2021 Kia K5 EX Review - Awkward Name, Good Car

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey
Fast Facts

2021 Kia K5 EX Fast Facts

1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder (180 horsepower @ 5,500 rpm; 195 lb-ft @ 1,500-4,500 rpm)
Eight-speed automatic; front-wheel drive
27 city / 37 highway / 31 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
9.9 city, 7.3 highway, 8.7 combined. (NRCan Rating, L/100km)
Base Price
$27,990 (U.S) / $32,595 (Canada)
As Tested
$32,355 (U.S.) / $34,734 (Canada)
Prices include $965 destination charge in the United States and $1,850 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can't be directly compared.

I am not, in general, one to fret too much when an automaker messes with car nomenclature. Even if, in the case of the formerly named Kia Optima, the brand switches to an alphanumeric structure.

That’s not to say I never get upset – I was pretty harsh on Infiniti when it switched to its current naming convention, because I found and still find it confusing. And sometimes, yeah, I get annoyed when a cool name is dropped for alphabet soup.

The Optima moniker wasn’t quite great, but it was good enough, and at least people, especially folks who know little about cars, knew, or at least vaguely knew, that it referred to a mid-size Kia sedan.

Kia screwed that up, in my opinion, by going to K5, because who the eff, at least outside the industry, knows what a K5 is? Maybe some folks with long memories will get it confused with the K5 Blazer of yore.

The unfortunate name change is about the only thing Kia got wrong with this car.

It’s sleekly styled, with a smart and crisp look that is less busy than what’s offered by its platform-mate, the Hyundai Sonata. I think the Sonata looks good, but I think this car looks even better.

It also struck me as a slightly sportier handler than its sibling – it flirts with, and steps over, the line between commuter car and sport sedan, and does so in a good way. It’s fun in the corners and the ride quality remains just fine for the drive to work.

My test car was saddled with the less-powerful of two available engines: A 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that puts out 180 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque. A larger 2.5-liter turbo four available in the GT trim makes 290/311, but even the “lesser” motor has enough punch for most situations. Despite the under-200 lb-ft torque number, I never found the K5 wanting for grunt.

Nor did I find the eight-speed automatic transmission to be objectionable in its behavior. All-wheel drive is available but my test unit was not so equipped.

I suppose if I had to find fault, I’d ding the minimalist interior for not being very aesthetically pleasing and offering up some materials that feel a bit downmarket, though even there I concede that what it lacks in looks it makes up for in function – controls are laid out logically and easy to use. Kia even manages to avoid the trendy yet tacky glued-on infotainment screen look, instead presenting it as an extension of the gauge cluster.

Interior room and comfort, however, was just fine, about par for the class.

My EX-trim tester came standard with forward-collision avoidance assist/pedestrian, blind-spot collision-avoidance assist, rear cross-traffic collision-avoidance assist, safe-exit assist, lane-keep assist, lane-following assist, driver-attention warning, leading-vehicle departure alert, and high-beam assist.

That’s just the driver-aid tech. Other standard features include Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, rear-view camera, USB ports, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and starting, remote start, tilt/telescope steering column, rear-occupant alert, LED exterior lighting, 18-inch wheels, UVO infotainment, panoramic sunroof, satellite radio, leatherette seat trim, heated and cooled front seats, wireless cell-phone charger, rear USB ports, and parking-distance warning for reverse.

An EX Premium Package ($3,400) added navigation, Bose audio, heated steering wheel, upgraded forward collision-avoidance assist (for detecting cyclists and intersections), smart cruise control with stop and go, highway-driving assist, and parking collision-avoidance for the rear.

All that, plus up to 37 mpg, all for $32,355.

Hyundai’s Sonata and now Kia’s K5 present strong alternatives to the dominant Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. The Kia might be the better choice of the two Koreans.

Kia is selling a sporty mid-size sedan that is a strong overall package at a reasonable price. That makes it a winner, no matter what Kia may call it.

What’s New for 2021

The Kia K5, formerly called the Optima, is completely redesigned. It’s on a new platform that makes it longer, wider, and lower, and has a new engine lineup and new automatic transmissions. All-wheel drive is available.

Who Should Buy the 2021 Kia K5

The smart sedan shopper who wants a sporty, well-packaged mid-size that breaks the Accord/Camry/Sonata mold while also providing a compelling alternative.

[Images © 2021 Tim Healey/TTAC]

Tim Healey
Tim Healey

Tim Healey grew up around the auto-parts business and has always had a love for cars — his parents joke his first word was “‘Vette”. Despite this, he wanted to pursue a career in sports writing but he ended up falling semi-accidentally into the automotive-journalism industry, first at Consumer Guide Automotive and later at Web2Carz.com. He also worked as an industry analyst at Mintel Group and freelanced for About.com, CarFax, Vehix.com, High Gear Media, Torque News, FutureCar.com, Cars.com, among others, and of course Vertical Scope sites such as AutoGuide.com, Off-Road.com, and HybridCars.com. He’s an urbanite and as such, doesn’t need a daily driver, but if he had one, it would be compact, sporty, and have a manual transmission.

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2 of 26 comments
  • Ponchoman49 Ponchoman49 on May 24, 2021

    Dumb name aside this is a decent sedan choice with the bonus of AWD availability. I do wish Kia made some better looking std alloy wheels on the base and LXS trims other than the one and only choice of 16" dark "always dirty looking" finish wheels and that they either made the 1.6T a bit more powerful or kept the 235 HP 2.0T option from the previous Optima as a mid way point for buyers seeking more than 180 horses or need the balls to the wall 290 HP 2.5T

  • Lightspeed Lightspeed on May 25, 2021

    K5 only makes sense if there's a K3 and a K7. Looks pretty good, the previous gen was a revelation in styling, this one they managed not to screw-up, so good job Kia.

  • Conslaw I rented an Altima for a 2,000 mile drive in 2019. It was a fantastic vehicle for that purpose. It had all the features we could want, was quiet, comfortable, peppy, and delivered 37-40 MPG, including stretches with 80 mph speed limits. I'd like to see any CUV do that.
  • Tassos When these were new cars, i tassos, could barely afford to “settle” for a tin can death trap 1991 civic dx. I could’ve done better for myself, but chose not to. Just like now - I could be enjoying my sunset years but i prefer to bully contributors on a free site i CHOOSE to visit.
  • Bd2 There's Telluride news you could be posting.
  • Tassos I listen to Andrew Tate podcasts. Also, the voices in my head provide plenty of entertainment. Biden dollars