Is a longstanding reputation enough to save Honda from the new breed of sedan?
To many, the humble sedan is dying, with crossover SUVs being the flavor of the month and many manufacturers dropping these cars from their lineups entirely. For Honda and Kia, this is not an option, and instead, Kia has introduced the K5 - a midsize sedan replacing the old Kia Optima. It's more than just a name change, however, as the Kia K5 is new from the ground up. But if Kia is to succeed at winning sales in addition to CarBuzz Awards, it's going to need to take on the best - the Honda Accord. The Honda is the tried and trusted people's choice, a marque that has stood the test of time. But the Kia is ready for action and spoiling for a fight.
Sedan design is often a gamble. For an established nameplate, too big a departure from the norm can see customers alienated. That's why Honda has played it safe in the design of the Accord. Contrarily, Kia has gone bold, and with a new name, it makes sense to celebrate the freshness of the K5. Both make use of the now-familiar sloping roofline idea that makes them look more like four-door coupes than traditional sedans, but it's the little things on the Kia that make the design come off better, such as the chrome window line that splits the C-pillar and creates a floating roof. The Kia is bolder up front, too, with a broad tiger-nose grille that merges into angular LED headlights with a zig-zag LED running light/turn signal strip stretching back along the hoodline. Wheels range from 16 to 19 inches on the K5, but the Accord starts one better at 17 inches, with 19s on the pinnacle models.
To our eye, the Accord is more subtle and mature, but the Kia's design is fresh and exciting enough to lure new buyers to the segment.
Honda has always been praised for its near-luxury choice of materials in the Accord, and the current generation is no different. But just like the exterior, Honda hasn't been very daring with the interior design, which is to say it's rather boring. Sure, on higher trims you get leather and wood-look trim on the dash, but the eight-inch infotainment display is standalone in the center of the dash and, despite boasting full smartphone connectivity, isn't the most intuitive to use. The Kia starts with a similarly-sized eight-inch screen, but the available 10.25-inch screen that blends into the driver's instrument cluster is a delight, making the K5 look vastly more upmarket than its humble price suggests.
In terms of passenger space, the K5 prioritizes front occupants with 40.2 inches of headroom and 46.1 inches of legroom to the Honda's 39.5- and 42.3-inch figures. In the rear, however, the Accord strikes back with 40.4 inches of legroom - a full 5.2 inches more than the Kia.
Infotainment screens aside, both contenders supply an abundance of tech for all walks of life. Dual-zone climate, smart keys, and power-adjustable seats are all fairly common for the segment, but both offer heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, and more. Modern sedan buyers want safety, though, and a full range of collision avoidance measures are equipped for both. Kia Drivewise encompasses forward collision avoidance with pedestrian detection, driver attention warning, leading vehicle departure alert, and lane departure warning, but buyers can spec cyclist detection as well. Blind-spot monitoring is standard on all but the base trim, as is safe exit alert. The Accord packs in Honda Sensing technologies, with collision mitigating braking, traffic sign recognition, and numerous other details, but blind-spot monitoring is only standard as you near the top of the trim ladder. Both are well equipped, but the K5 is better equipped lower down in the range.
The Honda Accord has been the go-to for driving enthusiasts for some time, but with the 2021 updates, it's lost the manual gearbox that once made it so sweet to pilot. The K5 doesn't boast a manual gearbox, so there's no shame there, but what it does have is available all-wheel-drive, while the Accord is FWD only.
On the engine front, the Honda has two turbocharged offerings, a 1.5-liter with 192 horsepower and 192 lb-ft of torque mated to a CVT or a 2.0T with 252 hp and 273 lb-ft, saddled with a 10-speed auto. The Kia K5 makes less power at the base end of things with a 1.6T engine generating 180 hp and 195 lb-ft, but its 8-speed automatic gearbox is better to drive in our opinion. At the top of the range, a 2.5-liter turbo GT derivative puts down 290 hp and 311 lb-ft, making use of a snappy eight-speed DCT for optimal performance and blowing the Accord out of the water.
Honda may have ruled the roost for years when it came to midsize sedans, but the 2021 Kia K5 has brought the fight to the Japanese. Not only does it have more power in its topmost guise, available all-wheel-drive, and more safety features available lower down in the lineup, but it's also nearly as spacious, is arguably more stylish, and has the technology to appeal to a new generation of car buyers. The final straw is that the K5 feels luxurious, too, which robs the Accord of one of its biggest USPs. The Accord may still be the practical man's midsize sedan, but the Kia K5 brings the excitement the segment has been lacking for years.