Kia is on a roll. It was just last year the automaker launched the all-new Telluride and a new Soul. This year, the all-new Seltos arrived in February, and now the K5 is landing in America. But these are not just any launches; the superior design, quality, and attention to detail in these new Kias stand out. The Telluride became the first Korean crossover to win MotorTrend‘s SUV of the Year, and the charming Soul went pretty far in our Car of the Year evaluations, getting a respectable third place behind the Chevrolet Corvette and Tesla Model 3. The 2021 Kia K5 is hoping to get the same kind of attention, and with its aggressive styling, two powertrain offerings, and the latest technology, it’s making some buzz.
The K5 replaces the Optima as Kia’s midsize sedan. Executives thought the makeover was so extreme that the car needed a new moniker. But the K5 nameplate is not new—Kia has been selling the K5 in South Korea for years and has ported the alphanumeric nomenclature for the models it sells there (K3 for Forte, K9 for K900, etc.) to the US. In fact, we drove a Korean-spec K5 back in December.
Parting ways with the Optima, the new K5 gets aggressive lines inspired by the Stinger, and its new platform is wider, longer and lower, allowing the car to shine even more. Its fastback profile stands out within the segment, and the long clamshell hood, Z-shaped daytime running lights, and fake air vents add a type of sportiness that the Optima lacked. The new “tiger face” has been modernized to include a wide and thin grille, which now includes a “shark skin-inspired” mesh design.
2021 Kia K5: New engine, transmission and AWD
Unlike the Optima, which offered three different engines, Kia has simplified things with the K5. The 1.6-liter turbo-four carries over from the Optima, but it has new technology that allows it to produce slightly more power and the same torque (now 180 hp and 195 lb-ft) while delivering reduced emissions. A new eight-speed transmission is in charge of sending that power to the front or all four wheels thanks to an available all-wheel drive system—a first for Kia’s midsize sedan. In the next few months, a new K5 GT will be exclusively powered by a 2.5-liter turbo-four making 290 hp and 311 lb-ft, which is mated to an eight-speed dual clutch that will send the power to the front wheels only. That’s a big jump compared to the 2.0-liter turbo found in the outgoing Optima, which produces 245 hp and 260 lb-ft.
The K5 with the 1.6-liter turbo, which is arriving in dealers across the U.S. now, is available in four different trims: LX, LXS, GT-Line and EX.
2021 Kia K5: The Drive
Although they’re mechanically identical, we sampled the GT-Line and EX trims over a couple of days in Southern California. Visually, the GT-Line is distinguished by its black spoiler, dual chrome exhaust, LED fog lights, larger (but fake) air vents, black roof, and flat-bottom steering wheel.
On the streets and freeways, the 1.6-turbo felt appropriate for a base engine. It doesn’t feel sporty or peppy, but Kia is reserving that for the more powerful GT. Instead, the 1.6-liter delivers just enough punch to get moving at a decent speed. Merging on the freeway is an easy task, quickly catching up to traffic without getting exhausted. The new eight-speed transmission responds very well to the driver’s commands, downshifting quickly when it needs to. Whether you’re driving at high or low speeds, shifts are smooth and happen at the right time. Steering is soft but accurate, while the suspension delivers a peaceful ride.
Our testers were equipped with four drive modes: Normal, Smart, Sport and Custom. Sport adds stiffness to the steering, while the transmission holds gears longer. I spent the majority of my drive switching between Normal and Smart and only used Sport when driving on twisty roads. Smart tries to mix things up, adding a bit of sportiness at the wheel, but staying closer to normal conditions.
Regardless of the driving mode selected, the K5 is a pretty comfortable sedan. The suspension does a nice job keeping vibrations to a minimum and delivers a refined ride. The K5 felt unbothered over the bumps and ruts that the geologically unstable Portuguese Bend region on the Palos Verdes peninsula is known for. On the twisty slopes, the sedan showed its finesse by delivering little body roll and keeping things stable in the cabin. The tranquility in the cabin is afforded by the acoustic glass and sound-deadening materials Kia used in the K5.
Although this time we didn’t have a chance to drive the 2.5-liter turbo, we hope to get behind the wheel in the near future.
2021 Kia K5: Inside
Like the exterior, the K5’s interior is a big upgrade. Our fancy $32,355 EX felt closer to a Genesis G70 with the optional 10.3-inch touchscreen, five USB ports, soft leatherette seats, and other goodies like a wireless phone charger, a Bose premium audio system with 12 speakers, heated and ventilated front seats, and a panoramic sunroof. A new wood finish is used across the dash, and after talking to Kia peeps, I was surprised to learn that it isn’t real wood; the surface and texture don’t feel fake. The large touchscreen is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and comes with modern graphics and voice recognition. I used the voice commands a few times to change radio stations, set directions on the nav system, even check the stock market, and it worked with no issues despite my strong Spanish accent.
Our GT-Line tester was a step below the EX, but it felt more than adequate for its $27,955 price. Although the 8.0-inch touchscreen has the old version of the UVO infotainment system, it supports wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, an odd thing given that the fancier 10.3-inch screen in the EX only works with a wired connection. Instead of having the lavish—but fake—wood trim from the EX, the GT-Line sports an elegant gray trim that keeps the cabin subtle without looking cheap. The powered cloth seats with leatherette inserts feel just as supportive, and you still get dual-zone climate controls, five USB ports, a wireless charger, and the panoramic sunroof.
Whether you opt for the EX or GT-Line, there are some hard plastics on the lower part of the door panels and the transmission tunnel.
The second row is quite spacious in terms of legroom and headroom despite the fastback profile. Visibility for my 6-foot frame is a bit limited given the thick C pillar, but it won’t bother too many people. The rear seats can fold in a 60/40 configuration from the cargo area, but they don’t fold completely flat. Air vents for rear-seat passengers are available only on the EX, located on the center console just above two USB ports. Although not segment-leading, cargo space is ample at 16 cubic feet.
2021 Kia K5: Safety
The K5 comes standard with a few safety technologies like forward collision warning and lane following assist, but drivers will have to pay more for smart cruise control with stop and go or the navigation-based smart cruise control, which uses the nav system to slow down when there’s a curve ahead. Still, these are highly advanced technologies that are available in a $30,000 Kia.
Our EX tester was equipped with smart cruise control and the highway driving assist, which worked flawlessly on the freeway. The K5 stayed centered in its lane without bouncing from side to side, and though the gap between the vehicle in front was just big enough for other drivers to cut me off, the system applied the brakes without panicking.
2021 Kia K5: Should I Buy It?
With a starting price of $24,455, the 2021 Kia K5 is quite attractive in many ways. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, as well as dual zone climate control. You may want to move up to the LXS or GT-Line to get a decently equipped K5, but if you’re on a tight budget, the K5 LX won’t let you down; you’ll just have to stick with the tiny 16-inch wheels.
Kia has once again crafted a thoughtful product with the new K5. The attention to detail is seen throughout the interior and exterior, and with a decent base engine, proper technology, and amazing value, it’s making some buzz in the still highly competitive midsize sedan segment.
|2021 Kia K5 FWD EX/GT-Line|
|LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan|
|ENGINE||1.6L/180-hp/195-lb-ft turbocharged I-4|
|CURB WEIGHT||3,250 lb (MT est)|
|L x W x H||193.1 x 73.2 x 56.9 in|
|0-60 MPH||7.5 sec (MT est)|
|EPA FUEL ECON||27/37/31 mpg|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY||125/91 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.63 lb/mile|