Home » The Kia K4: Can You Sell A Cheap Sedan If It Looks Crazy?

The Kia K4: Can You Sell A Cheap Sedan If It Looks Crazy?

Kia K4 Ts2
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Imagine, you’re an auto executive in a product planning meeting at any point in the last five years. You open your mouth. “Why don’t we do a sedan?” Say that at Ford and they’d probably laugh you out of the room. Kia, though? It’s still digging the classic car body style, the default. Enter the 2025 Kia K4.

Some automakers have abandoned traditional cars almost entirely. Not so at Kia. The Korean automaker has stuck it out with sedans and hatchbacks while building out a potent line of SUVs, hybrids, and EVs to boot. It’s taking on all comers these days, and it’s had the Forte in the four-door fight for some time now. Now it gets to tap out, with the Kia K4 set to take over for the 2025 model year.

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Kia has given the world an early look at the K4, with its full launch a week away. If it’s to match the six-figure sales of its predecessor, the K4 will have to do a lot. It’ll need to drive well, run cheap, and be affordable to buy in the first place. Looking good wouldn’t hurt a bit, either. Has the K4 got what it takes?  Let’s dive in.

21953 Power To Progress Kia K4 Next Generation Compact Sedan Sets New Design (1)

A Look For Tomorrow

Right away, the first thing you’ll spot about the K4 is its looks. I want to open by giving Kia credit for not delivering a humble workaday sedan. Instead, it wears a hypermodern look with cutting-edge lighting and no shortage of bold lines. Most striking are the squared haunches at the rear, seemingly matched by the bulky front fenders. They give the K4 a mean, purposeful look, perhaps not matched by its ride height and fairly high-profile tires. Its predecessor, the Forte, was a good-looking car for the money. The K4, however, looks much cooler than its price would have you expect. That’s a good thing.

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Kia K4 3qtr

At the same time, there are some polarizing details. The overarching roofline almost makes it look like it’s supposed to be a fastback or hatch, rather than a sedan. It’s not a standard three-box design by any interpretation. There’s also the strange detail of the C-pillar (D-pillar?). It appears disconnected from the roof because of a clash in color and trim. It makes it look like someone’s tacked the back of a different car on \to the K4.

21951 Power To Progress Kia K4 Next Generation Compact Sedan Sets New Design (1)

 That polarizing pillar detail. It actually looks alright close up, kind of a point of interest. From farther away though, it tends to throw off the eye a bit.

It’s an odd detail and one that conservative minds would have asked the designers to correct earlier in development. And yet, it’s strangely fitting given the design philosophy is known as ‘Opposites United.’ The public rarely responds well to bold moves like these, but we’ll get back to that in a minute.

It’s still early days and the K4 hasn’t been fully launched yet, so we’re light on exact details. In any case, inside, the K4 is very much on trend with other modern vehicles. It has a pair of large screens on the dash, one as a cluster, the other for infotainment purposes. You’d expect the usual complement of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity, assuming controversy around the latter proves overblown. Materials and colors are tasteful and hip, and Kia has planned a number of different colors and patterns to give the K4’s interior a luxurious feel. Bottom line? It looks pretty damn nice.

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21954 Power To Progress Kia K4 Next Generation Compact Sedan Sets New Design

A key part of the interior design is based on the ‘Opposites United’ design philosophy. Kia wanted a driver-focused interior, something it says is expected of the segment, but it wanted to do so in an unexpected way. Thus, the K4 eschews the traditional method of just pointing all the controls at the driver. Instead, we’re told the cockpit uses a “bold graphic split” to delineate the driver and passenger areas of the vehicle. In practice, it just looks like a pretty typical dashboard to me. Still, Kia really feels like they’ve done something here, so power to them.

Touchscreen haters will not appreciate Kia’s statement that “physical buttons and controls are deliberately kept to a minimum.” With that said, the “Home,” “Map,” and “Search” functions all get buttons, while four more buttons are provisioned for the HVAC controls. It’s impossible to say at this stage how easy or hard it is to use the K4’s interface. Traditionally, Kia does a pretty good job of this. It would, however, be well considered to tread carefully in this area. A lot of buyers will flee from a car that proves too hard to figure out on a test drive.

