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2021 Nissan Altima vs. 2021 Kia K5: Which Is Better?

Mid-size sedans just keep improving, as evidenced by the 2021 Nissan Altima and the 2021 Kia K5. Which is better?

Quick Facts

  • The Nissan Altima was last redesigned in 2019.
  • The new Kia K5 replaces the Kia Optima.

2021 Nissan Altima

2021 Nissan Altima

Base Price: $23,945 / Read our 2021 Nissan Altima Review

What we like: Available AWD; low starting price; optional turbo engine; included active-safety features

What we would change: The turbo engine is not available with AWD; no high-mpg hybrid variant

Overview: Long a segment mainstay, the 2021 Nissan Altima stays relevant by offering more than the usual features, a comfortable cabin, and a choice of two engines. The base unit is a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder with 188 horsepower and 180 lb-ft of torque. It’s paired with a continuously variable transmission and front- or all-wheel drive. AWD is available with the standard engine on all but the base trim and is included on the Platinum. Nissan’s Xtronic is well tuned for a CVT, and acceleration is adequate. Fuel economy varies by trim, at 27–28 mpg city and 37–39 mpg highway, with AWD subtracting 1 or 2 mpg. The step-up engine offering is an unusual variable-compression 2.0-liter turbo. It makes 236 hp and 267 lb-ft of torque, significantly more than the base engine, yet still returns 25 mpg city and 34 mpg highway. Frustratingly, Nissan only offers that engine in a single trim level, the sporty SR, with front-wheel drive. The SR also gets a firmer suspension and retuned steering for better handling at a cost of some ride comfort. The Altima’s interior is roomy and the seats comfortable, but the cabin environs are unremarkable.

What’s new for 2021: Nissan has dropped the 2.0 Platinum, which means the turbo engine now comes only in SR form. The 2.5 trims have been reordered, with the SV now second after the base S. The now lower-spec SV adds an optional Premium Package, and the S now offers a Driver Assist Package that brings blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and a power driver’s seat.

Features and technology: The Nissan Altima is offered in 2.5 S, SV, SR, SL, and Platinum trims plus the turbocharged 2.0 SR. All include as standard forward collision warning with pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, and lane-departure warning. Blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are optional on the S and standard elsewhere. Nissan’s ProPilot Assist, which combines adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability and semi-automated lane centering, is on the SL, Platinum, and 2.0 SR. All but the base S have an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Leather arrives at the SL trim level, which also boasts heated seats, a heated steering wheel, and navigation, while a 360-degree-view monitor is exclusive to the Platinum.

What does the future hold: The shrinking offerings of the 2.0 version make us wonder if Nissan might drop that engine from the Altima altogether. See 2021 Nissan Altima models for sale near you

2021 Kia K5

2021 Kia K5

Base Price: $24,455 / Read our 2021 Kia K5 Review

What we like: Dramatic styling; available AWD; sporty GT variant; long warranty

What we would change: Make AWD available with higher-horsepower engine; add a hybrid version; give the larger touchscreen a tuning knob

Overview: The new K5 replaces the Optima, and makes strides over the already-impressive outgoing sedan. Slightly longer and lower, and with the trimmed front overhang, the K5 boasts head-turning looks. The K5’s sleek body houses a roomy passenger compartment with an appealing design and, in upper trims at least, upscale materials. Two powertrains are offered. The mainstream models all use a 1.6-liter turbo with 180 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque, and it’s paired with an 8-speed automatic. All-wheel drive is available on the LXS and GT-Line only. Fuel economy is good but not great at 31–32 mpg combined (FWD) and 29 mpg (AWD). The K5 GT is significantly sportier, with a 2.5-liter turbo four that cranks out 290 hp and 311 lb-ft of torque paired with a dual-clutch 8-speed automatic for faster shifts. It also has a stiffer suspension with superior handling, although its ride quality is rather firm.

What’s new for 2021: The K5 is brand-new for 2021 and replaces the Optima.

Features and technology: The standard 2021 Kia K5 is offered in LX, LXS, EX, and GT-Line, with the higher-horsepower GT a separate trim. All grades come with forward-collision warning, lane-keep assist, and automatic high-beams. Blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are included on all but the base LX. Adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability and lane-centering is offered on the EX, GT-Line, and GT. Touchscreens of 8 or 10.25 inches are offered. The larger screen has neat graphics and navigation but lacks the tuning knob and the wireless version of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay that you get with the smaller unit. Wireless charging with a neat charging slot is also available.

What does the future hold: The Kia K5 is brand-new, so we wouldn’t expect major changes in the near term. See 2021 Kia K5 models for sale near you

Altima vs. K5: Strengths comparison

Nissan Altima Benefits: Seat comfort; ride comfort; standard driver-assist features

Kia K5 Benefits: Great warranty; wireless smartphone mirroring; sporty GT variant

2021 Nissan Altima vs. 2021 Kia K5: Which is better?

The 2021 Nissan Altima and the 2021 Kia K5 have a lot of similarities: two engine choices, with the higher-horsepower one reserved for the sporty trim level; available AWD (on the base engine only); and similar starting prices. The Kia looks better to our eyes and its GT is more convincingly sporty than the Altima SR, but the Nissan has more standard driver assists and makes AWD available on more trims.

2021 Nissan Altima 2021 Kia K5
Popular Powertrains
Engine 2.5-liter flat-4 1.6-liter turbo I-4
Horsepower 188 hp  at 6,000 rpm 180 hp @ 5,000 rpm
Torque 180 lb-ft at 3,600 rpm 195 lb-ft @ 1,500 rpm
Transmission Continuously variable 8-speed automatic
Fuel Economy 32 mpg (28 city/39 highway) 32 mpg (29 city/38 highway)
Also Available AWD; 2.0-liter turbo I-4 AWD; 2.5L turbo I-4
Warranty 3 years/36,000 miles 5 years/60,000 miles
Powertrain Warranty 5 years/60,000 miles 10 years/100,000 miles
NHTSA Overall Safety 5 stars n/a
Max Seating Capacity 5 5
Wheelbase 111.2 inches 112.2 inches
Overall Length 192.9 inches 193.1 inches
Width 72.0 inches 73.2 inches
Height 56.7 inches 56.9 inches
Turning Diameter 37.4 feet 36.0 feet
Headroom, Front 39.2 inches 40.2 inches
Headroom, Rear 36.9 inches 37.8 inches
Legroom, Front 43.8 inches 46.1 inches
Legroom, Rear 35.2 inches 35.2 inches
Shoulder Room, Front 58.2 inches 58.0 inches
Shoulder Room, Rear 57.1 inches 56.1 inches
EPA Passenger Volume 100.8 cubic feet 105.3 cubic feet
EPA Cargo Volume 15.4 cubic feet 16.0 cubic feet

Joe Lorio
Joe Lorio
Joe Lorio is an author specializing in automobiles. He says, “I have been into cars ever since I started with Matchboxes, and have been sharing my opinions about them for almost as long. Granted, I was pretty young at the time, but my parents really should have listened to me when I told them not to buy an Austin Marina.”

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