By on May 21, 2021

2021 Kia K5

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.

2021 Kia K5

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.

2021 Kia K5

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.

2021 Kia K5

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.

2021 Kia K5

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.

2021 Kia K5

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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26 Comments on “2021 Kia K5 EX Review – Awkward Name, Good Car...”

  • avatar

    Kia designs seem to be the most reliably well executed ones out there, these days. They may not be the most cutting edge nor original, but that’s hardly a bad thing these days.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree that they are succeeding in adding some visual style without going over the top.

      Their current style is not my cup of tea, but I welcome it and respect it.

  • avatar

    That seriously looks like a widescreen movie panel on the dash. In a few MYs will a 55in LED be an option?

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    This seems like a better car than my former 13 Optima Hybrid was (now owned by my son). The poor driveability of that car didn’t make the better gas mileage worth it.

    However, this vehicle (midsize sedan) no longer fits my station in life. Given the state of sedan sales in the US, I wonder who the target customer is.

  • avatar

    I’ve never, ever heard or read anyone ever rave enthusiastically about an automatic transmission. I love that the best way a car enthusiast/journo can describe a good example is “not objectionable”.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m pretty sure I can find some articles that fawn over the PDK and Allison transmissions if you’d like.

      • 0 avatar

        Nah, please don’t. I might read them, and then my original comment will be inaccurate.
        Does a dual-clutch (PDK) really qualify as an automatic, though? I mean, yeah, it can shift automatically, but it’s in a different class of transmissions than the typical fluid/torque converter witchcraft kind…

    • 0 avatar

      You can find praise in pretty much any review of a car with the ZF 8HP (or the knockoffs of it that ZF allowed Stellantis and its predecessor to build).

    • 0 avatar
      CKNSLS Sierra SLT


      And I never find anybody in the REAL WORLD that wants a manual-no matter how “silky smooth” it is.

      • 0 avatar

        CKNSLS –

        You and I run with very different crowds. If you’re interested in finding people that will ONLY buy a manual, I can help with that. I’m pretty sure those people exist in the real world, however small a minority they may be.

  • avatar

    One of these parked in front of my house the other day. It looked nice in a “hey, nice new car” way, and I’m sure it’s pleasant enough inside. But it didn’t make me feel the want.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Not a bad looking car.

  • avatar

    Hint: net income is another term for profits.

  • avatar

    Is it a PC version of profit? The word “profit” sounds almost insulting and too capitalistic.

  • avatar

    Will it burn like rest of them?

  • avatar

    @Tim Healey,

    Re-read your first 4 paragraphs. Then read this:

    …focusing especially on this:
    “Of course, because qualifying a claim means expressing caution or uncertainty, it also can lead the audience to question the strength of the claim and the authority of the person making it. The audience may interpret hedging as a reflection of the author’s/speaker’s doubt in his/her stance, which can then lead them to become doubtful as well.”

    All the hedging and fence-sitting and self-references [5 in the first two paragraphs] are a) unhelpful and b) counterproductive.

    If you have an opinion, state it. (Some people will then disagree with you – can your ego handle this?) Very few people are interested in reading or responding to a wishy-washy self-doubting soliloquy. [If you don’t have an opinion, don’t write an opinion piece. When writing an opinion piece, form your opinion and *then* write the piece.]

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    Over 30 grand!? Yeah I’ll pass

  • avatar

    For the pundits who say that sedans are dead, head on over to my neck of the woods. These things are getting as thick on the ground as the cicada shells that appear every morning.

    I’m no H-K fan given their constant copying of other’s design languages and their electrical issues (try to find one that’s more than 5-6 years old and doesn’t have at least one dead light) and recent recalls, but they do have some hits on their hands. It’s looking like the K5 (really???? Again, stop copying everyone Kia and keep your names…) is going to be another one.

  • avatar

    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

  • avatar

    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.

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