2021 Kia K5

When car companies switch their car names to some alphanumeric description, there is normally a bit of hesitation towards the new model – as if it might be trying a little too hard to say, “I’m new”. Such is the case with the new Kia K5 mid-size sedan which effectively fills the shoes of the departed Optima. So is it really worth getting to know this new model? In short, absolutely.  

First off, its styling is so fresh in so many ways. The smooth body sides meld into a sleek fastback look that is so on point with today’s styling trends and it’s even emphasized and made more distinct, by a sweeping chrome strip that starts at the base of the A-pillar, curves up and around the windows, streaks across the C-Pillar, wraps over the trunk, and naturally ends at to the A-Pillar on the other side. 

The handsome profile also benefits from several sporty cues such as the aft position of the cabin which gives it a balanced look, wide fenders that are emphasized by a crisp line along the lower part of the doors that affirms the widened stance, and bodywork that extends well past the center point of the wheel for a lowered look. 

Faux air-duct cutouts and exhaust outlets can sometimes feel like a last resort to fill an empty space, but on the K5, they are integral to the rest of the design. In the front, the large gloss-black plastic accentuates the lowered leading edge of the front bumper, and in the rear, they help add to the wide look. The rear bumper also receives a sharp lift from the painted lower edge to prevent it from looking overly heavy, while also creating a natural space for the car’s boldly shaped faux-exhaust outlets which feel at home with the rest of the car’s sporty touches. The only slightly out of sorts piece is the sharply accented faux-diffuser on the bottom of the rear bumper.  

While the K5’s handsome and sporty looks are a sum of all of those individual designs, the dramatic wow factor comes specifically from the detailed and original design work of the headlights and taillights. The headlight’s amber signature LED light bar has a winding shape that travels from a horizontal line in the front to a zig-zag shape that arcs up to match the curve of the hood-line while the triple-beam LED headlights give it even more visual appeal. But really, it’s the taillights that deliver the real modern flair. A simple horizontal dashed line is made up of thin LED bars that progressively get wider as they streak across the rear and blend into the brake light cluster. It’s crisp, looks expensive, and delivers a high-tech look; Get ready for other manufacturers to be inspired by this design. 

The interior is also a demonstration where handsome looks are complemented with sporty touches but nothing comes at the expense of usability. There is plenty of room for five and the primary controls on the dash are angled towards the driver for more of a cockpit feel. Knobs and physical buttons are present for all of the primary controls while metallic trim provides a high-quality look. The controls on the center console are not quite as nicely finished although they are easy to locate with a quick glance. The leather-wrapped steering wheel and soft faux-leather seats are shaped for everyday commuting comfort while still providing the grip and shape for some sporting adventures. The panoramic sunroof overhead provides an airy feeling for all passengers while the narrow pillars and expansive amount of glass make driving K5 a low-stress affair in heavy traffic. 

Speaking of driving, mechanics underneath also do their best to balance practicality with sport. The small turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder achieves robust power figures – 180 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque – but, unsurprisingly, feels weak off the line until the boost begins to build. When worked hard, the engine feels and sounds quite coarse but is much more agreeable when kept in the middle of its rev range. The engine is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission (with a torque converter) that allows for smooth take-offs and gear exchanges and carries different selectable programs for an efficient or sporty tune. The all-wheel-drive system is effective at putting the power down without wheel-spin and doesn’t take a heavy toll on fuel efficiency. The K5 is rated at an EPA-estimated 29 mpg combined which was easily achievable during my week-long stint that included heavy commuting traffic and some spirited mountain road driving. 

At highway speeds, the interior is free of excessive wind and road noise while the suspension delivers an admirable balance between comfort and sport while still maintaining good body control in the twisties although its vague (but nicely weighted) steering feel and uninspired engine note will do little to encourage frequent hustling about. 

In every aspect, the K5 delivers a satisfying balance of style, sport, and practicality while doing so without any significant compromises. Add to that the as-tested price of about $31,000 and you can add value to its list of attributes. The impressive sedan not only solidifies its new-found place among Kia’s lineup, but it also establishes a unique place in the industry – and that makes it worth getting to know the all-new Kia K5. 

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