Busy but effective styling. In a world of conservative sedan styling, we applaud Kia for making an effort with the design of its K5, even if they briefly forgot the flair when choosing a name for the artist formerly known as Optima. There’s something pleasingly sinister about those diminutive quad-bank headlamps, reprised in vertical air intakes and capped with a hint of hood scoop. A ski-slope roofline gives the side profile some interest, and the dotted-line reflectors may not be to all tastes at the rear, but they’re more interesting than the Nineties-influenced rump on Subaru’s latest-generation Legacy.

Things are more prosaic in the cabin, where practicality trumps style. With that said, choose your K5 with care. Base models are full of cheap glossy plastics, whereas higher models replace this with padding, metallic trim and a splash of woodgrain. Colored seating also helps to lift what is otherwise a decidedly monochrome environment, and unless you’re the sort of person built for basketball, we’d recommend the panoramic sunroof to further lighten the mood.

Avoid the base trim. Having already established that lower-level K5s have underwhelming interiors, we must also point out that they’re hardly luxurious. There’s not much going on in the $26,185 LXS (LX having been dropped for 2023) apart from keyless entry and an eight-inch touchscreen with wireless smartphone mirroring. Oddly, the bigger 10.3-inch screen on higher trims forces you to hardwire in your Apple or Android device, which is hardly in keeping with the times.

GT-Line models up the ante with acoustic window glass, significantly better cabin materials and a power driver’s seat, while EX introduces synthetic leather and remote start. You can also start having fun with the options list by this point, with available features including a surround-view camera system and a Bose stereo. We’d pass on the ventilated front seats, though – the cooling system creates noticeable ridges compared to standard seats, which might become uncomfortable on long journeys. Those in the rear should have little to complain about thanks to easy access and 35 inches of legroom, while a 16 cubic foot trunk is satisfactory if hardly class-leading.

2022 Kia K5 Interior

Avoid the top trim, too. If it feels like we’re steering you toward the two mid-range K5 models, that’s because we are. Flagship GT models might be impressively well-equipped considering their $32,585 sticker price, but they also come with sports seats, sports-tuned suspension, and 19-inch wheels. The combined result is an uncomfortable ride – a high price to pay for impressive performance. The GT can hit 60 in less than six seconds thanks to its 2.5-liter turbocharged gas engine, with an eight-speed dual-clutch auto ‘box directing 290 hp to the front wheels. Keen drivers can also engage a Sport+ driving mode, which affects everything from shift speed and throttle input to – you guessed it – ride quality.

Unless you’re a speed freak, the standard 1.6-liter turbo engine ought to be more than sufficient. It too uses an eight-speed box to achieve impressive standing acceleration, allied to reassuringly prompt braking. It’s also considerably more comfortable, especially on 17-inch wheels. Road holding is good with any wheels fitted, and there’s a pleasing weight to the steering. For its price, the K5 is far more enjoyable to drive than you might expect, while the combined fuel economy of 31 MPG isn’t bad for a turbocharged FWD sedan. Adding the $1,700 AWD to GT-Line models brings this figure down to 28 MPG, which is still better than the GT’s 27.

Impressive safety. Having achieved top marks from America’s two safety agencies, the K5 is clearly a well-designed sedan. It’s safe, too. Every model gets automatic emergency braking and blind-spot monitoring, pedestrian detection, driver attention monitoring, active lane control, and lane follow assist. It’s just a shame that a surround-view camera system is relegated to the options list on EX and GT models since that sloping roofline has a detrimental effect on vision from the driver’s seat.

Final thoughts. There’s so much to like about the K5 that criticizing it seems almost churlish. For $26,000, you can get behind the wheel of a spacious five-seat sedan with impressive performance and road holding, a class-leading five-year warranty, dramatic styling, and excellent safety. Having to accept modest equipment and some scratchy plastics seems a small price to pay. In fact, the best K5s are the mid-range models, where superior internal fitments and better equipment tackle both those drawbacks. It's also advisable to avoid the high-performance GT – there are far more comfortable ways of traveling quickly, and the absence of AWD on a 290 hp sedan is baffling when it’s available on less powerful trims.

There are other negatives, of course. The eight-inch touchscreen is small by modern standards, but its 10.3-inch sibling lacks wireless phone connectivity. The exterior styling could date quickly, there’s no hybrid, and nobody is ever going to be impressed when you tell them you’re driving a Kia K5 (what was wrong with the old Optima name?) Even so, the K5 is a car you’ll be happy to park outside the office. In a sector more commonly associated with bland functionality than character, that’s a significant point of difference.

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