2021 Kia K5

By December 2, 2020

The 2021 Kia K5 is a new sedan that replaces the Optima. It’s longer, lower, wider and available with all-wheel drive. The styling is more dramatic than the Optima—sharper and more tense—while also being both busier and more modern.

The cabin is plain in the lower trims, and ritzy in the higher trims, with open-pore wood and synthetic leather. It seats four comfortably, and a fifth if the passenger is slim. The trunk is roomy, at 16 cubic feet.

As of now the K5 is powered by an alert and eager 1.6-liter turbo-4 making 180 horsepower, mated to an well-programmed 8-speed automatic transmission. A more powerful turbo-4 making 290 horsepower is planned for a GT model late in the model year.

The K5 gets very good gas mileage, EPA-rated at 29 mpg highway, 38 highway, 32 combined. What’s lost with the Optima are hybrid and plug-in hybrids, but the K5 is likely to introduce hybrids in the future.

The 2021 K5 hasn’t been crash-tested yet. However every K5 gets automatic emergency braking and active lane control, while higher trims add blind-spot monitors, automatic high-beam headlights, and adaptive cruise control. Optional safety equipment includes a head-up display, and a surround-view camera system.

Model Lineup

The 2021 Kia K5 comes in LX, LXS, GT-Line, EX, and GT models.

Base $24,455 K5 LX sedans come with the usual power features, cloth upholstery, LED headlights, 16-inch wheels, twin USB ports, an 8.0-inch touchscreen with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, Bluetooth, and safety gear that includes automatic emergency braking and active lane control. No options are available.

The $25,455 K5 LXS adds blind-spot monitors, keyless start, and a split-folding rear seat. All-wheel drive is available for $2,100.

The $26,355 K5 GT-Line gets 18-inch wheels, synthetic leather and cloth upholstery, LED fog lights, and a 10-way power driver seat. Options include Wolf Gray paint to coordinate with red interior trim. All-wheel drive runs $3,700. For $1,600 more, there’s a panoramic sunroof, wireless smartphone charging and adaptive cruise control; and for another $800 you get synthetic leather upholstery, adaptive cruise control, and a 10.3-inch touchscreen.

The $28,955 EX has an 8.0-inch touchscreen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility, twin USB ports, dual-zone automatic temperature control, keyless start, remote start, LED headlights, and synthetic leather upholstery.

Options include 18-inch wheels, a panoramic roof, satellite radio, heated and cooled front seats, a power driver seat, reverse parking sensors, a 10.3-inch touchscreen with navigation, Bose audio, power front passenger seat, heated steering wheel, and adaptive cruise control.

The $31,455 K5 GT gets a more sporty suspension and steering tune to go with its 290-hp turbo-4, as well as paddle shifters, bigger brakes, 19-inch wheels, sport seats with synthetic leather upholstery, and exterior trim. For $4,000, a GT1 package throws in cooled front seats and the EX’s luxury features.

All K5 sedans get a 5-year/60,000-mile warranty, with powertrain coverage that extends to 10 years/100,000 miles.

Exterior

The new K5 looks meaner than the Optima, which was quite lovely. It has deeply sculpted sides, a hawk-like nose bracketed by LED lighting, and a long band of metallic trim that soars along the roofline, whose blacked-out trim gives the roof a floating effect. Its signature feature, like the related Hyundai Sonata, is a set of lights that slash around the sides and into the honeycomb grille.

The body sides are sculpted with a heavy bend at the bottom to make the K5 look even lower than it is. A chrome strip running the length of the roofline reaches back around toward the rear window in a single accent that acts as a halo. Around the back, a short decklid and full-length rear taillight span the trunk.

Interior

The cabin’s horizontal theme shares a look with the Stinger and K900 sedans. It’s slathered in a lot of glossy black plastic that’s ready to pick up dust and fingerprints. Lower trims wear a middling grade of plastic that’s hard and durable on the door panels, while the EX and higher versions get more padded trim, open-pore woodgrain, and a few more glints of metallic trim ringed around control groups. All plunk a big touchscreen in the middle of the dash, an 8.0-inch unit on base versions, and a 10.3-inch screen on K5s equipped with navigation.

Kia cabins are known to be handsome, at least in the higher trims that use rich materials. Our test model was a GT-Line, not one of the higher trims, and it used hard plastic on the door panels instead of the synthetic leather on the EX. But the molded door pulls are a great idea.

The 2021 K5 rides atop a wheelbase that’s longer by 1.8 inches than the outgoing 2020 Optima, which makes for a more spacious interior, though more of the added interior room goes to the front-seat passengers.

With the 10-way power adjustment on the GT-Line and higher trims, the K5 has sporty seats that are comfortable for long hours. But we’d skip the optional cooling, since it makes those well-sculpted seats flatter and firmer.

The K5’s wide rear doors let tall passengers climb in without much fuss, and only those 6 feet or taller will have a problem with head room, even with the available panoramic sunroof.

Rear-seat leg room is down a fraction of an inch, to 35.2 inches, which is puzzling because of the increased wheelbase, but it’s ample enough for the same big bodies to fit well.

The K5’s trunk grows slightly to 16.0 cubic feet of useful space (which maybe explains the reduction in rear leg room), and most models have a split-fold rear seat.

Driving Impressions

Compared to some rivals, the little 1.6-liter engine in the K5 is a star. It feels stronger than its 180 horsepower, boosted by the swift downshifts of the 8-speed automatic transmission when the accelerator is pressed. And in Sport mode, there’s an added urgency to the throttle and shift response. At cruising speed, the sounds are subdued.

The K5 is standard front-wheel drive, but all-wheel drive is available on every model but the base LX, as are 18-inch wheels. With these wheels, there’s some thump to the ride at slower speeds. But the high-speed ride is good. We weren’t able to test a lower-trim model with the 16-inch wheels.

The heavy steering does more to keep the K5 tracking true than it does to deliver a feel for the road. In Sport mode, the progressive steering weights up quickly and uniformly, with plenty of on-center heft to keep the K5 under steady control; but there’s not a lot of sensation at other times. Still, the K5 is easy to sweep through bends precisely.

The faster the K5 runs, the more alert and engaged it feels, and the better it rides.
At any speed, the K5’s brakes are tuned well. The feel at the pedal is just right.

Kia’s active lane control is better in the K5 than in other Kias. It follows the center of the lane better, with more subtle steering control and less boomerang-like behavior.

Final Word

The 2021 Kia K5 is a beauty. Dynamically, it holds its own; even before the 290-horsepower engine comes along, the little 1.6-liter turbo-4 making 180 horsepower is a giant-killer, while still getting 32 mpg. And the 8-speed automatic is perfect. To get an interior that matches the exterior and powertrain, shop the K5 EX with options, which pushes the price to more than $30,000.

 

—by Sam Moses with driving impressions by The Car Connection

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