Check. Red piping? Ditto). The infotainment screen never measures less than 8 inches, with a 10.25-inch surface found on upper trims. That screen, however, can’t be had with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity.

Elsewhere on the tech front, standard kit includes a host of safety aids. Among them, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane keep assist, rear seat reminder, and forward collision warning. As you’ve probably assumed, optional safety aids span the gamut.

Expect pricing to be released closer to the model’s late summer on-sale date, though readers who might be tempted into considering a GT should know their ride won’t appear in showrooms until the fall.

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[Images: Kia Motors]

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