2021 Kia K5 Review

2021 Kia K5 - Arresting looks, loaded with features and priced right, Kia's got a winner on its hands.


K5 replaces Optima as Kia's midsize sedan. Slightly larger than the car it replaces. The K5 rides a new platform, sports fresh styling, additional safety and tech features and all-new engines. Offered only as a 4-door sedan, K5 adds available all-wheel drive to go along with standard front-wheel drive. Competitors include the Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Mazda 6, Nissan Altima, Subaru Legacy, Toyota Camry and Volkswagen Passat.

The model lineup includes LX, LXS GT-Line, EX and GT. Most models come with a turbocharged 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine that makes 180 horsepower. GT models get a turbocharged 2.4-liter 4-cyliknder that makes 290 horsepower. Both engines mate to an 8-speed automatic gearbox. Front-drive is standard across the board, however the LXS and GT-Line are available with all-wheel drive.  

Standard safety features forward-collision warning, lane-keeping assist and driver-attention warning. Also offered are blind-spot monitor with collision avoidance, rear cross-traffic alert with brake intervention, forward-collision warning with brake intervention and rear-occupant alert. Technology features include either an 8- or 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment system, wireless support for Apple Car Play or Android Auto, Bose premium audio and an adaptive cruise control system that utilizes terrain mapping in the navigation system to be more efficient. Prices range from $24,000 to $35,000.

Most K5 buyers are likely to find the 180-horsepower turbo four under the hood. That's a good thing as the engine provides a solid combo of performance and economy. It matches the output of most competitors' base engines and is dutiful and well behaved, providing a 0 to 60 MPH time of about 7 seconds. It's no track star, but gets the job done with minimal fuss. Stepping up to the GT brings a lot more performance, and some unwanted front-drive torque steer. It's a shame the GT isn't offered with all-wheel drive. Both engines are docile and smooth when puttering around in traffic or cruising on the highway.

The 8-speed automatic gearbox is actually different between engines. The 180-horsepower four gets a traditional 8-speed with torque converter while GT models get a more modern dual clutch automatic. Both shift with reasonable smoothness, but the dual clutch has the capability to knock off quicker shifts making it more appropriate in GT models. However, it is sometimes prone to awkward engagement from a stop and a harsh part-throttle 1-2 shift.

K5 manages respectable EPA fuel economy estimates, with the base engine/front-drive model pulling down 29/38/32 MPG ratings. GTs get slightly lower ratings of 24/32/27 MPG. Those numbers compare favorably to most competitors. Both engines run on regular-grade gasoline. Interestingly lower-trim models get a 14.8-gallon fuel tank and higher trim K5s get a 15.8-gallon tank.

If K5's sleek lines and aggressive design have you thinking it's a sport sedan, you might be disappointed. Kia chose to give the K5 very conventional midsize-sedan-like handling dynamics and ride quality. That's not a bad thing given the overall demeanor of today's typical midsize sedan buyer. Sure, they are looking for style and a bit of flair, but at the end of the day, they are buying a midsize sedan that needs to please the needs of a family. That's not to say that the K5 is a stumbling, bumbling stiff going round corners, just that you don't want to get too far out ahead of the skis on this one.

LX models offer modest cornering capabilities and tend to float on bumpy roads. EX and GT-Line, with their 18-inch rubber seem to offer the best mix of ride comfort and handling. GT models get 19-inch tires, sport suspension tuning and larger brakes. All told, that adds up to significantly better handling characteristics with a moderate impact on overall ride quality. It's probably wise that Kia offer a wide mix when it comes to ride-and-handling dynamics, that way the individual buyer can find the K5 that best fits their needs.

From a refinement perspective, K5 can feel a little clumsy on badly broken roads. The rear suspension, in particular tends to pound over expansion joints and can get unsettled when rounding bumpy corners. Still, K5 provides the typical kind of ride comfort expected in the class, it's just not as refined overall as the Honda Accord or Mazda 6. Thankfully, noise levels are quite low, leading to a very quiet highway ride.

The K5's interior is thoughtfully designed, modern and refreshingly user friendly. Though there's no shortage of tech there is no need to consult the owner's manual since all the controls are well labeled and logically placed. The linear design puts most switchgear close at hand and somewhat creates a driver-focused cockpit. Materials are class appropriate.

The cabin is relatively spacious too, with a modest amount of headroom but an abundance of legroom. Tall adults should have no problem fitting up front and the rear can accommodate three adults no problem. Forward visibility is great thanks to unusually narrow front roof pillars, but view astern is hampered by the tall trunk and pinched greenhouse.

From a tech standpoint, K5 checks all the boxes. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard with the 8-inch touchscreen but if you option up for the 10.25-inch screen you have to plug to play. In addition, the larger screen lacks its little brother's buttons and knobs. K5 offers a nifty wireless charging pad that features a cooling fan and a smart spring-loaded section that keeps your phone in place. All of the expected safety gear is standard on all models, which is nice and the optional Smart Cruise Control enhances the existing adaptive cruise control by slowing down the K5 when approaching a curve in the road.

The 16-cubic-foot trunk is positively cavernous and sports a wide opening lid and fold-flat seats to boot. Interior storage is quite good with lots of open and covered bins throughout.

Bottom Line - Given its strikingly aggressive looks and overwhelming design kudos, Kia had a huge opportunity with K5 -- and it mostly delivered. The K5 does an exceptional job at providing a near-perfect midsize sedan experience. Unfortunately, it's going up against benchmarks like Accord and Camry which offer more refinement and a bit more driving excitement. That said, Kia's midsize makeover is a very good one and clearly comes out ahead on price when you shop apples-to-apples.

Mark Bilek

Mark Bilek is the Senior Director of Communications and Technology for the Chicago Auto Trade Association and the General Manager for DriveChicago.com. He is also responsible for developing and maintaining the Chicago Auto Show Web site.

Mark has been reviewing vehicles for more than two decades. Previously, he was associate publisher at Consumer Guide, where he oversaw publication of Consumer Guide Car & Truck Test, Consumer Guide's Used Car Book, and ConsumerGuide.com. He was also responsible for publication of "Collectible Automobile" and various hardcover automotive titles. In 2001 and 2002 he served as president of a Midwest Automotive Media Association. Mark has appeared on NBC TV, ABC TV, Fox News, WGN and MotorTrend TV as an automotive consultant. He hosts the Drive Chicago radio show on WLS 890 AM and was a regular guest on WGN Radio's Steve & Johnnie show. Mark lives in the northwest suburbs with his wife and three sons.