2021 Kia K5

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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:

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2021 Kia K5 Changes: What’s The Difference vs The 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 2021 Kia 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
See All 2021 Kia K5 Trims and Specs

2021 K5 Exterior

2021 Kia K5 Front View CarBuzz
2021 Kia K5 Rear View CarBuzz
2021 Kia K5 Frontal Aspect CarBuzz
See All 2021 Kia K5 Exterior Photos


  • 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

  • Passion Red +$445
  • Glacial White Pearl +$445
  • Wolf Gray +$445
  • Sapphire Blue
  • Ebony Black
  • Crystal Beige, Available: 10/01/2020
  • Everlasting Silver
  • Gravity Gray

2021 K5 Performance

2021 Kia K5 Driving Front Angle Kia
2021 Kia K5 Rear-Facing View Kia
2021 Kia K5 Engine Kia

Engine and Transmission

  • 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.

2021 K5 Interior

2021 Kia K5 Steering Wheel CarBuzz
2021 Kia K5 Center Stack CarBuzz
2021 Kia K5 Interior Details CarBuzz
See All 2021 Kia K5 Interior Photos

Seating and Interior Space

  • 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

2021 K5 Trunk and Cargo Space

2021 Kia K5 Front Seats CarBuzz
2021 Kia K5 Rear Passenger Seats CarBuzz
2021 Kia K5 Maximum Trunk Space Kia
  • Trunk Volume
    16 ft³

2021 K5 Safety and Reliability


  • 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

US NHTSA Crash Test Result

  • Overall Rating
  • Frontal Barrier Crash Rating
  • Side Crash Rating
  • Rollover Rating

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.

2021 Kia K5 Comparisons

Hyundai Sonata
Honda Accord Honda
CompetitorHorsepowerMPGPrice (MSRP)
Kia K5180 hp27/37 mpg$25,290
Hyundai Sonata 180 hp27/37 mpg$25,250
Honda Accord 192 hp29/37 mpg$27,295

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

2021 Kia K5 Video Reviews

Check out some informative Kia K5 video reviews below.

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