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The Optima name is officially buried, but new K5 boasts more power, more tech, and all-wheel drive grip.

Goodbye Kia Optima, and hello Kia K5. Last month’s EPA listing was essentially confirmation, but now it’s real: Kia will switch to the alphanumeric approach here in North America for its latest mid-size sedan. The name is hardly the biggest change, however. There’s a whole rethink of the trim levels (five now: LX, LXS, GT-Line, EX, GT), and the 2021 Kia K5 is getting more power, a more sporty character, and even all-wheel drive.

Let’s start with the engine lineup. Standard-fit on most K5s is the familiar 1.6-liter turbocharged engine. The little four-pot uses the same continuously variable valve duration (CVVD) technology as it does in the Hyundai Sonata. The fiendishly clever (and complex) setup can alter how long the valves stay open on the fly. The Korean automaker claims it manages the dual feats of improved fuel efficiency and performance. Power figures sit at 180 hp and 195 lb-ft, with a standard eight-speed automatic sending that to the front wheels. Again, like the Sonata.

It’s from here on out that the K5 cuts its own path, however. For starters, it features an available all-wheel drive system. The electro-hydraulic setup is front-biased, a first for the brand. It offers an available “Snow” drive mode which tailors the system for colder climes. Other driving modes include Normal, Smart, Sport and Custom, which all alter engine, transmission, and steering mapping. The drive modes also change the AWD system settings when equipped.

The all-paw system provides the basis for the new, high-performance GT trim as well. This K5 benefits from a bigger, 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, though it still runs on regular gas. It adds over 100 ponies to the corral, now totalling 290 hp, while torque grows even further to 311 lb-ft. The recently-revealed Genesis G80 shares the four-pot with the K5, although the Kia gets a different transmission: a class-exclusive eight-speed dual-clutch. An additional Sport+ mode joins the lineup for the GT as well. Hook it all up and Kia says the K5 GT will charge to 60 mph in just 5.8 seconds.
The basis of the K5 is Kia’s new N3 platform. Length increases by two inches over the Optima, with the wheelbase growing by 1.8 inches as well. Width is up an inch, while height is down by nearly the same amount. Kia says the new platform is stronger and stiffer than the one it replaces, with improvements in responsiveness and stability. It also boasts improved sound deadening—though the K5 also uses piped-in engine noise depending on drive mode.

Of course, it’s impossible to ignore the dramatic new looks of the Optima … sorry, K5. In profile it bears a striking resemblance to the Stinger GT, but it sticks to a traditional trunk instead of the big hatch. Kia has expanded its trademark “tiger grille” into a whole “tiger face” here, spreading across the whole width of the front-end and incorporating the “heart beat” DRLs. The chrome strip that runs up and over the side windows plunges down the C-pillar and loops around the rear glass. Around back an available dash-style LED setup offers a different approach to the de rigueur full-width light strip. Wheel sizes range from 16 to 19 inches, and the larger ones come wrapped in aggressive Pirelli P Zero tires on the GT.
Like its Sonata sibling, the K5 brings a whole bunch of tech to the midsize mainstream class. The standard infotainment screen is a healthy 8.0 inches, though a larger 10.25-inch widescreen setup is also available. Curiously, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are both available—a rarity in non-premium cars—but only with the smaller screen. We don’t understand that move either.

Beyond that, the K5 will also offer natural voice recognition (“turn on the AC”), wireless mobile charging (with a handy drop-in design), and an upgraded Bose sound system. New smart key features also allow owners to pre-set the climate controls or remote start the engine. The “Sound of Nature” ambient system also makes the jump from the Sonata. Bring on those calm sea waves!
Being a modern Kia there’s a whole suite of driver assist and safety aids on board too. No matter the trim you’ll find automated emergency braking (including pedestrian detection), lane-keep assist, driver attention warning and rear occupant alert. Available assists include rear cross-traffic alert, blind spot assist, forward collision avoidance with junction turning, navigation-based smart cruise control, and safe exit assist. The latter offers a beep if it senses approaching traffic when doors are opening.

Kia will build the K5 in the same West Point, Georgia plant as the award-winning Telluride. It arrives later this summer, with the high-performance GT showing up in the autumn. Expect full pricing closer to launch.

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