2021 Kia K5

2021 Kia K5 Test Drive Review: Getting So Much Right

The Kia Optima arrived on the market way back in 2000 as a Korean alternative to midsize sedans like the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. After four generations spanning two decades, Kia has retired the Optima nameplate in favor of the globally-used K5 moniker for 2021. Kia says the shift to K5 reflects how different this new model is compared to the outgoing Optima. The 2021 Kia K5 arrives at a time when sedans sales are trailing off in favor of crossovers. Still, Kia is confident that its latest model has what it takes to steal sales from the established nameplates, including its platform stablemate, the Hyundai Sonata.

A 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder serves as the base engine in all trims, save for the sporty GT model, which gets a more powerful 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder developing 290 horsepower. Power in the non-GT models can be routed to the front wheels or optional all-wheel-drive through an eight-speed automatic, while the GT model sends its grunt to the front wheels exclusively. New engines aren't the only items on the menu for 2021, as the K5 boasts bold new styling, a clever interior, and outstanding technology. We were sent two examples of the K5 (a GT-Line and EX) to review and came away thinking that there could be a new class leader in the midsize sedan segment.

Read in this review:

2021 Kia K5 Changes: 🚙What’s the difference vs 2020 K5?

The Kia K5 is a new arrival for the 2021 model year and a replacement for the Optima. Kia has taken a bold approach to design, and the new K5 is a far more attractive proposition than the Optima it replaces with its distinctive tiger face and styling cues inspired by the Stinger. Two four-cylinder turbocharged engines - a 180-horsepower 1.6-liter and a 290-hp 2.5-liter - power the range, consisting of five trims. Unlike the Optima, the K5 will be available with all-wheel drive on select trims. A much more modern and premium cabin greets the driver and occupants and has either an eight- or 10.25-inch touchscreen, along with the availability of a 12-speaker Bose sound system. Falling under the Kia Drive Wise suite are features like lane following assist and driver attention warning.

Pros and Cons

  • Bold styling
  • Engines offer more grunt than before
  • AWD now available
  • Extremely quiet and comfortable
  • Sophisticated cabin design
  • Technology is top-notch
  • Base engine struggles when pushed hard
  • Not exactly exciting to drive
  • Some harder plastics are dotted around the cabin
  • The trunk isn't massive
  • Big screen doesn't get wireless phone connectivity

Best Deals on K5

2021 Kia K5 Trims

See trim levels and configurations:

Trim Engine Transmission Drivetrain Price (MSRP)
1.6L Turbo Inline-4 Gas
8-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
1.6L Turbo Inline-4 Gas
8-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
All-Wheel Drive
1.6L Turbo Inline-4 Gas
8-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
All-Wheel Drive
1.6L Turbo Inline-4 Gas
8-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
2.5L Turbo Inline-4 Gas
8-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive

K5 Exterior

The midsize sedan segment isn't known for attracting longing stares, but the new Kia K5 is easily one of the most smartly styled competitors in this class. It's longer and lower than the Optima it replaces, giving it a substantially sportier stance, but its appeal also lies in the details. The almost angry face with the broader tiger grille and dramatic LED DRLs look fantastic, as does the full-width lighting at the back. The base LX has features like LED headlights, 16-inch alloy wheels, and a Hyper Silver front grille, whereas the top-spec GT has 19-inch wheels and bespoke styling elements shared with the GT-Line. A panoramic sunroof and front LED fog lights are fitted to certain trims.

2021 Kia K5 Front View CarBuzz
2021 Kia K5 Rear View CarBuzz
2021 Kia K5 Front Angle View CarBuzz
See All 2021 Kia K5 Exterior Photos


As mentioned, the K5 is a bit longer and lower than the Optima, with a length of 193.1 inches and a height of 56.9 inches. The wheelbase measures 112.2 inches and it is 73.2 inches wide. By comparison, the Honda Accord is just a tenth of an inch wider and 0.9 inches shorter. At 3,115 pounds for the base LX with front-wheel drive, the K5's curb weight closely mirrors that of the Accord. Opting for the EX will see the curb weight increase to 3,228 lbs. The AWD versions and the GT 2.5T are likely to weigh a bit more than this, but Kia hasn't yet made these figures available.

