A blue 2021 Kia Optima is parked in a parking lot with mountains in the distance.

Time To Get Excited About the 2021 Kia Optima

Kia has not “officially” released the 2021 Kia Optima. In fact, it isn’t even listed on its website under “upcoming vehicles.” But the curtain has been pulled back, and a number of automotive outlets have already sat behind the wheel of the updated Optima. These lucky few visited the South Korean manufacturing site and drove the vehicle in neighborhoods and test tracks around Seoul, but the news is already spreading just how much of an upgrade these vehicles are over past model years. Of course, we don’t have the full picture yet, and there are always some tweaks on the Korean version before it makes its way to the United States. Regardless, it’s time to take a deeper look into what we know about the 2021 Kia Optima.

The New Body Design

So we don’t fully know what kind of engine specs and tech features will be available in the 2021 Kia Optima. We have a few guesses, but nothing concrete. However, the body that’s being sold in South Korea will be the body sold in the United States. They won’t change that before crossing the Pacific.

Kia calls it a fastback sedan, which is a rather aggressive term for the traditional four-door car. However, when looking at pictures, it very much does go against the three-box car design (when splitting a standard sedan into three sections, there is the cargo box, the cabin box, and the engine box). With this design, though, the cargo box is sort of cut off, and the rear window comes to almost the very end of the car. The sedan still has a trunk, though, the body design just has a smoother finish.

An Upgraded Interior

Like the exterior, the interior will likely keep much, if not all, of its design features found in the Korean counterpart. For the 2021 Optima, Kia is going above and beyond what most vehicles in its class offer in terms of comfort and luxury features. It uses the combination of faux wood with a matte finish and leather around the dash. It doesn’t go over the top, but just enough to give it a high-end feel. The door panels use padded leather with heavy stitching that offers a beautiful accent between stitching and leather, giving it a true luxury feel. This is expertly done with the black leathering and white stitch finish that moves into other areas of the interior, all without going over the top (too much chunky white and black can give it a piano vibe. And while that might be fine for Piano Man Billy Joe…who we suspect doesn’t drive a Kia…it’s too over the top for most car owners). There is some plastic used in the dash and other parts of the interior, but the plastic is either surrounded by the stitched leather or painted a chrome-like silver, so the plastic certainly doesn’t look like plastic, nor does it look cheap.

Controlling the 2021 Optima’s infotainment system is a 10.3-inch touchscreen. We assume this touchscreen will make its way to the United States, although we don’t know if it is what will be used on all models or if it will only be available on upgraded trims. If we could guess there’s a good chance it will be available in most trims. That’s because Kia has ditched almost all of the primary control buttons and instead integrated it into the touchscreen. Fans of knobs and buttons will probably not like this (let’s face it, sometimes a good knob is underrated), but that’s just a sign of the times. Most vehicles are moving away from physical control features.

A blue 2021 Kia Optima is driving on highway that's next to a lake.

Tech And More Tech

The 10.3-inch touchscreen will be in the center of the sedan, but there will also be a larger 12.3-inch digital cluster behind the steering wheel. This cluster will allow you to tweak and adjust the kind of information presented to you. It also responds to the kind of light and weather surrounding the vehicle, allowing it to adjust its brightness and lighting. This way, it not only is easier to see but it won’t steal your attention from the road (we like to call that the movie theater effect…you know when someone on the other side of the theater turns on their phone and instantly draws your attention away from the screen. Like, come on! We’re trying to figure out how the Guardians of the Galaxy are going to get out of this one!).

Anyway, rude moviegoers aside, the Korean version does have mood lighting that can change colors on the interior. We’re not sure if the North American version will have that. One thing we’re pretty sure the North American version won’t have are the make out buttons on the passenger seat. On several Asian vehicles, there are recline controls on the side of the passenger seat the driver can toggle, allowing the driver the ability to incline or decline the passenger seat. While that feature sure would have come in handy for high school date night back in the day, that’s not a feature that typically finds its way into the United States. So don’t count on it being available.

Engine Options

This is the biggest question mark when it comes to the 2021 Kia Optima. Usually, the engines that end up in Japanese and Korean models are smaller than what ends up in the United States. When you’re stuck in Tokyo or Seoul traffic, you don’t have the need for a massive engine.

The K5 models test-driven around Seoul came with a 1.6L turbocharged I4 that produced 177 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque. Those are solid numbers, but we wouldn’t be surprised if the American version came with a 2.0L engine. We also have a gut feeling that, at some point in time, we’ll see an Optima GT that will come with a 2.5L Turbo engine that produces around 300 horsepower or so. Although, we’d bet that version comes out after the initial launch of the 2021 Kia Optima.

So When Exactly Is It Coming?

The official release date is yet to be determined. We can make a reasonable guess, though, based on previous years. While the current K5 (which is what Kia sells the Optima as in South Korea and China) is on sale right now, it’s American Optima counterpart has not received any official word. However, it is likely we will see the vehicle drop sometime in the summer. June of 2020 is probably the earliest, but we don’t think it will be pushed back too much further from that. It probably won’t be hitting up the auto shows, though. The North American International Auto Show has been pushed back to June, which is too late for a possible June release date. And both the LA and European Motor Shows have come and gone. So realistically, new information will begin to leak out regarding an upcoming release in the coming weeks. The New York International Auto Show is in April, so that’s a possibility. But other than that, stay tuned for news leaks through the winter and into the spring.

What Do You Want To See?

So what are your thoughts on the potential 2021 Kia Optima? Are you excited? Are there specific features we mentioned that you’d like to see? And what are your thoughts on the removal of traditional buttons and knobs from the dash? Are you for it or against it? Let us know in the comments. We’d love to hear from you!