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.
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.

  • Dusterdude When there is a strike the union leadership talk about “brothers and sisters “ . They should give up that charade . Bottom line is they are trying to wring out every last penny they can and could care less ( putting it politely) about the future of the industry 5 - 10 years+ down the road
  • Ronin They all will back off, because the consumer demand is not there. Even now the market is being artificially propped up by gov subsidies.
  • Keith Some of us appreciate sharing these finds. Thank you. I always have liked these. It would a fun work car or just to bomb around in. Easy to keep running. Just get an ignition kill switch and you would have no worries leaving it somewhere. Those OEM size wheels and tires are comical. A Juke has bigger wheels!
  • Ollicat I have a Spyder. The belt will last for many years or 60,000-80,000 miles. Not really a worry.
  • Redapple2 Cadillac and racing. Boy those 2 go together dont they? What a joke. Up there with opening a coffee shop in NYC. EvilGM be clowning. Again.