2021 Kia K5 Review

The K5 is a well-executed vehicle, with performance and comfort on a level with European sedans in the near-luxury segment -- for thousands of dollars less.

3 months ago
Brian Armstead
  • Super stylish
  • Well-contented at every trim level
  • Fun to drive
  • Affordable
  • Great warranty
  • 1.6-liter engine can get noisy at higher rpm
  • Abandons evocative Optima name for a generic alphanumeric
  • Top-of-the-line GT tops 30 grand

The 2021 Kia K5 is an all-new, five-passenger, mid-size sedan that was formerly known as the “Optima.” For continuity across markets, the Korean automaker adopted the same name as it does globally for the 2021 model year. The K5 has had a 20-year run across four generations of production, which makes today’s the new fifth-generation iteration. The sedan is offered with a choice between two turbocharged 4-cylinder engines and front- or all-wheel drive. Pricing on the 2021 Kia K5 starts at around $23,500.

K5 Exterior

The K5 is built on Kia’s all-new N3 platform, which is stronger, longer, lower and wider than the vehicle it replaces. The K5 incorporates several fastback Kia Stinger (it’s larger sibling) design cues, and continues the brand’s design language – rugged on the SUV side, sporty on the car side. The centerpiece of new K5 design is the “Tiger Face,” a wide and thin front grille that extends into the headlight and hood structure. “Heart Beat” daytime running lights complete the aggressive front view. Side views highlight the K5’s low-slung, coupe-like silhouette, while wheel selections (16- to 19-inch) add more visual impact as they grow in size. At the rear, taillights with available LED “dashes” run the full width of the K5. Assorted styling enhancements from the shark-skin-inspired mesh design on the front grille and dual chrome exhaust tips are sprinkled in, depending on trim level. This is an attractive vehicle.

K5 Interior

Driver comfort is clearly the focus in all trim levels of the K5. The front seats are well-bolstered, yet wide enough for those on the larger side. A flat-bottom steering wheel, mimicking that in a race car, is a nice performance touch in GT trim. The center-dash infotainment system is available with an 8- or 10.25-inch touchscreen. Both screens offer split-screen functionality should you want to view your music choices and navigation side-by-side, for example. If you opt for the 10.25-inch screen, you get real-time traffic data, multi-connection Bluetooth wireless connectivity that allows two phones to connect simultaneously, and connected user profiles for different drivers to independently choose seat position, outside mirror placement and favorite radio stations.

Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (a first for Kia) are standard on 8-inch screens, with the automaker adding the capability to the 10.25-inch screen later this year.

The available Smart Key allows for remote engine starts, a real plus if you live in a harsh winter climate area, as Smart Key will automatically heat the cabin to 72 degrees. With the Smart Trunk feature, the rear deck lid automatically pops open when the Smart Key is detected behind the vehicle.  Once open, the trunk can swallow up to 16.0 cubic feet of luggage.

2021 Kia K5

K5 Powertrain

Two turbocharged engines are available: All trim levels except GT get a 1.6-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine (180 hp/195 lb-ft of torque), mated to an all-new 8-speed automatic transmission. The GT’s 2.5-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine (290 hp/311 lb-ft of torque) is paired with a new 8-speed wet dual clutch automatic transmission (DCT), a performance feature normally found in sports cars that cost a lot more than the GT. 

All-wheel drive (AWD), which is dubbed “All-Weather Drive” by Kia, is an LXS and GT-Line trim option. It enhances driving performance by actively distributing torque between the front and rear wheels, depending on road conditions and driving situations. The AWD improves fuel economy through the use of an electro-hydraulic system to de-couple the rear axle when conditions allow for FWD-only operation.

A drive-mode selector allows you to choose from Normal, Smart, Sport, and Custom drive modes that adjust settings for engine, transmission, AWD (when equipped), and steering mapping. GT trim steps it up with Sport+ mode to enhance driving characteristics, and Snow mode enhances all-weather confidence.

Fuel economy for the K5 ranges between 27 mpg in the city, to upwards of 38 mpg on the highway, based on engine and driveline choices. Both engines burn regular unleaded gasoline.

2021 Kia K5

K5 Driving Experience

We drove GT-Line with AWD and EX FWD models over a two-day test period. Both offered solid driving dynamics, with the perceived performance nod going to the GT-Line with AWD. Why? Because we immediately used the drive mode selector to enter “Sport” mode, which changes shift parameters and offers quicker acceleration. Yes, the AWD system adds weight over the FWD system, so theoretically FWD models should be faster given both trims use the same engine, but the GT-Line is tossable, a load of fun to drive and just seems faster. Kia has not yet released official 0-60 times for the 1.6T.

