Sticking With Sedans
Many car companies in America have done away with the traditional family sedan, going all-in on the increasingly popular crossover. Kia, however, is not only sticking with the sedan, the company is doubling down with the introduction of the all-new K5. Replacing the Optima in the heart of Kia’s sedan lineup, the 2021 Kia K5 gets built on an all-new platform with fresh styling, updated features and a range of powerful and efficient engines.
Some might wonder why Kia moved away from the Optima name for this new model. In Kia’s home market of Korea, sedans are named K3, K5, K7 and K9. In a move to have a more global naming convention combined with the new model being so different than the previous Optima, it made sense to adopt the Korean name K5. Whether other sedans in the Kia’s American lineup adopt this naming convention remains to be seen.
The new Kia K5 is longer, lower and wider than the outgoing Optima, which not only gives it a more aggressive stance, it also creates more interior space. This can be attributed to the all-new N3 platform on which the K5 is built, and it will become the preferred platform for future Kia products. The N3 architecture provides a stiffer structure as well as a tuned suspension, which gives the 2021 Kia K5 better handling and overall ride compared to its predecessor. The new K5 also gets improved sound deadening as well as an acoustic laminated windshield.
With looks clearly influenced by the Stinger sport sedan, the K5 features a new interpretation of the brand’s familiar tiger nose grille. The narrow grille stretches toward narrow LED headlights to further enhance the car’s a wide stance. LED running lights feature a unique shape that should make the K5 stand out, even in the dark. The grille on the GT-Line and GT is narrower with a shark skin-inspired mesh design to set these sporty-styled trims apart.
At the rear, the 2021 Kia K5’s LED taillights span the width of the vehicle, connected with LED dashes. A rear lip spoiler adorns the GT-Line and GT trims. Except for the GT, the K5 has artificial dual-exhaust outlets integrated into the bumper to provide a sporty look, but the car really has a single exhaust..
Perhaps the K5’s best view is from the side. The expressive LED running lights wrap around the front corners to give the new model a premium look. The roofline flows smoothly from the top of the windshield to the edge of the trunk in a fastback design. The larger 18-inch and 19-inch wheels on the GT-Line, EX and GT trims fit nicely with the overall proportions.
The 2021 Kia K5 is currently available in four trims: LX, LXS, GT-Line and EX. The more powerful GT is expected to join the lineup later this year. All versions are front-wheel drive, while the LXS and GT-Line are also available with all-wheel drive.
With a starting price of $23,490, the LX is the entry-level trim of the K5. As with other Kia variants, even the base-level K5 comes well equipped. Standard features include dual-zone automatic climate control, 8-inch color touchscreen display, a 6-speaker audio system, wireless Android Auto / Apple CarPlay, cloth seat trim, a rearview camera and 16-inch alloy wheels. The LX also comes with forward collision avoidance with pedestrian detection, lane-keeping assist with lane departure warning and rear-seat occupant alert.
At $1,000 more than the entry-level LX, the 2021 Kia K5 LXS adds pushbutton start, a 60/40 split-folding rear seat, a rear center armrest with cupholders, blind spot collision avoidance and rear cross-traffic alert to its list of standard equipment.
While offering the same performance as the LX and LXS, the GT-Line has a sportier appearance. With a base price of $25,390, the GT-Line adds leatherette seat trim, a 10-way power driver’s seat, a flat-bottom steering wheel and two USB ports in the rear-seat area. Unique to the GT-Line are a hyper-silver metallic sport grille, sport front and rear bumpers, a gloss black rear spoiler, LED front fog lights, LED taillights and 18-inch gloss black alloy wheels.
Adding a touch of luxury to the K5 lineup, the EX has a starting price of $27,990. Additions above the GT-Line include a panoramic sunroof, artificial leather seat trim, heated and ventilated front seats, hydrographic wood trim, satin chrome on inside door handles, vents and center console trim, an LED map light, a rear-seat vent and 18-inch gray alloy wheels.
When it arrives this fall, the GT will sit at the top of the 2021 Kia K5 lineup with a starting price of $30,490. In addition to a more potent powertrain (more on that later), upgrades over the EX include a flat-bottom steering wheel, sport bucket seats with black leatherette trim, paddle shifters, LED fog lights, quad exhaust outlets, GT brake calipers with larger disc brakes, a sport-tuned suspension and 19-inch gloss black alloy wheels.
It may have a low starting price, but the K5 doesn’t feel like a budget sedan. The standard 8-inch display screen as well as quality-looking materials give even the base trim a premium feeling. We like that the infotainment system utilizes knobs and buttons as well as the touchscreen for easier navigation, and the main screen can be split to show multiple features. Wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity are standard with the 8-inch display for added versatility.
