2021 Kia K5 EX Review - Awkward Name, Good Car

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.
2021 kia k5 ex review awkward name good car

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]

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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.

  • Arthur Dailey For the Hornet less expensive interior materials/finishings, decontent just a little, build it in North America and sell it for less and everyone should be happy with both the Dodge and the Alfa.
  • Bunkie I so wanted to love this car back in the day. At the time I owned a GT6+ and I was looking for something more modern. But, as they say, this car had *issues*. The first of which was the very high price premium for the V8. It was a several thousand dollar premium over the TR-7. The second was the absolutely awful fuel economy. That put me off the car and I bought a new RX-7 which, despite the thirsty rotary, still got better mileage and didn’t require premium fuel. I guess I wasn’t the only one who had this reaction because, two years later, I test-drove a leftover that had a $2,000 price cut. I don’t remember being impressed, the RX-7 had spoiled me with how easy it was to own. The TR-8 didn’t feel quick to me and it felt heavy. The first-gen RX was more in line with the idea of a light car that punched above its weight. I parted ways with both the GT6+ and the RX7 and, to this day, I miss them both.
  • Fred Where you going to build it? Even in Texas near Cat Springs they wanted to put up a country club for sport cars. People complained, mostly rich people who had weekend hobby farms. They said the noise would scare their cows. So they ended up in Dickinson, where they were more eager for development of any kind.
  • MaintenanceCosts I like the styling of this car inside and out, but not any of the powertrains. Give it the 4xe powertrain - or, better yet, a version of that powertrain with the 6-cylinder Hurricane - and I'd be very interested.
  • Daniel J I believe anyone, at any level, should get paid as much as the market will bear. Why should CEOs have capped salaries or compensation but middle management shouldn't? If companies support poor CEOs and poor CEOs keep getting rewarded, it's up to the consumer and investors to force that company to either get a better CEO or to reduce the salary of that CEO. What I find hilarious is that consumers will continue to support companies where the pay for the CEOs is very high. And the same people complain. I stopped buying from Amazon during the pandemic. Everyone happily buys from them but the CEO makes bank. Same way with Walmart and many other retailers. Tim Cook got 100m in compensation last year yet people line up to buy Iphones. People who complain and still buy the products must not really care that much.