Appealing looks and performance, The 2021 Kia K5 replaces the aging but still highly competitive Optima as the brand’s premium midsize sedan. The K5 blends family car responsibilities with performance and tech, creating a snappy car that comes with a handful of compromises.
In a highly competitive class that includes top-selling family sedans like the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, these compromises may be too great to overcome.
Eye-grabbing looks that may grab a little too hard. The Kia K5’s predecessor, the Optima, had slowly become more dramatic over the years. However, it’s nothing compared to the K5’s sharp design that boasts more creases and body lines than we care to count. It also boasts zigzag accent lighting that stabs into the front fenders, a bold grille, a coupe-like C-pillar rake, and a full-length taillight bar.
To say the K5’s body grabs eyeballs is an understatement, as it stands out in the ho-hum family sedan class. For some buyers, though, the K5 may be a little too much. For these shoppers, we recommend the humbler design of the Accord or Subaru Legacy.
Inside, the K5 is a little calmer, as it brings in some design cues from the Kia Stinger and Kia K900 to blend sportiness and class. This cabin includes a flat-bottom steering wheel, a dash-top infotainment screen, a T-bar shifter, and available two-tone seats.
Loads of trunk space but short on leg room. The Kia K5 offers ample trunk space for those weekend getaways with up to 16 cubic feet of space. This easily beats the Nissan Altima’s 15.4 cubes, the 14.1 cubic feet in the Camry, and the 15.1 cubes in the Legacy. However, it falls short of leading the class, as the Accord’s 16.7 cubic feet trumps it.
Leg room is a different issue altogether. The K5 can accommodate adults with its 35.2 inches of rear leg room, which matches the Altima. However, this comes up plenty short of most others in the class, including the Accord at 40.4 inches, the Legacy at 39.5 inches, and the Camry at 38 inches.
For those seeking standard interior tech, the K5 doesn’t disappoint with its 8-inch touchscreen, USB ports, and wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Smartphone integration is also standard on the Altima, Camry, and Legacy, but they use the older wired system. The Accord also offers wired smartphone integration, but it’s not standard.
A little sports sedan in the mix. Most Kia K5 models come standard with a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that delivers class-average 180 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. This puts it right in line with the competitions’ standard engines. Plus, the K5 has optional all-wheel drive, giving buyers another snow-ready model not named Legacy or Altima.
Move into the GT 2.5T trim, and the Kia K5 reaches sports sedan territory with its 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine delivering 290 hp and 311 lb-ft of torque. There’s not a four-cylinder in the class that can come close, as the nearest is the Altima’s 267-hp 2.0-liter. The Camry’s 301-hp V6 beats it, though.
The power heads through an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission for snappy shifts and a 5.8-second 0-60 mph time. This straight-line acceleration puts the K5 GT 2.5T in line with top-level acceleration from the Accord, Altima, and Camry. Where the K5 2GT 2.5T really excels is in the corners, showing off grip that makes European luxury sports sedans take notice.
Final thoughts. The 2021 Kia K5 offers a sports sedan look and feel wrapped around a cabin that’s just large enough to haul four adults with relative comfort. It’s also got all the tech most buyers want from the base trim through the GT 2.5T. It’s built to be the family car for someone who really doesn’t want a family car.
For those seeking a more functional errand-running machine, the roomier Honda Accord is likely the better bet. If trunk space isn’t a concern, you may also consider the Toyota Camry or Subaru Legacy for their roomier rear seats. For those seeking fuel economy, the Accord is again willing to step in with its thrifty hybrid option.
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