  • Length 193.1 in
  • Wheelbase 112.2 in
  • Height 56.9 in
  • Max Width 73.2 in
  • Front Width 64.3 in
  • Rear Width 64.6 in
  • Curb Weight 3,115.0 lbs

Exterior Colors

Usually, it would take the most vivid available color to make your midsize sedan stand out, but the Kia K5 looks great even in subdued shades like Gravity Gray and Ebony Black. On the base LX, you can opt for Everlasting Silver, Passion Red Tintcoat, or Ebony Black. Glacial White Pearl will add another $445 to your bill, and any other color can only be paired with a more expensive trim. On the LXS, you can go for Crystal Beige or Gravity Gray, while the GT-Line avails Wolf Gray or Sapphire Blue. While the palette offers enough choice overall, it would have been preferable if Kia didn't limit certain colors to certain trims.

  • Glacier White Pearl
  • Passion Red
  • Wolf Gray
  • Ebony Black
  • Pacific Blue
  • Crystal Beige, Available: 10/01/2020
  • Everlasting Silver
  • Gravity Gray

K5 Performance

The K5's base engine is a 1.6-liter turbo-four with 180 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque, while the GT gets a 2.5-liter turbo with 290 hp and 311 lb-ft. All models have an eight-speed gearbox, but whereas the 1.6L is mated with a torque converter automatic, the 2.5L gets an eight-speed dual-clutch. All models direct power to the front wheels, but select 1.6L versions can be equipped with AWD, which isn't available with the bigger engine. According to independent tests, the 1.6L K5 can accelerate to 60 mph in around eight seconds, which isn't remarkable but is fair for the sedan's outputs. The GT, with its 2.5L, should prove significantly quicker. However, it would need to match the most potent Honda Accord, which gets to 60 in less than six seconds, if it wishes to be considered among the segment's elite performance options.

2021 Kia K5 View Out Back CarBuzz
2021 Kia K5 Gear Lever CarBuzz
2021 Kia K5 Engine Bay CarBuzz

Engine and Transmission

The Optima's unrefined naturally aspirated base engine has been replaced by a 1.6-liter turbocharged unit in the K5 that is not only quieter, but has more low-down torque which boosts its drivability. This engine is fitted to most trims in the range and makes 180 hp and 195 lb-ft. It pairs with an eight-speed automatic transmission. The GT gets a 2.5-liter turbo with 290 hp and 311 lb-ft, outputs that are superior to the best that the Honda Accord can offer. This model's sporty nature is enhanced by the use of a new eight-speed "wet" dual-clutch transmission which Kia developed in-house. It promises quick, smooth shifts.

We didn't have a chance to sample the powerful GT model, since it won't be arriving until later in the year, but we did try two flavors of the 1.6-liter base engine. The engine does not feel like a powerhouse, but it's about par with base options from Honda, Nissan, and Toyota. Where the K5 stands out is with its eight-speed transmission. The new 'box shifts smoothly and quickly without the rubbery feel associated with a CVT. Kia may not offer a manual transmission on the K5, but the eight-speed automatic feels more engaging to drive than CVT-equipped competitors.

  • Engines
    1.6L Turbo Inline-4 Gas, 2.5L Turbo Inline-4 Gas
  • Transmission
    8-Speed Automatic
  • Drivetrains
    AWD, FWD

Handling and Driving Impressions

The K5 won't set the world aflame with its handling prowess, but it rides comfortably over bumps and exhibits luxury levels of road noise at highway speeds. There's plenty of body roll from both the GT-Line and EX (which have identical suspension setups), so driving enthusiasts will want to wait for the sportier GT model. Drivers can adjust the engine, transmission, steering, and AWD (if equipped) using the included Normal, Smart, Sport, and Custom modes. The GT will also get a Sport + Mode.

There is a noticeable difference between Normal and Sport, and Smart Mode accurately switches between the two based on your driving patterns. Steering is light in all modes, but the effort weighs up noticeably in Sport Mode. Piloting the K5 around bends feels like a pleasant experience thanks to accurate steering, but we wouldn't go so far as to call it sporty. We didn't have the chance to sample the AWD K5, but there isn't enough power on tap to do more than chirp the front tires with the base engine, so AWD will likely be a cold weather play. We suspect the K5 GT will take a competent driver and inject more fun to the mix.

K5 Gas Mileage

At the time of writing, EPA economy numbers were not yet available for the 2.5-liter, but the 1.6-liter turbo demonstrates class-competitive efficiency with numbers of 29/38/32 mpg on the city/highway/combined cycles. In mixed driving, that's one mpg more than last year's Optima with its 1.6L turbo. Notably, the use of the stop-start system adds an extra two mpg to the city figure. By comparison, the most efficient non-hybrid Honda Accord manages 30/38/33 mpg, but the Toyota Camry leads the way with best figures of 29/41/34 mpg. With its 14.8-gallon gas tank, the Kia K5 should be able to travel around 473 miles in a mix of city/highway driving before needing to revisit the pumps.

