Review: The $31,000 Kia K5 sedan is everything you want it to be — young, fun, and easy on your wallet

·6 min read
A blue Kia K5.
The Kia K5.Alanis King
  • The 2021 K5 is Kia's replacement for the Optima, which was discontinued after the 2020 model year.

  • The 290-horsepower K5 GT is the new car's sportiest trim — and the one we tested out for a week.

  • The K5 looks a little too youthful at first, but quickly reminds you that youth isn't a bad thing.

Upon first glance, the 2021 Kia K5 looks a little juvenile. Its angular front headlights, which split on the outer edges like forks in a road, feel busy, and its faux-futuristic rear styling looks like it has a 50-50 chance of aging well.

But then you study the K5 a bit longer and realize that just because you're old and boring doesn't mean being young and busy is a bad thing.

Out with the Kia Optima, in with the K5

When the Kia Optima midsize sedan died after the 2020 model year, the new K5 took its place. While the Optima looked like an everyday commuter car, the K5 brought some fun.

A blue Kia K5.
The Kia K5.Alanis King

The K5 starts at $23,790 for the 2022 model year. Every trim except the top-line GT, which starts at about $31,000, has a 180-horsepower engine and an eight-speed automatic transmission. The GT jumps to 290 horsepower, paired with a sportier dual-clutch automatic.

The trims are as follows:

  • K5 LX ($23,790): front-wheel drive; includes high-beam assist, 16-inch alloy wheels, an eight-inch touchscreen, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, voice recognition, a six-speaker audio system, manually adjustable front seats, a driver-attention warning, lane-keeping assist, lane-following assist, and other features

  • K5 LXS FWD ($24,790): front-wheel drive; adds a smart key, rear blind-spot collision-avoidance assistance, rear cross-traffic collision-avoidance assistance, and other features

  • K5 LXS AWD ($26,590): all-wheel drive; adds 18-inch alloy wheels, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, "snow mode" for driving, and other features

  • K5 GT-Line FWD ($26,190): front-wheel drive; adds a 10.25-inch touchscreen, navigation, a wireless phone charger, a power-adjustable driver's seat, and other features; removes snow mode

  • K5 GT-Line AWD ($27,790): all-wheel drive; adds heated front seats and snow mode

  • K5 EX ($28,690): front-wheel drive; adds rear air-conditioning vents, LED interior lighting, wood graphics for accent trim, ventilated front seats, and other features; removes snow mode

  • K5 GT ($31,190): front-wheel drive; adds 19-inch alloy wheels, sport styling, and other features; removes ventilated front seats and wood graphics for accent trim

We had a K5 GT for the week, meaning driving dynamics for our loaner — power included — will be a lot different from other K5 models. If you're interested in one of those, go drive it first.

The Kia K5 GT.
The 2022 Kia K5 GT.Kia

The 2021 K5 got top crash ratings in every category from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety. Many car models receive different headlight ratings depending on their trim, though, and that's also the case with the K5.

A rear view of a blue Kia K5 at sunset.
The Kia K5.Kia

If you buy the GT or GT-Line trim with certain packages, your headlights will have received the IIHS' top safety rating. Every other K5 model received its second-highest headlight rating, and the IIHS said it took points away because visibility was inadequate in some tests. You can read more here.

What stands out: styling and comfort

The K5 GT's blue paint and panoramic roof are gorgeous. Its black interior and red stitching don't just feel sporty — they blanket you as soon as you step in the car.

When you're in the K5 GT, its styling makes you feel like you belong.

A blue Kia K5.
The Kia K5.Alanis King

The interior also feels high quality, especially for $32,000. That's due to the deliberate color choices, as well as a massive panoramic sunroof stretching above both the front and back passengers.

The K5 GT is comfortable for driving long distances, it has adequate horsepower, there's not a ton of road or wind noise, it gets impressive gas mileage, and the 290-horsepower engine is quiet until you put your foot on the gas. Then, the car's actuated sound — basically, an augmented engine roar to make cars feel more powerful than they are — kicks in.

A blue Kia K5.
The Kia K5.Alanis King

The actuated engine sound isn't obnoxiously loud, and when I put the gas pedal to the floor, it blended with the car's otherwise quiet drive to give me just the right amount of manufactured joy. I loved it.

What falls short: interior materials and tech features

Most of the K5 GT's flaws come on the inside.

A blue Kia K5.
The Kia K5.Alanis King

There's too much piano-black trim, for one, which is a plague most modern cars experience. Piano black attracts grease and dust like no other material on Earth, and it always leaves your car feeling disgusting.

The Kia K5's wireless charger in the center console.
The Kia K5's wireless charger.Kia

Wireless chargers are another thing most automakers have yet to figure out, and the K5 suffers from that as well.

In the K5 GT, the charging pad sits in front of the center console. But the phone doesn't sit flat with the screen up — half of the phone disappears into a slender little hole, making it hard to access and hard to see. It's not a great setup.

A blue Kia K5.
The Kia K5.Alanis King

Learning to work the K5's infotainment screen isn't easy, but you'll get used to it. There aren't any climate controls for rear-seat passengers, but they have access to vents and USB ports.

The rear seat is also cheaper, materials-wise. While the door panels in the front seats of the K5 GT are thick and dull, giving off a higher-end feel, the materials in the back are shinier and thinner.

A blue Kia K5.
The Kia K5.Alanis King

Having cheaper and sturdier materials in the back seat of a car can be great if kids are back there. Otherwise, it's just an unfortunate change in tempo from the higher-end front seats.

Our impressions: great value, great car

The K5 GT is a fresh take on Kia's midsize sedan segment, offering a new name and new looks for buyers who might not have gone for the old Optima. It's also a steal, price-wise: at $31,190, the K5 GT costs $16,000 less than the average new car.

A blue Kia K5.
The Kia K5.Alanis King

But the K5 isn't just an Optima replacement. It's a reminder that busy, youthful-looking cars aren't something to be scared of.

They're something to embrace — and the K5 will embrace your budget right back.

Read the original article on Business Insider