Kia buyers can upgrade to a 10.25-inch widescreen display (except LX and LXS), which adds natural language voice control as well as customizable profiles; however, with the upgrade Android Auto and Apple CarPlay require a wired connection — oddly, the upgraded system does not support these smartphone systems wirelessly. The larger display also loses the tuning knob, providing a cleaner look but with less functionality.
The covered center console has plenty of storage with additional space ahead of the gear shift, as well as dual cupholders in the center and bottle holders in the doors.
We especially like the wireless phone charging setup — the phone drops into a slot that takes up less room as well as keeps the phone from sliding around.
Front seats of the 2021 Kia K5 offer plenty of support and would be comfortable during an extended road trip. Depending on the trim level, seats can be heated and cooled via easy-to-use switches in the center console. Seats in the GT-Line can be trimmed in red leatherette with an embossed GT-Line logo for a sporty look.
Passengers relegated to the rear seats will be pleased with the amount of headroom and legroom back there. Even with the front seats in rearward positions, seating is still comfortable and spacious. Unfortunately a common occurrence with sedans, the middle rear seat is a bit of a penalty box — usable but not terribly comfortable. Two USB ports are available for rear-seat passengers, and the higher trim levels also include rear vents.
An available panoramic sunroof adds to the roomy feel.
Under the Hood
Powering all K5 trims except the GT is a 1.6-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine producing 180 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque. This engine uses a Continuously Variable Valve Duration functionality — an industry first according to Kia. This new technology is designed to boost performance as well as improve fuel efficiency. The engine is teamed with an 8-speed automatic transmission.
Big Power for K5 GT
The K5 GT will be available exclusively with a larger 2.5-liter turbocharged engine that bumps output to 290 horsepower and 311 lb-ft of torque. Instead of the standard automatic, the GT gets an 8-speed dual-clutch gearbox for quicker response — the first use of a DCT in a Kia sedan.
The 2021 Kia K5 with the 1.6-liter engine delivers impressive fuel-economy numbers. The front-wheel-drive trims achieve 27 mpg city / 37 mpg hwy / 31 mpg combined. Numbers drop slightly in the all-wheel-drive variants, reporting in at 26 mpg / 34 mpg / 29 mpg, respectively. EPA ratings for the more powerful GT have not been released.
Kia will offer all-wheel drive on the LXS and GT-Line trims of the K5. The all-wheel-drive system is front-wheel-drive based — a first for a Kia sedan — using an electro-hydraulic system to control the AWD coupling for quicker reaction. All-wheel drive packaged with heated front seats runs $2,100 on the LXS; on the GT-Line the system comes with the Premium Package for a total additional outlay of $3,700. All-wheel-drive versions should be available later this year.
On the Road
With its new platform and powertrain, the 2021 Kia K5 immediately sets itself apart from its predecessor. The cabin remains quiet with little road or wind noise, and the ride feels solid and comfortable. Handling is decent with balanced steering feedback, and the K5 feels at home cruising at 70 mph on the highway or being hustled through corners on a country road. It will certainly be up to the task of daily driver.
Ultimately the acceleration of the 2021 Kia K5 is not incredibly strong, although more than adequate for daily driving. The 8-speed automatic shifts smoothly with satisfying gear changes — definitely preferred over the CVTs many of Kia’s competitors employ. Unfortunately under hard acceleration the engine does get a bit buzzy and loud, especially above 3000 rpm. During our time in the K5 we averaged around 29 mpg — right in line with expectations based on EPA figures.
Kia K5 GT
Unfortunately we had no opportunity to get behind the wheel of 2021 Kia K5 GT, but we expect the additional 100 horsepower and dual-clutch gearbox should change the entire personality of this family sedan.
Right for You?
Crossovers are undeniably popular among American consumers, but Kia believes there is still a market for the classic family sedan. The 2021 Kia K5 offers standout styling, a roomy and comfortable interior as well as a range of high-tech features at a low starting price. Add to this a robust and efficient powertrain — coupled with a quiet, smooth ride — and the K5 should be a strong player in this small but still-significant market segment. And for those who prefer to buy American, the 2021 Kia K5 gets built in America at the brand’s production facilities in West Point, Georgia.
Pros: Standout styling; roomy interior; fuel efficient.
Cons: Noisy engine; less functionality with upgraded display.
Bottom Line: The 2021 Kia K5 is a strong contender, continuing the brand’s great value story in the competitive sedan market.