All-New 2021 Kia K5 Brings Style to Midsized Sedans

Jeff S. Bartlett

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A new name for a truly new car: Kia is replacing the Optima with the all-new K5 midsized sedan. The name may be shorter, but the car is larger, more powerful, better equipped, and available with all-wheel drive. (The K5 moniker has been used in South Korea.)

It brings a bold appearance, distinguishing it from the Optima and the rest of the popular class. Further, it promises to shift slightly upscale, with interior upgrades and more premium features.

It will be built in West Point, Ga., alongside the laudable Telluride SUV. If any Telluride goodness rubs off, it would be a bonus.

The K5 launches in four trims (LX, LXS, GT-Line, EX) this summer, with a sportier GT scheduled to join the line in the fall. All-wheel drive will become available in late 2020, just in time for winter.

We will buy a K5 to test when it goes on sale. Here is what we know so far. 

CR’s Take

Credit to Kia for breaking the mold with the Optima-replacing K5. There isn’t even a hint of familiarity; this is truly an all-new car. The fresh lines make it stand out from the midsized sedan crowd.

The base engine should be competitive, and the larger engine sounds like it could be quite entertaining. Of course, dialing in a powerful turbo to be quick and well mannered takes finesse; we look forward to seeing how well it is tuned. The addition of all-wheel drive will broaden the car’s appeal in the Snow Belt, staving off competition from the Nissan Altima and others that are moving into space once owned by Subaru.

The interior looks decidedly normal. It may sound strange, but we do get excited about basic, easy-to-use controls. A shift lever, infotainment buttons, and physical climate controls—how novel and inviting in this era where creativity often trumps functionality. We’re only concerned about the low center dash vents that may not distribute air optimally.

We wrote about its predecessor: “Overall, the Optima offers an enjoyable driving experience, with substance and value.” We look forward to seeing if that holds true for this promising replacement. 


The K5 looks quite different from the Optima. It seems to have more in common with a Honda Accord, at least from the side profile. This new sedan is about two inches longer, an inch wider, and an inch lower than the Optima, giving it a more imposing presence. Presumably the slight stretch also provides more interior space.

The long arch of the roofline gives the car a more coupe-like appearance, as is now in vogue. Even the hood has a long, gentle curve to it. Based on photos, the K5 looks a bit more upscale than the tastefully styled Optima. Furthermore, it looks both attractive and unique.  


Kia touts that the interior experience is more upscale and quieter than the Optima. Aiding that is a variety of upholstery and trim options to dress up the cabin, and noise-reducing acoustic-laminated windshield on all versions.

The cabin has a traditional layout, complete with an upright gear selector, rather than a trendy dial or push buttons. The infotainment system comes with an 8- or 10.25-inch touch screen, flanked by buttons. Beneath the central vents are physical controls for the climate system.

The base infotainment system has wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility—a convenient feature not found on the 10.25-inch system.

But the larger screen brings a navigation system with real-time traffic data, the ability to connect two phones simultaneously, and UVO telematics, which allows detailed driver profiles for electronic, seat, and mirror settings. Natural language voice recognition can respond to numerous commands, allowing you to perform many functions by speaking.

A wireless charge mat for your smartphone is available.

Speaking of connectivity, the key fob has a few convenient features available, like remote engine start with the ability to warm/cool the interior and hand-free trunk access on approach.  

What Drives It

The K5 features two turbocharged four-cylinder engines. The 1.6-liter produces 180 horsepower, and it is teamed with a new eight-speed automatic transmission. This powertrain is available on the LX, LXS, GT-Line, and EX trims.

The 2.5-liter engine churns out 290 horsepower—45 more horses than the 2.0-liter turbo in the Optima. This more potent engine is mated to an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic, a technology known for its rapid shifts that are conducive to sporty driving. This combination is good for a claimed 5.8 second 0-to-60 mph in the GT—quick for the class.

Normal, Smart, Sport, and Custom modes allow the driver to dial in the desired personality for how the engine, transmission, steering, and AWD (if so equipped) respond. The GT adds a Sport+ mode for added excitement.

The K5 is ostensibly a front-drive sedan, although all-wheel drive will become available on the LXS and GT-Line trims in late 2020.

So far, there is no mention of a hybrid powertrain. 

Safety and Driver Assist Systems

The K5 features the Kia “Drive Wise” roster of advanced driver assist systems, including forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane keeping assistance, and driver attention monitor. The standard rear seat reminder can alert the driver to check the back seat when the driver door is opened after a rear passenger door has been opened and closed, signaling that there is the potential that a child or pet may have been left unattended.

Notable available features include blind spot warning, rear cross traffic warning, rear automatic braking, and parking obstruction warning,

The available navigation system can work with the cruise control to lower the car’s speed ahead of a curve and react to changes in speed limits. And the available Safe Exit Assist can alert to approaching traffic when a door is being open.  

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