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The Kia K5 arrived in 2020 for the 2021 model year as a follow-up to the successful Kia Optima. The goal was to signify Kia’s move away from the mundane daily-driven sedan toward a more exciting sport sedan concept. But three years into the experiment, it’s clear: The Kia K5 is a marketing failure.

The Kia K5 isn’t selling like the Optima

A blue 2024 Kia K5 driving at sunrise with mountains in the back. The Kia K5 and Hyundai Sonata are both made by Korean automakers.
2024 Kia K5 | Kia

The business of car manufacturing isn’t easy, which means brands can get things wrong from time to time. BMW’s hideous kidney grilles still haven’t won the favor of longtime fans. And the Hyundai Sonata is getting a big redesign after its catfish concept brought a precipitous sales drop. But the Kia K5 takes marketing failure a step further.

While the Korean brand’s attempt to bring new life to its midsize sedan segment was a worthy goal, the K5 has never reached the same heights as the Optima it replaced. And there are sales numbers to back it up.

The Optima ended production in 2020, making 2019 its final full year on the market. That year, Kia moved 96,050 Optima models. And while the Optima continued a sales decline from its peak of 159,000 models in 2014, that shift coincided with a market shift toward crossovers and SUVs. For all intents and purposes, the Optima was a sales success when it ended production.

Fast forward to 2021, the first full year of Kia K5 sales, and the dropoff is significant. In its first full year on sale, the K5 only sold 77,195 models, says GoodCarBadCar. Things got worse from there, with just 66,310 models leaving dealer lots in 2022. And so far in 2023, K5 sales are declining yet again, down 10% over last year through August.

Automotive marketing is about recognition

A white 2020 Kia Optima driving on a road along a beach
2020 Kia Optima | Kia
Related 2023 Kia K5: Comfort and Low Ownership Costs Earn It Best Midsize Car for the Money Award

2023 Kia K5: Comfort and Low Ownership Costs Earn It Best Midsize Car for the Money Award

Kia’s problem with the K5 isn’t about the car itself. The K5 name isn’t even new: it’s what the Optima was called almost everywhere in the world before 2020. But the Optima name rang a bell in the minds of American car buyers. The Kia K5 is undoubtedly one of the best affordable midsize sedans on the market today.

But nobody knows what it is. And when you’re competing in a segment with the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, and Hyundai Sonata, ditching a tenured nameplate for an unknown alphanumeric is a high-risk maneuver.

It works for premium car companies. The BMW M3 is one of the most iconic models anywhere. And everyone has a picture in mind when you say “Mercedes S-Class”. Even Kia’s luxury cousin, Genesis, gets away with their generic G-insert-number-here naming convention thanks to its status alongside the luxury greats.

As good as they have been this decade, Kia doesn’t have that luxury. Literally or figuratively. In ditching the Optima, it also lost the market recognition that the name had accumulated since 2005.

The Kia K5 is the best car nobody remembers

Alongside the much pricier Volkswagen Arteon, the Kia K5 is one of the best cars with unquestioning sales failures. Its head-turning style is enough to catch a second glimpse whenever you see one. And the punchy 290-horsepower GT is more fun than it has any right to be. The K5 is a stylish, comfortable, and tech-packed midsize sedan with a $25,000 starting price and 10-year warranty. But nobody remembers what it is. In the era of online car buying, people remembering what your car is called is over half the battle.