In general, the Kia Optima (K5 in Korea) isn’t one of those cars you generally think about too much unless you’re looking down at the rental car keychain to remember what they gave you. But that’s not really a fair assessment: the Optima has been steadily and stealthily getting better and better looking over the years since its introduction in 2000. The latest 2021 version actually seems like a car you can’t ignore anymore. Kia just released the first official images of the South Korean-market K5, and it looks great.
While these images are technically the K5, the Optima version is almost certainly going to be effectively the same car.
It’s worth remembering how far the Optima has come, design-wise. It started out as a quite anonymous mid-size sensible car back in 2000, with the only really notable design elements being, well, puzzling. The extra round headlamps were at least an interesting visual differentiator from many other almost identical cars of the time, but what was going on with this grille made of chrome fangs?
The new look is a development of the look established in the 2015 model under ex-Audi designer Peter Schreyer and takes the key established design elements—the distinctive wide grille shape, slim headlamps, a more purposeful, aggressive stance—and pushes them to greater extremes.
The rear is particularly striking, I think, with some novel design happening in the way the roofline is treated. The main brightwork element along the sides of the car follows the roofline instead of the more traditional lower beltline, forming a graceful arc from the A-pillars, swooping up to the roof rails, then encircling the lower edge of the rear window, which is visually unbroken from the roof panels, around the car to return to the A-pillar on the other side.
It’s a look we haven’t really seen on many mainstream cars before, and while it doesn’t shout its presence, it’s eye-catching. While the K5/Optima looks, excitingly, like it might be a big hatchback, it seems it’s got a traditional trunk lid.
This is a disappointment, since Kia has already started down the big, five-door hatch path with the Stinger, and I would have hoped the Optima would have continued this very practical and under-appreciated design. Oh well.
The lighting design is interesting, too. At the rear, there’s a long, full-width taillight assembly, with a curious zig-zag lighting signature at the corners.
That same graffiti-like streak is at the front as well, forming the DRLs. This is the one element I’m not completely sold on, but distinctive lighting I think is always good, so I’m not against it, either. I’ll have to see it in person.
The Kia family identity grille has been freed of its chrome bezel here, its outer shape defined by the hood from above, which continues the contours back to the windshield, and from below by the bumper. This lets the grille mesh simply fill the volume between hood and bumper, which I think is a strong look.
This new Optima looks as sophisticated and refined as any BMW or Audi or Lexus, I’d think, and based on the recent quality of Hyundai/Kia in the past few years, should be a pretty damn good car. With this new Optima, the only thing brand snobbery is going to get most potential buyers who would turn up their noses at the Kia badge is many, many more months in car payment debt.
Drivetrain-wise, nothing official has been announced, but it’s likely to offer Kia’s 2.5-liter four or their 1.6-liter turbo-four, and it’s likely a hybrid will be available.
Good job, Kia. I look forward to having one of these as a rental car I won’t immediately forget.