21955 Power To Progress Kia K4 Next Generation Compact Sedan Sets New Design

21956 Power To Progress Kia K4 Next Generation Compact Sedan Sets New Design
Kia’s design sketches have us jonesing for a high-performance sports model.

Brass Tacks

The global premiere for the K4 is slated for March 27 at the New York International Auto Show. At that point, we’re going to learn full details about powertrains, features, and pricing. The latter is perhaps the most important.

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Why? It’s because the compact market is a huge winner for Kia. The brand sold 782,468 vehicles in the US last year. 123,953 of those were Kia Fortes. That’s roughly 15.8%. Not only that, but the Forte has been consistent, almost incredibly so. Sales have stuck around the 80,000-120,000 level every year back to 2016. It hasn’t sold less than 66,000 vehicles a year since its US launch, barring 2009 when it entered the market mid-year.

Automakers love models like this. They’re good consistent money that can be relied upon, they make production planning easy, and they make customers happy.

The K4 will need to do the same. The question is whether it’s the right vehicle to do so.

The Forte is aggressively priced. The base model starts at just $20,915 including destination charges. In 2024, that’s pretty cheap. It’s going toe to toe with all kinds of cheap models from Toyota, Nissan, Chevy, and the rest, and it’s holding its own. If the K4 jumped the base price up by $3000, $5000, though, it could suddenly be a tougher proposition.

2024 Forte
The Forte is a good car with a design from today. The Kia K4 comes from tomorrow. Yeah, cliche, but you get exactly what I’m saying. 

If the K4 can look this modern at a similar price point, though, it could be a winner. People love to leave the dealership in something that looks brand-new and on-trend. The styling of the K4 hits those points to a bullseye. The one thing holding it back is that strange pillar design.

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Automakers have tried to take odd to market before, with mixed results. Think of the Fiat Multipla, or the Pontiac Aztec. For a new model in a niche segment, it can be worth taking a risk. For a key volume seller? Well, then you’re putting a lot at stake.

Bold styling has to be a difficult target. If Clarkson can land a pithy one-liner about your car’s looks in ten seconds, you’re in trouble. The Renault Megane with that weird butt is a prime example. Nobody wants to bring their brand new car to work only to have their coworkers taking the mickey all day. That can quickly turn new car joy into sadness.

The K4 probably treads the right line. It’s future-forward, and it’s one strange feature is too difficult to describe for water-cooler jokers to poke fun. Plus it’ll look newer than the the vast majority of your office’s parking lot.

I think I’d be bold enough to try a K4, myself. I’ve got a feeling those broad haunches and sleek modern lines would look great in the flesh. Even more so with a slight suspension drop and a nice set of wheels. Perhaps I could even learn to love the kinky rear pillar.

I just hope for Kia’s sake that hundreds of thousands out there agree with me. This is a very cool car. It’s also a brave one. Let’s see what happens.

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Image credits: Kia 

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MAX FRESH OFF
MAX FRESH OFF
28 days ago

Nice, will it come with a manual option like the Forte?

Zac H
Zac H
28 days ago

I was recently considering the current Forte which I thought looked great and modern. But this K4 instantly makes the Forte look dated.

Tagarito
Tagarito
28 days ago

Remember when base model trims got 2 spoke steering wheels and the higher up trims got 3 or 4? Love the subversion going on here. Kia’s got the chops

Hotdoughnutsnow
Hotdoughnutsnow
28 days ago

I’ll take it if I can swap the wheels.

Greensoul
Greensoul
28 days ago

This is Kia’s modernized cyber punk version of the famed 6000 SUX!

Ben
Ben
28 days ago

This looks way better than the fugly Kicks that y’all were praising elsewhere on the site. Yeah, the C/D pillar thing is weird, but overall it looks good.

Touchscreen haters will not appreciate Kia’s statement that “physical buttons and controls are deliberately kept to a minimum.”