In EX trim, which is more upscale than GT-Line trim, we were satisfied just cruising, enjoying the full-panel glass moonroof and listening to tunes via Sirius-XM radio. We like the comfortable, near-lux vibe of this trim level.

The 1.6-liter turbo-four is sprightly in both trims, but gets a bit noisy when you accelerate in all-out fashion. But max torque occurs at a lazy 1,500 rpm, so most acceleration moves like passing occur without drama. A cool compliment to performance is available Active Sound Design, which enhances the sound of engine acceleration and gear shifts according to the selected drive mode. This is another trick feature normally found in cars with pricing well north of the K5’s.

2021 Kia K5 Trim Levels and Pricing

The great thing about the K5 is that no matter the trim level you select, you’ll get more standard features than similarly priced competition. The K5 is available is five trim levels:

  • LX (starting around $23,500) – This is the base model, but still comes with some nice features.
  • LXS (starting around $24,500) – Adds additional standard active safety features, and the option of AWD.
  • GT-Line (starting around $25,500) – Not to be confused with the potent GT, the GT-Line is a sporty styling package.
  • EX (starting around $28,000) – Offers the styling cues of the GT-Line and adds more luxury.
  • GT (starting around $30,500) – Combines the luxury of EX with the K5’s highest level of performance. Available in FWD only.

If you are looking for a more accurate idea of pricing, you can build and price a K5 on Kia’s official web site. 

2021 Kia K5

K5 Best Features

With the new K5, there are two safety features (among the many standard and optional) that really deserve mention. Highway Driving Assist uses federal highway speed-limit information from the navigation system and, under certain conditions, will automatically adjust speed to be within the posted speed limit and maintain distance with the vehicle detected in front. Safe Exit Assist can alert the driver or passengers opening their door not to exit the vehicle when the system detects approaching traffic. When detected, a chime sounds. The system can intervene to lock the rear doors when the vehicle is equipped with available Power Child Lock. You can imagine the plus of this option if you have kids used to barging out of the car when they reach their favorite destinations. 

2021 Kia K5

What is Our Favorite Version of the K5?

We prefer the mid-trim K5 GT-Line, which includes many of the sport design features of the GT, with very good performance from the 1.6-liter turbo four and competitive fuel economy.

2021 Kia K5

K5 Notable Safety Features

Kia and sibling company Hyundai have made a point of piling on a safety features, even at base trim levels. The “Kia Drive Wise” suite of standard and available Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems (ADAS) is comprehensive. Blind-Spot Collision Avoidance Assist and Rear Cross-Traffic Collision Avoidance Assist are standard on upper trim levels, available on lower trim — we wish they were standard on all trim levels.

The 2017 Optima earned the highest rating IIHS offers – Top Safety Pick+. Given the K5’s new N3 platform and ADAS features, we fully expect continued very high IIHS ratings. NHTSA has given the K5 a five-star (out of five) overall safety rating.

2021 Kia K5

Who Should Buy a 2021 Kia K5?

Kia’s new K5 is perfect for young families seeking an affordable and stylish sedan, young professionals moving up from a compact to a larger (more grown-up) sedan, and more mature drivers who no longer need the size, mass, and capability of a crossover or SUV.

K5 owners will appreciate the styling, the standard (and available) technology, and the fact that Kia offers an excellent 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty on all of its new vehicles.

2021 Kia K5

CarExpert’s Take on the 2021 Kia K5

The Kia Optima was one of the models that helped build Kia’s reputation for value, reliability, and safety in very affordable packages. The K5 picks up where the Optima left off and elevates the bar even higher. The new sedan is a well-executed vehicle with performance and comfort nearly on level with European sedans in the near-luxury segment — for thousands of dollars less.

The 2021 Kia K5 earns a spot on CarExpert’s Recommended Vehicles list.

2021 Kia K5

Kia K5 Competitors to Consider

  • ·      Audi A3
  • ·      BMW 2 Series and 3 Series
  • ·      Cadillac CT4
  • ·      Mercedes A-Class
  • ·      Honda Accord
  • ·      Hyundai Sonata
  • ·      Nissan Altima
  • ·      Toyota Camry


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Show Breakdown
Cost of Ownership 8.7
Ride Comfort 8.3
Safety 8.3
Fit for Purpose 8.6
Handling Dynamics 8.4
Interior Practicality and Space 8.5
Fuel Efficiency 8.2
Value for Money 8.7
Performance 8.7
Technology Infotainment 8.2