While in a lot of areas in our country, and life in general, it seems that the gap between the haves and have nots has been growing wider and wider. Yet, in the automotive world, we have started seeing the exact inverse of that principle in modern cars. Only a few short years ago, to get things like heads-up display, or plush leather upholstery, navigation, heated (and cooled) seats, or especially a heated steering wheel, you had to be a full blown baller and go for one of the big-boy luxury car companies — Mercedes, BMW, Lexus, or even Rolls and Bentley. But in today’s world, you don’t have to spend $100,000 on a car to feel like a million dollars driving one. If you look at just the option lists for two cars side by side, oftentimes it might be hard to tell which is the luxury brand, and which is the entry-level, and with that said, we’d like to introduce the 2021 Kia Optima.

Kia, much like Hyundai, has been steadily rising in quality, fit and finish. No longer the microwave manufacturer that also makes cars, Kia is a legit brand. The Optima has been their bread and butter flagship for the last two decades, and for 2021, we have a shining example of what dedication, and attention to detail can do over time. The redesign of the front end lands somewhere between Toyota’s angry-face motif and Hyundai’s new Sonata. The Optima is aggressive without being obnoxious up front. The roofline gives it an almost coupe-like look, with its sloping lines, while the new rear is a bit polarizing. Some may love it and cite the sporty trapezoidal exhaust tips that flank either side of a trick diffuser, while others may question the rear tail light design and ask if this is what happens if a Sonata and a Dodge Charger had a love child.

Under the hood, the Optima gets a base 1.6-liter DOHC turbocharged inline-4 cylinder motor that makes 177-horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque. That is a little anemic for a 3,300 pound car, so we would strenuously recommend upping the ante by choosing the optional 2.5-liter DOHC inline-4 that makes a much more fun 290-horsepower and far more satisfying 310 lb-ft of torque. No matter what engine you choose, that power gets routed through a true twin-clutch 8-speed automatic which we are very grateful for, as opposed to the fun-sapping wandering shifts of another CVT. Power then gets sent to either jus the front wheels, or to all four corners if you opt for the all-wheel driver version.

Inside is where the new Optima really shines. It is quiet and plush in a way that a car with a $25,000 base price has almost no right to be. It sports ambient interior lighting, an air purification system, and all the aforementioned goodies only available to the upper echelon of cars not so long ago — leather, heated and cooled seats, heads up display, as well as a wireless charging pad, and a very nice 10.3-inch touchscreen display for all things infotainment.

While official tests numbers aren’t available as of yet, the Optima with the base engine should run from 0-60 mph in about 8.2 seconds, while the bigger 2.5-liter engine should propel that same car to 60 mph in just 6.5 seconds. Handling around the skidpad should come in right around the 0.89g we have seen from the current Sonata, and fuel economy should be 27/37/32 city/highway/combined for the 1.8-liter engine with front wheel drive, and slightly less impressive for the larger motor and/or all-wheel drive.

The other big news is that Kia is considering changing the Optima’s name to simply the K5. Maybe it’s change for the sake of change, or maybe they’re trying to shake up the stigma attached to their entry level roots, something like what Genesis did as it relates to Hyundai. But that all still remains to be seen, and that which we call an Optima, by any other name would still be as sweet. As the gap between the haves and have nots grows wider in so many other economic areas of the world, we are happy to report that thanks to the 2021 Kia Optima, no one on a budget needs to feel like a second class citizen any longer.