- Dramatic looks
- Available all-wheel drive
- Better tech, from safety to gadgetry
- GT version brings real heat
- Drab new name
- Exterior’s busy, though
- What about the hybrids?
features & specs
The 2021 Kia K5 gives the automaker a new look and a new family-sedan identity.
A new face is just the beginning for one of the automaker’s most popular models, the 2021 Kia K5 marks a new era for the South Korean brand.
We give it a TCC Rating of 7.7 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The 2021 K5 is longer, lower, and wider than the sedan it replaces and will be available with all-wheel drive. Powered by a 180-hp 1.6-liter turbo-4 or a 290-hp turbo-4, it’s an alert, engaged companion for family drivers charmed as well by its strong warranty coverage and value. It’s sold in LX, LXS, GT-Line, EX, and GT versions.
All share a more tense, sharper style than Kia’s outgoing Optima. The K5 has deeply sculpted sides, a hawk-like nose bracketed by LED lighting, and a long band of metallic trim that soars along a roofline that’s dropped the visual party trick of blacked-out trim that gave the Optima a “floating” roof. Inside the K5’s more ritzy versions, open-pore wood and synthetic leather upholstery pull off the business-class look of the Telluride and Stinger, while GT-Line models and those below have more hard plain trim.
The K5’s an eager performer, quick enough behind the 180 horsepower generated by its 1.6-liter turbo-4. An 8-speed automatic works in concert to snip off downshifts and stay in the background where it belongs. The K5 GT model adds a 290-hp 2.5-liter turbo-4 into the mix and offers a big leap in performance. All-wheel drive’s an option on nearly every model—and so are 18-inch wheels, which add some thump to the K5’s low-speed ride while its steering loads up with weight that does more to keep it tracking true than it does to deliver steering sensations.
Longer in wheelbase, the K5 has more front-seat space to go with swell front-seat buckets. Four adults fit easily, with room for a slim fifth and 16 cubic feet of cargo in the trunk.
Every 2021 K5 gets automatic emergency braking, touchscreen infotainment with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, and 5 years or 60,000 miles of warranty coverage. Options range from adaptive cruise control to Bose premium audio, a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster, woodgrain trim, synthetic leather upholstery—and cooled front seats that we’d skip, since they turn those coddling chairs into flatter, harder affairs.
2021 Kia K5
The K5 shifts Kia’s styling direction in the direction of drama.
The Kia K5 looks sharper and meaner than the outgoing Optima, which didn’t look bad either. The new car’s dramatic shape can read a little busy, and its interior looks best in the more expensive versions. We give it a styling score of 8.
The new K5’s signature feature, like the related Hyundai Sonata, is in lights that slash around the sides and into the honeycomb grille. It wears a new grille that’s more hawkish, underscored by creases in the hoods that angle toward its beak. The hood lines wrap around the body and meet at the one juncture where the K5 looks unfinished—the intersection of a lot of lines just at the base of the windshield and the top of the fender.
The body sides are sculpted with a heavy bend at the bottom to visually lower the car further. The K5’s old “floating roofline” has been grounded, at least in most colors in the new version. 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.
Inside, the K5’s more resolute horizontal theme shares a look with the Stinger and K900 sedans. Here 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, 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, a 10.3-inch screen on K5s equipped with navigation.
2021 Kia K5
The K5 nudges the performance needle just a little in the right direction.
The combination of turbo-4 power, meaty steering feel, and good high-speed ride damping gives Kia’s new family sedan something finer than forgettable performance.
The base drivetrain and handling setup earns the K5 a decent performance rating, but the addition of the screaming GT model would push that score up to a 7 on its own.
The most common powertrain in the K5 will be a 1.6 liter turbo-4 that makes 180 hp, paired to an 8-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive is standard on most cars, with available all-wheel drive. The transmission and engine combination’s a star performer considering the tepid feel of some of its competition. It feels stronger than its rated 180 hp as it surges from a stop, and as the automatic executes swift gear kickdowns when the gas pedal’s mashed. The sounds are subdued through more padding to give the K5 a quiet cruising quality, though. We’ve noticed some slow, dithering shifts in the related Hyundai Sonata, but didn’t find the K5 waited long at all to drop down a gear or two, even before we dialed its driving-mode switch into Sport mode, which tweaks the algorithms to add urgency to the throttle and shift patterns.
Sport also weights up the steering quickly and uniformly, so there’s lots of on-center heft to keep the K5 under steady control—but not a lot of sensation once it’s off center. The K5’s easy to sweep through bends precisely, but not so clear what’s going on at the wheels.
