The 2021 Kia K5 wears a new badge like it’s the first day on the job at Best Buy. The four-door family sedan’s an upgrade from the former Optima, Kia tells us.
It looks the part, but is it different enough to put its kith and kin, the 2020 Hyundai Sonata, in its rearview mirror?
If you missed the executive summary, it goes something like this: Both the K5 and Sonata tap 4-cylinder engines and automatic transmissions for performance, but the Hyundai has a base inline-4 that Kia skips—while Kia gets all-wheel drive that for now isn’t offered on the Sonata. Sized like each other, they look very little alike, particularly inside, though both go full tilt on features and on warranty coverage. Both call U.S. factories home: the Hyundai hails from Alabama, the Kia calls Georgia home.
In our tally, the 2021 K5 nudges out the 2020 Sonata even before it completes a crash-test course with the IIHS or the NHTSA. It’s a close race, though: a TCC Rating of 7.2 for the K5, and a 7.0 for the Sonata.
In styling, either pleases our eyes, though the K5 gains a slight edge with a front end that riffs on birds of prey, lightning-bolt LED highlights, and a soaring band of metal that draws attention to its suave silhouette. The interior’s a suitable knock-off of the Telluride and Stinger, too, though it’s sometimes executed in less rich materials.
The latest Sonata? It’s just as silken, but there’s something about its turned-down grille that attracts some eyeballs and averts others. The Sonata’s lovely interior reads more outré—but we haven’t seen a base version of either.
2020 Hyundai Sonata
2020 Hyundai Sonata
Performance brings the duo closer, though we’ve rated the Sonata based on a 191-hp 2.5-liter inline-4 that’s not offered on the Kia. As a result, Hyundai’s performance rating slips compared to the Kia’s up-to-snuff 180-hp 1.6-liter turbo-4—which also appears in the Sonata, for a small upcharge. (The Sonata also has a 52-mpg-combined Hybrid edition that doesn’t yet have a K5 analogue.) Smooth and more than forgettable, the 1.6-liter powertrain isn't the star here. Kia and Hyundai have sorted out the steering and ride of these sedans better than before, and though some low-speed thumps and a general lack of steering feel mark both of them, the quietness of the ride at up-tempo speeds is a pleasant advance.
Both cockpits dole out more than enough room for four adults to ride in comfort. Kia’s bucket seats may be identical to those in the Sonata, but we felt a bit more coddled in the K5. The Sonata’s available quilted upholstery awaits Kia’s inevitable nappa-leather upgrade, but for now the K5’s saddled only with cloth or synthetic leather upholstery. Both have usefully large trunks, plentiful in-car storage, and in the higher-zoot versions, some truly lovely interior themes and color palettes.
With a Top Safety Pick award from the IIHS and a five-star NHTSA overall rating, the 2020 Sonata points to good things to come for the untested K5. Both have standard automatic emergency braking and can be fitted with blind-spot monitors, adaptive cruise control, and a surround-view camera system.
For less than $25,000, both cars come with an 8.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, and 5 years or 60,000 miles of warranty coverage. It’s easy to ratchet the price to more than $30,000, but impossible we think to outstrip the value inherent in either one. For now—unless it flunks its safety tests—the 2021 K5 ekes out the win.