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2021 Kia K5 Review

The all-new 2021 Kia K5 is a 2021 Kia Optima by any other name. The K5 replaces that highly successful midsize sedan, which spearheaded Kia’s U.S. success for nearly a decade and was also available as a hybrid and a plug-in hybrid.

While we at Autorader like the Optima name, we can understand why Kia gave its mainstream midsize sedan a new name. With its fastback roofline, its added length and its lower and wider stance, the K5 represents a very different type of midsize sedan, one that’s loaded with standard safety equipment and goes on sale this summer. If you’re wondering where the name comes from, Kia has used the name K5, K7 and other similar combinations in its home country of Korea for many years. Even though Kia is a Korean company, the K5 is built in the US in the state of Georgia.

For the record, the Kia K5 is two inches longer than the Optima, and its wheelbase is up by 1.8 inches. It’s also an inch wider while having a roof that’s nearly an inch lower.

Two engines are available. The first, a turbocharged and direct-injected 2.5-liter 4-cylinder, puts out 290 horsepower and a substantial 311 lb-ft of torque. It teams with an 8-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.

The second, a turbocharged 1.6-liter 4-cylinder, makes 180 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque. It bolts to a new 8-speed conventional automatic transmission.

All-wheel drive is optional on the K5 LX and GT-Line models. Its electro-hydraulic coupling distributes torque fore and aft as needed.

Five trim levels will be available: LX, LXS, GT-Line, EX, and GT.

K5 competitors include the Chevrolet Malibu, Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Mazda 6, Nissan Altima, Subaru Legacy and Volkswagen Passat.

What’s New for 2021?

The 2021 Kia K5 is an all-new vehicle based on the company’s third-generation N3 platform. It’s longer, lower and wider than the current Optima, and has been tuned for sportier driving dynamics. The turbocharged 2.5-liter engine also is new, along with the two respective automatic transmissions. See the 2021 Kia K5 models for sale near you

What We Like

  • Dramatic fastback styling
  • Roomier interior
  • Optional AWD
  • Turbo engines
  • Wireless Apple CarPay

What We Don’t

  • No hybrid or PHEV yet
  • Wireless Apple Carplay not available with the larger infotainment screen

How Much?

$23,490 – $30,490 (Destination fee is $965.00)

Fuel Economy

Kia says the LX 1.6T gets 29 mpg city/38 highway/32 combined. The LXS, GT-Line, and EX come in slightly lower with 27 mpg city/37 highway/31 combined.

The Kia K5 GT 2.5T is rated by the EPA at 24 mpg city/32 mpg hwy/27 mpg combined.

Standard Features & Options

The 2021 Kia K5 is available with a turbocharged 1.6-liter engine or a turbo 2.5-liter engine, plus wireless Apple CarPlay and a large selection of standard safety equipment. This includes automatic emergency braking (with pedestrian and cyclist protection), a driver-attention warning, and lane-keep assist. A blind-spot system and rear-cross-traffic alert aren’t standard on this new midsize Kia sedan, but we think they should be.

All-wheel drive is optional on the LXS and GT-Line.

Most versions of the K5 have the 1.6-liter engine including the LX, LXS, GT-Line, and EX. The GT gets the 2.5-liter engine.

The K5’s 1.6-liter engine makes 180 hp in all versions. The GT’s 2.5-liter engine makes 290 hp.

Besides all-wheel drive, the 2021 Kia K5 can be ordered with various parking aids and Highway Driving Assistant, which automatically adjusts the vehicle’s speed to the posted limits. It’s also available with smart cruise control that uses map data to learn the road and slow the K5 before curves if necessary. The K5 also can be ordered with a system that will apply the brakes automatically if it senses oncoming traffic when you are turning across oncoming traffic.

Active Sound Design provides, according to Kia,  “…a dynamic auditory experience by enhancing the sound of engine acceleration and gear shifts according to the selected drive mode.” This is included in some of the K5’s option packages:

The GT-Line Special Edition Package ($800) is available only on GT-Line K5’s with all-wheel drive. It includes advanced smart cruise control with stop-and-go, and forward collision avoidance, navigation-based “control-curve,” LED headlights, panoramic sunroof, LED interior lighting, gloss-black exterior trim, wireless phone charging, Wolf Gray exterior paint, red leatherette seating, 10.25-inch touch-screen, Highway Driving Assistant.

The GT-Line Premium Package ($1,600) is available only on the GT-Line front-wheel-drive model. It includes advanced smart cruise control with stop-and-go, and forward collision avoidance, LED headlights, Panoramic sunroof, gloss-black exterior trim, wireless phone charging.