  • Fuel Tank Capacity
    14.8 Gallons
  • Fuel Economy
    City/Hwy: 29/38 mpg
* 2021 Kia K5 LX Automatic FWD

K5 Interior

Stylistically, the K5's cabin design reminds of some pricier European luxury sedans with its horizontal theme and how the center console is gently tilted towards the driver. Quality isn't at the level of an Audi A4 or BMW 3 Series, though, but it does a good job of matching or surpassing other midsize sedans it is priced to compete with. On the cheapest LX, equipment includes remote keyless entry, dual-zone automatic climate control, driver attention warning, and lane keeping assist. Higher up in the range, features like remote start, synthetic leather upholstery, and power-adjustable seats evoke a more upscale feel. Rear parking sensors, safe exit assist, and cruise control with stop & go are also available. For the most part, the K5's cabin makes a fine impression.

2021 Kia K5 Dashboard CarBuzz
2021 Kia K5 Steering Wheel CarBuzz
2021 Kia K5 Gauge Cluster CarBuzz
See All 2021 Kia K5 Interior Photos

Seating and Interior Space

No matter what, the K5 seats up to five people reasonably well, though the rear middle-seat passenger won't be a happy camper, as with most sedans. Kia has lowered the roofline compared to the Optima but headroom remains similar thanks to lowered seat cushions. Rear legroom is larger than the Optima with 35.2 inches, offering plenty of space for two in the back or a tighter squeeze for three. Headroom up front has increased to 40.2 inches without the sunroof while rear headroom remains identical at 37.8 inches. At 105.3 cubic feet of passenger capacity, the K5 feels spacious compared to rivals, but the Accord is more accommodating of rear-seat occupants.

  • Seating capacity
  • Front Leg Room 46.1 in
  • Front Head Room 40.2 in
  • Rear Leg Room 35.2 in
  • Rear Head Room 37.8 in

Interior Colors and Materials

It's disappointing that the lower two trims don't have a leather-wrapped steering wheel and that none of the trims have a standard leather-wrapped shift handle. While this may sound trivial, these are the two touchpoints that the driver will most be interacting with. On the LX, conservative black cloth is standard along with silver trim inlays. On the LXS, Black or Sand cloth with two-tone trim adds a touch of luxury, while the GT-Line has synthetic leather upholstery in either black or two-tone red. The EX comes with synthetic leather in Black, Sand or Ash Blue and also adds wood trim to the dashboard and doors, while the GT has black synthetic leather with sporty red accents.

K5 Trunk and Cargo Space

The Honda Accord has one of the biggest trunks in the segment with 16.7 cubic feet of space, and the K5 nearly matches that with 16 cubes of its own behind the 60/40-split folding rear seats, which are standard on all but the LX. Folding down the rear seats expands cargo capacity usefully for longer or more awkwardly sized items.

Small-item storage in the cabin is catered for by twin cupholders alongside the shift lever and the center armrest storage compartment is well-sized. Ahead of this storage compartment is the available wireless charging pad for your phone, which is removable in case you buy a larger phone in the future. However, the door pockets aren't as accommodating as the armrest hinders the easy storage of longer bottles. All versions have front seatback pockets and all besides the base LX have a fold-down rear center armrest with cupholders.

2021 Kia K5 Rear Passenger Seats CarBuzz
2021 Kia K5 Second-Row Seats CarBuzz
2021 Kia K5 Rear Angle View CarBuzz
  • Trunk Volume
    16 ft³

K5 Infotainment and Features


With its high-value price tag, the LX forgoes some of the most appealing luxuries of other trims in the range but still gets standard features like a rearview camera, dual-zone automatic climate control, remote keyless entry, and six-way manually-adjustable front seats. The Kia Drive Wise suite packs in driver attention warning, forward-collision warning, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, and rear occupant alert. A step up from this is the LXS, which adds push-button start, remote start, and 60/40-split folding rear seats. The mid-range GT-Line boasts a 10-way power-adjustable driver's seat and increased safety gear availability like highway driving assist. On the EX, expect amenities like wireless phone charging, rear air conditioning vents, heated/ventilated front seats, and a panoramic sunroof, which it shares with the GT. Only the GT comes with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters. Most trims have blind-spot assist and rear cross-traffic alert.