Touchscreen hater checking in to confirm. The interior looks boring and bad.

Also, now that it was pointed out by other commenters I can’t unsee the asymmetrical interior colors. The interior design on this absolutely kills any interest I would have had in it.

Glutton for Piëch
Glutton for Piëch
29 days ago

I like it in general, but the overall proportions are still giving FWD and the hips can’t hide it. Wide hips do nothing if it still has a dumptruck ass.

Also, I see what they’re doing with the “driver focused” interior. The drivers side of the dash and door cards are black, whereas the rest is green.. maybe the seat will also be covered differently? Also, Green interior!!

H/K/G have been absolutely killing it. Not just in design, but also funky colors and such in the really recent stuff. Shame nobody really options them, but at least they can. They’ve been giving off funky French vibes that we can’t get here otherwise (think purple interior in the GV60, Chrystal ball shifter.. green interior in an economy car). I love it!

Now we just need a baguette holder and they’ve gone fully off the deep end.

Ricardo Mercio
Ricardo Mercio
29 days ago

But it *is* FWD, there’s nothing wrong with looking like what it is. The dumptruck ass reminds me a bit of a Citroen CX or Renault Fuego, building on the French vibes you mentioned. Couldn’t agree more that H/K/G is really on the up-and-up, if long-term reliability proves this generation, they’ll be the entry level fun brand of choice.

Glutton for Piëch
Glutton for Piëch
29 days ago
Reply to  Ricardo Mercio

Oh, I know, and I don’t disagree, I just wish they’d done a little more to remove some of the visual heft in the ass, or get rid of some of the sheet metal between the rear wheels and glass.. it’s just a bit heavy looking in the rear, which the surfacing of the quarters is trying to hide, but it’s doing a lot of heavy lifting. I’m excited to see how it looks in video and non-press photos next week. We’ll see.

I think the first FWD cars to really pull off not looking FWD is the newest Integra and TLX, and I would’ve liked a bit more of that here is all.

Last edited 29 days ago by Glutton for Piëch
Glutton for Piëch
Glutton for Piëch
29 days ago

Not first, I guess, but the TLX really looks like it’s a longitudinal car and it isn’t. it’s quite interesting.

Last edited 29 days ago by Glutton for Piëch
Ricardo Mercio
Ricardo Mercio
29 days ago

I see what you mean, that kinked line is doing a whole lot of work to turn the sail panel-like upper quarter into the top of a Delta Integrale-style flare. A bit more glass would be a welcome change, though I imagine they had some sort of structural reason not to include it. It looks like a compromise for headroom, which I welcome in a time of fastback sedans killing rear headroom because “you’d buy an SUV if you needed back seats”

Last edited 29 days ago by Ricardo Mercio
Glutton for Piëch
Glutton for Piëch
28 days ago
Reply to  Ricardo Mercio

Absolutely. if it’s going to be a fastback, it fucking BETTER be a hatch. Ala Stinger. The rear headroom wasn’t great, but I could at least sit back there at 6’3″.

Still blows mind I have more headroom (and cargo, but not the point) in any seat of my B5 Passat (which is tiny compared to modern midsizers) than I had in the Stinger.

Ricardo Mercio
Ricardo Mercio
28 days ago

B5’s are so roomy, I had an A4, which has a little less rear legroom than a Passat (slightly stubbed wheelbase), and I could fit all my belongings in it back in college.

Last edited 28 days ago by Ricardo Mercio
Sklooner
Sklooner
29 days ago

I like it, it also looks like it would be a sweet wagon, not happening though

Citrus
Citrus
29 days ago
Reply to  Sklooner

I wouldn’t be surprised if it happened in some markets. You can get the current Forte in Canada in hatchback form, the European C’eed – which I think this will also replace, and which shares the platform – has an entire range of body styles.

But in the USA the Forte is sedan or nothing it looks like so I’m guessing that’s what you’re going to be stuck with.