The EX Premium Package ($3,400) adds a heated steering wheel, 10-way power memory seats, Safe Exit Assist, power child-lock, 10.25-inch touchscreen, Bose premium audio, active noise canceling/Active Sound Design technology, advanced driver-assist features, and smart cruise control, outside mirrors with integrated LED turn signals, collision avoidance in reverse.

The GT1 Package ($4,000) includes 2-position memory driver’s seat, power child locks, Safe Exit Assist, 10-way power front seats, heated steering wheel, advanced smart cruise control with stop-and-go, and forward collision avoidance, navigation-based “control-curve,” leather-wrapped shift knob, LED headlights, rear parking sensors, rear parking collision avoidance, Bose audio, active noise canceling/Active Sound Design, ventilated front seats.


In addition to automatic emergency braking (with pedestrian and cyclist protection), a driver-attention warning, and lane-keep assist, the 2021 Kia K5 is available with Highway Driving Assist, which uses information from the navigation system to adjust the K5’s speed based on posted limits.

Included in several K5 option packages is a feature called Safe Exit Assist. The feature uses sensors and power child safety locks to “see” if traffic is approaching from behind and will prevent a rear seat occupant from opening the door into oncoming traffic.

Behind the Wheel

This new Kia K5 is an excellent car in several ways. It’s roomy, attractive and quick. Our preference is the EX with the noise-canceling feature. It makes the car feel calm and quiet. Yes, that requires a pricey option package but it does change the car’s character noticeably. Executive Editor, Brian Moody says “The EX is the best combination of comfort and performance. The EX has nicer details inside and using the available ‘Sport’ driving mode makes it a lot of fun on the road. For the money, the EX is a really great car.”

That $3,400 option package also includes a Bose audio system. The 1.6-liter turbocharged engine makes more than enough power, the combination of powerful and quiet give the K5 a luxury sedan vibe while still delivering excellent handling and braking. The K5 has four driving modes – eco, normal, sport, and custom. Each changes the calibration of the drivetrain and steering just enough to get a slightly different experience. Sport delivers the most immediate responses, eco gets you the best mpg by encouraging sedate acceleration.

The GT-Line looks sportier. Also, the GT-Line K5 we drove did not have the Bose audio system – this is a noticeable step-down. That Bose Premium sound system has available with 12 high-performance speakers, Centerpoint surround sound, and speed compensating volume.

We like the K5’s center-console integrated wireless phone charger is the best we’ve seen. It’s easy to use, isn’t awkward to reach or use, and has a cool little “trap door” that lets the driver use valuable interior space in whatever manner suits their needs.

Other Cars to Consider

2020 Honda Accord Fun to drive and ever so practical, the Accord makes a compelling argument for the value of a good midsize sedan.

2020 Toyota CamryThe Camry went the lower and wider route long before Kia did with its Optima and K5. Still the benchmark in dependability. There’s an AWD version, too.

2020 Mazda 6 Don’t want to see yourself coming and going, but like a midsize sedan with sporty manners? The 6 is for you.

2020 Hyundai Sonata The K5’s corporate cousin is an impressive machine in just about every way. Also available as a hybrid. Not as attractive as the new Kia K5.

Used BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe If you’re smitten by swoopy rooflines on a sedan body, consider one that’s especially rewarding to drive – a used BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe. Go through BMW’s certified pre-owned (CPO) program.

Questions You May Ask

Is the new Kia K5 larger than the Optima?

It is. The K5 is two inches longer than the Optima, and its wheelbase is up by 1.8 inches. Also, the K5 is an inch wider than the Optima, with a roof height that has been lowered by 0.8 inches.

Where does Kia build the new K5 sedan?

The brand-new Kia K5 sedan is made in West Point, Georgia, alongside the Telluride SUV.

When does the 2021 Kia K5 go on sale?

The new midsize Kia K5 sedan goes on sale this summer as a 2022 model.

Is the Kia K5 available with a smaller engine than the turbo 2.5-liter with 290 horsepower?

Yes. The 2021 Kia K5 also is available with a direct-injected 1.6-liter inline-4 with 180 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque. It mates to an 8-speed automatic.

Autotrader’s Advice

We’re happy to see that Kia still believes in the sedan market. It also helps that this is a really good sedan – it’s attractive, roomy and quick. We’d get the EX. It has a roomy, comfortable interior, and allows many compelling options if that’s what you want. At just under $30,000 it’s K5 that best balances, fun, practicality, and value. Find a Kia K5 for sale

Andy Bornhop
Andy Bornhop
Andy Bornhop is an author specializing in the automotive world, primarily the new cars, trucks, crossovers, vans and SUVs that support our daily lives and provide us with such superb personal mobility. While all new vehicles are much more competent than they used to be, there remain some significant differences, and Andy enjoys sharing that info with anybody who’s interested. His first car? A... Read More about Andy Bornhop

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