Kia has been on top of the game when it comes to infotainment, and the K5 improves the lead with a few more points in its favor. An eight-inch touchscreen comes standard and now features wireless support for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. The system can also connect to two Bluetooth devices instead of one like most cars. A larger 10.25-inch touchscreen adds split-screen functionality, but oddly forgoes the wireless ability for CarPlay/Android. This screen is only available as an option on the GT-Line, EX, and GT models. Both displays feature clear graphics and intuitive controls, and, on the EX and GT, a Bose Premium sound system is available with 12 speakers in place of the standard six. If you opt for the Bose system, you get a unique Sounds of Nature feature, which plays unique soundtracks like a rainforest, ocean, or fireplace. Kia has also improved its UVO telematics, which now features two connected user profiles tied to the seat position, outside mirror placement, and favorite radio stations.

K5 Problems and Reliability

As a brand new model, no recalls have been issued by the NHTSA for the 2021 Kia K5, and it's too early to judge its reliability. But the Korean manufacturer provides a brilliant 10-year/100,000-mile limited powertrain warranty, matched only by Hyundai. There is also a five-year/60,000-mile basic warranty, a five-year/100,000-mile anti-perforation warranty, and five years or 60,000 miles of roadside assistance.


  • Basic:
    5 Years \ 60,000 Miles
  • Drivetrain:
    10 Years \ 100,000 Miles
  • Corrosion:
    5 Years \ 100,000 Miles
  • Roadside Assistance:
    5 Years \ 60,000 Miles

K5 Safety

The 2021 Kia K5 hasn't yet been reviewed for crashworthiness by either the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). While there is no official safety record for the K5 yet, we will let you know once this information becomes available.

Key Safety Features

If the worst happens, it's good to know that every Kia K5 has nine airbags to protect front and rear-seat occupants, including curtain airbags, rear side airbags, and a driver's knee airbag. Electronic stability control, traction control, hill start assist control, and tire pressure monitoring are all also standard.

Kia's range of standard driver-assist technologies includes a rearview camera with dynamic gridlines, forward-collision warning with pedestrian detection, driver attention warning, lane departure alert, lane-keeping assist, lane following assist, high beam assist, and rear occupant alert. On all but the LX, blind-spot collision-avoidance assist and rear cross-traffic collision-avoidance assist are standard. The EX alone offers rear parking sensors as standard, but these are optional on the GT, too. From the GT-Line and above, smart cruise control with stop & go, navigation-based smart cruise control, cyclist detection, and highway driving assist are all available.

Verdict: 🏁Is the 2021 Kia K5 a good car?

Objectively, the Kia K5 does not feel like a radical departure from the Optima that it replaces. It's a midsize sedan with 180 horsepower, so it's not going to feel like a supercar suddenly. But in every little detail, Kia has scored an A+ rating, making it feel like a segment leader. Whether it's the cleverly-placed wireless charger, the intuitive infotainment, or just how well-laid out the cabin is, Kia has got everything right.

Nameplates like Accord, Altima, and Camry have longer track records to rely on, but the Kia K5 enters as a healthy alternative with an attractive price point and even more attractive bodywork. Kia manages to undercut the competition on price without the K5 feeling in any way "lesser" than its competitors. In fact, the established marques should start copying off the K5's notes. For that reason, the K5 is now our favorite vehicle in the mainstream midsize sedan segment.

🚘What's the Price of the 2021 Kia K5?

Not only has Kia built a stunning midsize sedan in the new K5, but it has been priced appealingly, too. The base LX begins at an MSRP of $23,490, undercutting the Honda Accord and the Toyota Camry. The LXS costs $24,490, the GT-Line is $25,390, and the EX goes for $27,990. Topping the range is the GT at $30,490, which is several thousand dollars less than the fully loaded Accord or Camry costs. On the LXS, upgrading from FWD to AWD adds $2,100 but also includes heated seats, while the GT-Line can be had with AWD for an additional $3,700, but also adds the Premium Package. All of these prices exclude tax, licensing, registration costs, and Kia's $965 destination.

2021 Kia K5 Models

The 2021 Kia K5 is available in five trims: LX, LXS, GT-Line, EX, and GT. Every trim bar the GT is powered by the smaller 1.6-liter turbo-four with 180 horsepower, while the GT exclusively gets a 290-hp 2.5-liter turbocharged four-pot. FWD is standard across the range, but the LXS and GT-Line can be equipped with an AWD system. And, while an eight-speed automatic is the default transmission, the GT exclusively gets an eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox.

The base LX starts things off with features like 16-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, an eight-inch touchscreen interface, a six-speaker audio system, dual-zone climate control, forward-collision alert, and driver attention warning.

Moving up to the LXS introduces the versatility of a 60/40-split folding rear seat and a smart trunk, along with blind-spot collision avoidance, safe exit assist, rear cross-traffic alert, remote start, and push-button start.

