It's in a different league.
Kia made such extensive changes to its midsize Optima sedan it needed to rename it. The 2021 Kia K5 arrived last year with one available engine, a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder producing 180 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque going out to the front or all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic. While the base engine offers plenty of cool features for mainstream sedan buyers, we wanted to drive the sportier GT variant before rendering our final verdict on the car. The K5 GT was worth the wait.
The mainstream performance sedan segment has been nearly nonexistent in recent years. Vehicles like the Honda Accord 2.0T and Toyota Camry TRD offer some thrills, but the new Kia K5 GT puts them both to shame. With the exception of hot hatchbacks like the Honda Civic Type R, Hyundai Veloster N, and Volkswagen Golf GTI, the K5 GT is one of the best front-wheel-drive cars money can buy.
The standard K5 is a very aggressive car in standard form, but the GT variant looks even sportier. Kia's Tiger Nose grille remains thin, giving the K5 a pointed face that bucks the massive grille trend. In addition, the "Heart Beat" daytime running lights glow amber, creating a unique lighting signature not seen outside the Kia brand. The GT-specific changes are more mature than the TRD Camry while still offering a sportier vibe.
The 19-inch wheels are specific to the GT model and come wrapped in Pirelli P-Zero tires (more on that later). There's a subtle spoiler on the trunk, and the GT gets a true dual exhaust exiting through quad tips. We wish Kia offered more than five color options on the GT, as Sapphire Blue and Passion Red Tint Coat are the only exciting hues.
While the standard K5 makes do with a 1.6-liter engine, the GT gets Kia's latest 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. In this guise, it produces 290 hp and a whopping 311 lb-ft of torque. Though the power number is less than the V6 Camry, the torque figure is top of the class. Further aiding the GT's performance is a new eight-speed wet-clutch DCT, which out shifts any traditional automatic in this segment. Kia claims this combination can rocket the K5 GT up to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds, but independent tests put it closer to 5.2.
The only quicker vehicle in the segment is this car's corporate sibling, the Hyundai Sonata N Line, at 5 seconds flat. Though the K5 GT and Sonata N Line feature an identical engine, the Hyundai hits 60 mph a bit quicker because it's available with summer tires. Sadly, all-seasons are the only option on the Kia.
It already shines on paper, but the K5 GT truly comes alive out on the road. The K5 GT (and its Hyundai counterpart) is the most enjoyable FWD mid-size sedan to hustle around a back road; full stop. Its steering feels pinpoint accurate, on par with many rear-wheel-drive sports sedans from Germany. Kia tuned the suspension for firmness without ruining the ride comfort, allowing the GT to roll less in corners. It's no AMG or M killer, but remember, this car is mostly meant as a commuter vehicle equipped for weekend fun.
Putting so much torque to the front wheels proves tricky with a heavy throttle, though the torque steer is much less noticeable than old-school FWD performance sedans. This engine will absolutely roast the front tires, which means you can burn off those all-seasons and get some stickier summer rubber. So anticipate some odd stares as people hear Hellcat-levels of tire squeal coming from your average mainstream sedan.
The K5 GT offers similar thrills found in many entry-level luxury sedans at a fraction of the price. At $30,590, it's cheaper than smaller, less powerful sedans like the Audi A3, BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe, and Mercedes-Benz A-Class. Even compared to its mainstream counterparts like the Honda Accord 2.0T and Toyota Camry TRD, it's still cheaper by a few thousand dollars.
There's only one available option on the K5 GT, a GT1 Package for $4,100. For less than $35,000 before destination, the GT1 Package adds niceties such as power-adjustable memory seats, a larger 10.25-inch touchscreen, 12-speaker Bose audio system, heated/ventilated seats, heated steering wheel, parking sensors, and Highway Driving Assist.
If you are shopping for a mainstream sedan and want the best driving experience, it's a pretty clear choice between the Kia K5 GT and Hyundai Sonata N Line. Though they share a platform, the two vehicles boast vastly different appearances, which could sway many people's decisions. Starting at $33,300, the N Line is pricier than the K5 GT, but its only option is summer tires for $200. In addition, the Hyundai gets a digital gauge cluster that's not available on the K5, though the Kia gets heated and ventilated seats that aren't offered on the N Line. It's a close call, and we think both options are fantastic.