The K5’s powertrain and suspension/steering work better once they’re fired up, in any case. Alert and engaged when the speedo creeps higher, the 2021 K5 does high-speed ride control better than it does low-speed wheel damping, where it gets lumpy and a little noisy. The 18-inch wheels fitted to both of our test vehicles bear some of the responsibility for the thumpy in-town ride; 16-inch wheels are standard on the K5, while 18-inchers can be fitted on most models (19-inchers will be offered on the GT). At any speed, the K5’s brakes are tuned well, and the pedal doesn’t feel mushy or overly hard.
The K5 GT’s road manners are very similar to the other models, but adding a 290-hp 2.5-liter turbo-4 mated to an 8-speed wet dual-clutch automatic that rips through shifts provides a big boost to acceleration. It turns the K5 from a family sedan into a legitimate performance one that shoots from 0-60 mph in a reported 5.8 seconds, though it feels even quicker than that. In Sport+ drive mode, which turns down the electronic babysitters, it is goofy fun. That mode allows you to spin the tires all the way up into third gear from a stop, leaving rubber in your wake. For a car putting this much power through the front wheels, there isn’t any torque steer. The GT is wicked fun.
2021 Kia K5
Comfort & Quality
Four-adult comfort and a big trunk put the Kia K5 in the utility sweet spot.
We’ve grown accustomed to lovely interiors in top-flight Kias, from the Telluride to the Stinger to the K900. At the K5 price point, there’s a divide between the workmanlike versions and the more plush editions.
It doesn’t affect the K5’s great room for four adult passengers or its cargo space, which garner it an 8 here.
The 2021 K5 rides atop a wheelbase 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.
Those front-row riders can do better in pricey luxury-brand cars with seats that move two dozen ways, but they do fine in the well sculpted chairs Kia fits in the K5’s middle trims. With the 10-way power adjustment that comes on the GT-Line and higher trims, the K5 has sporty seat shapes that stand up to the butt test, for hours of driving comfort and a good range of adjustment. Kia fits some with heating and cooling—and as we’ve noticed on other cooled seats, the ventilation system makes the K5’s bucket bottoms harder and flatter. It looks like a catcher’s mitt, but feels like an oven mitt.
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, 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, and most versions have a split-fold rear seat.
We’re fans of Kia’s interior styling themes, but they work better in the richer materials found on the K5 EX and even plusher versions. Our GT-Line tester had the right lines, but the same door panels padded in synthetic leather on the EX wore hard plastic on the GT-Line, while its red interior read a little dull. On all, the molded door pulls are a great idea, but like the other glossy trim found all over the cabin, they’re magnets for fingerprints and dust.
2021 Kia K5
The K5 earns top crash-test scores.
The NHTSA gives the K5 five stars overall, and the IIHS calls it a Top Safety Pick+. That adds two points to its score, as does the standard and optional safety tech. It's a 9.
All K5s get automatic emergency braking and active lane control. As the K5 steps up the trim ladder, it adds blind-spot monitors, automatic high-beam headlights, and adaptive cruise control. Some models can be fitted with all-wheel drive, a head-up display, and a surround-view camera system.
Kia’s active lane control has improved in the K5. Versus the systems in other Kias, this one follows the center of the driving lane better, with more subtle steering control and less boomerang-like behavior.
2021 Kia K5
The K5 keeps Kia in cahoots with value, warranty coverage, and standard features.
Every K5 comes with the features expected in a mid-size family four-door, and bests those averages with excellent value and warranty coverage. We give it a 9 for features.
Base $24,455 K5 sedans sport the usual power features, cloth upholstery, LED headlights, 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. It doesn’t offer any options, though.
Most drivers will want at least the $25,455 K5 LXS, which adds blind-spot monitors, keyless start, and a split-folding rear seat. All-wheel drive’s an option 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. For $1,600, Kia adds a panoramic sunroof, wireless smartphone charging (in a crumb-prone vertical bin in the console), and adaptive cruise control; all-wheel drive runs $3,700 but for another $800 beyond that, gets synthetic leather upholstery, adaptive cruise control, and a 10.3-inch touchscreen—but no wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
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, 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.
2021 Kia K5
Turbo-4 power doesn’t mean the K5 is thirsty.
Kia fits the K5 with a turbo-4 engine and an 8-speed automatic transmission that grant it very good fuel economy. The EPA flags the base models at 29 mpg highway, 38 highway, 32 combined, but other trims with the same engine are rated at 27/37/31 mpg.That’s good enough for a rating of 6 here. Opting for all-wheel drive drops those figures slightly to 26/34/29 mpg.
The former hybrid and plug-in hybrid models of the former Kia Optima are absent for now, but a hybrid K5 may be in the works. The GT edition’s high-output turbo-4 gets 24/32/37 mpg. Keep in mind that our green rating is based on the more popular models with the smaller engine.