The GT-Line has sportier styling elements, LED front foglights, a rear spoiler, and 18-inch wheels shod in Pirelli P-Zero all-season rubber. It also adds cloth and synthetic leather upholstery, a leather steering wheel, rear USB ports, and a 10-way power-adjustable driver's seat.

The luxurious EX has a panoramic sunroof, wireless phone charging, heated/ventilated front seats, wood inlays, rear parking sensors, SiriusXM satellite radio, rear air conditioning vents, and wood-look trim.

Finally, the sporty GT blends more aggressive styling with the bigger 2.5-liter engine. It has 19-inch wheels, quad-tip dual exhaust outlets, steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters, sport front bucket seats, and a GT sport-tuned suspension.

See All 2021 Kia K5 Trims and Specs

Additional Packages

The LX has the fewest number of options on offer, with the most notable individual upgrades being remote start for $450 and an electrochromic mirror with HomeLink for $350. On the LXS, the major available upgrade is AWD which is bundled with heated front seats for $2,100. The mid-range GT-Line offers much more, with the GT-Line AWD Special Edition Package adding a larger 10.25-inch touchscreen, navigation, highway driving assist and more for $800. However, this does require upgrading to the AWD & Premium Package for $3,700 as well. If you don't need AWD, the GT-Line's Premium Package on its own goes for $1,600 and equips full LED headlights, a panoramic sunroof, LED interior lighting, wireless phone charging, and smart cruise control. On the EX, the EX Premium Package costs $3,400 and includes the bigger touchscreen, navigation, a 12-speaker Bose sound system, and much more. The powerful GT can be upgraded with the $4,000 GT1 Package with highlights like ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, and the Bose sound system.

🚗What Kia K5 Model Should I Buy?

In our opinion, the GT-Line feels like the most well-rounded trim level to buy, starting at just $25,390. This trim level rolls in sporty bodywork, black 18-inch alloy wheels, cloth and synthetic leather trim, and a power driver's seat among other features. We'd then add the GT-Line Premium Package for $1,600, which adds a panoramic roof, LED headlights, wireless phone charger, and adaptive cruise control. With this package equipped, you'll pay just $26,990 for a K5 GT-Line with FWD. The EX trim adds nice options like an available 10.25-inch display and ventilated front seats, but we'd spare the savings and stick with the GT-Line, which looks sporty and keeps wireless CarPlay and Android Auto on its smaller screen. When the GT arrives later in the year, it might be our model of choice, but until then, the GT-Line is the K5 to have.

2021 Kia K5 Comparisons

Hyundai Sonata CarBuzz
Honda Accord Honda
CompetitorHorsepowerMPGPrice (MSRP)
Kia K5180 hp29/38 mpg$23,590
Hyundai Sonata 191 hp28/38 mpg$23,950
Honda Accord 192 hp30/38 mpg$24,970

2021 Kia K5 vs Hyundai Sonata

Like the Kia K5 and the Optima it replaces, the Hyundai Sonata has also undergone a substantial metamorphosis in recent times. Both Koreans can't be accused of generic styling any longer, and that's a great thing. Under the hood, Hyundai prefers to use a larger-capacity naturally aspirated engine that is more powerful but less torquey than the K5's 1.6 turbo. However, higher up in the range, the Sonata offers this very same Smartstream engine. The Kia edges the Hyundai by offering AWD and a 290-hp range-topper, although the Sonata should soon receive a more powerful N-Line version. Both have smartly trimmed cabins that keep unwanted noises out and are similarly spacious, with the K5 having a touch more rear legroom. The trunks are the same size. Both start at almost the same price point, but at the top of the range, the K5 offers a lot more power for less money. We think these sedans are closely matched but would opt for the K5 by a whisker.

See Hyundai Sonata Review

2021 Kia K5 vs Honda Accord

The Honda Accord's many virtues are well known. It's solidly made, has lots of space, and is enjoyable to drive. It's the latter point that sets the Accord apart from the K5 - it handles with more flair and, when equipped with the 252-hp 2.0-liter engine, is a lot more involving to drive, even if the manual gearbox has now been discontinued. However, the K5 GT offers more power, so expect it to be the more potent option on the road. The K5 is no slouch and both are appropriately comfortable cruisers. Inside, the Accord has nearly five inches of extra rear legroom but a tad less front headroom. The Honda also has a bigger trunk. Starting at almost $1,000 more than the K5, the price differential between the two widens as you move higher up in the range, despite the Kia being the newer sedan. Although the Accord is more enjoyable to drive, the stunning K5 now looks like the more desirable alternative. With few significant weaknesses, it's more than worthy of a place on your shortlist.

See Honda Accord Review

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$23,590 - $30,590
Price Range (MSRP)
Kia K5
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