Even with the dwindling desirability of family sedans, Kia has crafted a compelling example with the all-new 2021 K5. Its daring design evokes sportiness and luxuriousness, and the sleek-looking four-door is a legitimate head-turner. The cabin is elegantly appointed and available with desirable content. While the K5 isn’t particularly entertaining to drive, its standard powertrain and hushed cabin provide a refined experience. The 290-hp GT model comes with performance equipment that provides the blazing acceleration, but the added potency is prone to overpowering the front tires. Still, a spacious back seat and generous trunk make it a useful alternative to popular crossover SUVs, especially with its optional all-wheel-drive system.
What’s New for 2021?
Kia completely redesigned the Optima and renamed it K5 for 2021, which makes it consistent with the sedan’s global nameplate. The sedan boasts a bolder exterior and a truly luxurious interior. It also shares a platform with its corporate counterpart, the Hyundai Sonata, which was all-new for 2021. The Kia is also available with all-wheel drive for the first time.
Engine, Transmission, and Performance
Most K5 models are motivated by a 180-hp turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder that pairs with an eight-speed automatic transmission. The engine comes standard with front-wheel drive; all-wheel drive is optional, but not on the GT model. The front-drive, 180-hp K5 we drove demonstrated decent acceleration around town, and our testing revealed a 7.0-second trip to 60 mph. However, it was less impressive at highway speeds, where it needed extra time to execute passes. Still, its dutiful transmission and well-insulated cabin helped ensure its engine noise rarely rose above a dull roar. The full-Monty GT model has a more powerful 2.5-liter turbo-four that generates 290 horses and 311 pound-feet of torque. Along with its exclusive eight-speed automatic (with the same wet dual-clutch as the Hyundai Sonata N-Line), the sportiest K5 is also fitted with bigger brakes, a unique suspension tune, and wider tires on larger 19-inch rims. The GT we drove sprinted to 60 mph in just 5.2 seconds and stopped from 70 mph in 163 feet. The Sonata N-Line was slightly quicker to 60 mph (5.0 seconds) and stopped even shorter (152 feet). However, the hi-po Hyundai we tested wore optional summer tires (the Kia only comes with all-seasons) that contributed to the performance disparities.
Fuel Economy and Real-World MPG
The EPA estimates the 2021 K5 with the base four-cylinder engine and front-wheel drive will earn up to 29 mpg in the city and 38 mpg on the highway. Both those ratings take a big hit when the all-wheel-drive gets into the mix, dropping to 26 mpg city and 34 highway. Still, both figures are similar to the all-wheel-drive Nissan Altima and Toyota Camry. The front-drive-only, 290-hp K5 GT is the least efficient of the bunch at 24 mpg city and 32 highway. We evaluated a front-drive K5 with the standard powertrain on our 75-mph highway fuel-economy test and it returned an impressive 43 mpg, beating its government rating by 5.
Interior, Comfort, and Cargo
Inside, the K5 looks amazing for how much it costs. The layout is both sophisticated and straightforward, and the cabin is appointed with attractive materials such as wood trim on the dash and doors. The K5 also offers an array of upscale interior features, such as ambient interior lighting on the dash and doors, heated and ventilated fronts seats, a panoramic sunroof, and a wireless charging pad. While the driver’s seat feels high even at its lowest point, the comfortable spot for your left foot and floor-hinged accelerator are nice touches. The back seat also provides generous legroom, and the trunk has plenty of space for luggage. We managed to fit seven carry-on suitcases back there.