Sklooner
Sklooner
29 days ago
Reply to  Citrus

Weird I am in Canada and don’t recall seeing any of the hatchbacks-

Citrus
Citrus
29 days ago
Reply to  Sklooner

I don’t see them that often – though someone who worked with an ex owned one, and it looked pretty good – but Kia does sell them and it remains listed on their website.

https://www.kia.ca/en/vehicles/forte5

Needles Balloon
Needles Balloon
29 days ago

The design is interesting, but it doesn’t disguise the large distance between the rear wheel and beltline/windows well, making that area look awkward. It’s a much bigger problem than the unique C/D pillar IMO.

Vetatur Fumare
Vetatur Fumare
29 days ago

It looks good from some angles, but the front bores me and the rear overhang is massive (full diaper syndrome). Anyhow, I’m glad someone is putting in effort.

Outofstep
Outofstep
29 days ago

I like it a lot. As an owner of a 2019 Elantra I’m a bit biased towards the Elantra but I’m a fan of the Forte as well. The K4 is much more interesting to me than the refreshed Elantra is. Keep it at or near the same price point, give me a hybrid or ideally a PHEV option and it might be added to the list of cars I’ll potentially replace my car with in a handful of years.

Crisis
Crisis
29 days ago
Reply to  Outofstep

Another biased Kia owner here (2018 Stinger) who very much likes the looks of this car. I can’t think of anything more attractive in its hoped-for price range.

Now if they only had something in their lineup that would be a suitable replacement for my Stinger.

Glutton for Piëch
Glutton for Piëch
29 days ago
Reply to  Crisis

That’d be the upcoming EV4, unfortunately.

I also wish (as a former owner) that the Stinger would’ve a. come out a little later, as the halo car for this design language, b. lasted at least one more generation to get this design language or c. looked like the proceed concept (bonus points for shooting brake).

I think the Stinger is a great looking car, especially in the flesh, but the front was always a tad fussy to my eye. I know it never sold suuuuper well, but I really wish they’d have kept it around as a halo for the brand. And gone even crazier with the performance. Might not sell a lot of them, but I’m sure it would sell a lot of K4s and K5s.

No Kids, Just Bikes
No Kids, Just Bikes
29 days ago

I think the C/D pillars look like air intakes. Maybe to make up for the theta grenades they’re moving to rear mounted, air-cooled engines?

Geoff Buchholz
Geoff Buchholz
29 days ago

I dig it. Full stop.

The C pillar is striking and at least isn’t another “floating roof” design, the side contouring makes the K4 look larger, and while I might wish for a few more buttons on the dash, the fact is most functions are controlled off the wheel anyway, and the interior is a solid base hit (especially in green).

I’ll look forward to checking one out in person.

Greensoul
Greensoul
28 days ago
Reply to  Geoff Buchholz

Agreed. Hopefully this is a signal the worn out floating roof theme will soon be dead

Cheats McCheats
Cheats McCheats
29 days ago

I really like this thing. I hope the drivetrain is up to par. Hybrid with 150-175 HP and a normal auto for about 25K, or a 200 HP turbo with manual around 23K would be great in my eyes.

MDMK
MDMK
29 days ago

As much as I dislike the overstyled lighting elements placed where any other driver could merely bump into a model meant for budget minded consumers and cause thousands in damage, I do appreciate both its original if disjointed interpretation of the sedan body style and what appears to be a thankful sign of trending away from ultra low slung sedans pretending to be 4-door sports coups.

Thi
Thi
29 days ago

I honestly hate the new KIA design language. They are making some of the ugliest cars on the road now.

To me every single new KIA looks way to “tryhard” in trying to be futuristic. Not to be all negative, the designs they have could look great, if they would just tone it back like 10%.

Take a look at your outfit once your dressed and then remove one accessory KIA.

The Clutch Rider
The Clutch Rider
29 days ago
Reply to  Thi

Yes, i don’t know how they managed to make them look bland and over styled at the same time.

PL71 Enthusiast
PL71 Enthusiast
29 days ago
Reply to  Thi

My favorite is definitely the original Kona, which looks like 2 different cars smashed on top of each other.

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