My Thoughts Exactly: 2021 Kia K5

For over a decade, I was driving the mid-sized offering from Kia that was once called the Optima. The first was a badge-engineered version of the Hyundai Sonata. Then, came the segment-busting, advanced designed version that simply blew my mind – even at its lowest trim. 

That was ten years ago, when I rented a 2011 Optima – in white – with a dashboard that reminded me of a Saab, body trim that reminded me of a Jaguar, and several detailing pointing a few Audis. All of this, in a Kia!

Of course, things change. So is Kia. They just introduced a new marketing and brand strategy that is future-forward and relevant. That is reflected on their latest offerings that have debuted since the Seltos SUV

The biggest change is in their mid-sized family sedan offering. You will see it on. The decklid of the car. Just when you’re about to call it the new-generation Optima, you will be corrected. 

This is the new 2021 Kia K5.

K5? 

Yes, K5. Kia decided to give the Optima an all-new nomenclature. Actually, they have used this one before in a few markets – including their home market in the Republic of Korea. 

You to admit that you were surprised when Kia decided to switch up the name for our market. I know I was. However, there is more to the name. This is an all-new sedan designed to fill in for the Optima – and more.

It all starts with a fresh design that mixed some of the good qualities of the last two generations of the Optima and pushes the envelope further. The three-dimensional details – such as the grille and the trunk lid – simply pop right at you. The new four-bulb LED headlamp units augment this three-dimensional grille with a “zig-zag” design on the turn signals/daytime driving lights. 

Flip around the rear and you notice that the fastback-like roofline melds into the trunk lid. There is a bit of an optical illusion where you follow the chrome strip from each side of the roof and watch it swing around the apex of the roofline. The rear glass only goes half-way and gives way to a black applique crowning the aft part of the trunk lid. That’s a clever design trick. 

The rear deck finishes with a taillamp unit that runs the entire length of the K5. LED lights dot the center part of this taillight cluster. On this beautiful blue K5 EX tester, 18-inch alloy wheels wearing Pirelli P Zero all season tires finish up the exterior look. 

The advanced design theme continues inside with another three-dimensional style to the dashboard. There is a "wood" applique running across the fascia, creating a small "shelf" on the passenger side. Add high quality plastics and surfaces, along with some satin chrome, and you get a nicely executed front seat atmosphere.

The instrumentation is analog with a center TFT screen for vital information. The steering wheel is new with the latest variations of Kia’s switches and controls. Below the upgraded 10.25-inch infotainment screen is the climate control system and a well-designed center console. Thankfully, Kia installed a T-bar shifter for the transmission. This is among the many nice touches I enjoyed in this K5 EX. 

About that 10.25-inch infotainment screen, it may look like a stand-alone tablet. It is actually attached to the instrumentation binnacle. A solid piece of interior design, I might add. If you turn on the radio, you will be entertained by a set of tubes reading each digit of the frequency or channel for SiriusXM. The numbers themselves are in neon. In fact, you find this neon theme on some of the screens in this K5. Bose provided 12 speakers of their Premium sound system to the K5 EX. This available sound system is tied into the upgraded larger screen and wireless phone charging system. 

The leatherette seating was on the firm side up front. You do have power adjustments for rake, recline, height, and lumbar support to help get into a comfortable and competent seating position behind the wheel. Rear seat room was fine, but I seemed to have reached its limits. I had enough leg room when sitting behind myself and just a hair of headroom. If I had the seat more forward, I would have some more leg space. 

The trunk space came in at 16.0 cubic feet underneath its “two-tone” decklid. It is a large enough space for lengthy journeys. The rear seatbacks fold down for longer items. 

My EX tester is powered by a 180-horsepower 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. It packs quite some power. Combine this engine with an eight-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel-drive, and you have a solid driveline that likes to move. Passing on the highway is absolutely no problem with this driveline. The word that came to mind about my K5 EX tester was “athletic.” 

While it was athletic, it was also very efficient. I averaged 32.0 MPG in this K5 in my care. 

As for driving dynamics, the K5 is really good! Ride quality is smooth and absorbent. This suspension got a workout when having to negotiate some rougher stretches of highway and an iced up alleyway behind my home. Still, you can relax when the K5 get out on some smooth tarmac and gobbles up the miles. 

Is there an object on the road? The K5 can get around it without any drama. The cornering is near flat and precise. You can also experience a great steering rack that is perfectly boosted electrically. On-center feel is fine, but response on the road is very nice. The K5 offers a tight turning radius for a vehicle in its class. 

The braking system returned a very sharp response from the pedal. Pedal feel is on point and solid. The K5 stopped very well in normal, panic, and winter conditions. 

This K5 EX tester came with a sticker price of $32,355. This puts it in the upper middle of the family mid-sized sedan class. However, I felt that this sedan was missing something for its price. Well, a few things…

First, the K5 now has available all-wheel-drive. It is not available on the EX model, which is its top trim equipped with the 1.6-liter turbo engine. You can get the addition of four-wheel traction in the LXS and GT-Line to this engine for slightly less money. Plus, I wished it had wireless smartphone integration and a USB-C port. Now, I’m nitpicking at this point. You can see where I’m going with this…

Incidentally, pricing for the K5 lineup starts at $23,590 with the LX model. If you want more performance, check out the 290-horsepower GT model. That’s the one everyone has been talking about around Kia’s water cooler. 

While it would be desirable to have this tester equipped with the features I mentioned above, the K5 offers something we often forget in a vehicle like this – the driving experience. 

Sure, I can connect my phone through the USB port down the cubby hole on the center console, play my music through Apple CarPlay and answer important calls when I need to. However, I’d rather just drive. That is what the K5 does extremely well: Letting the driver experience how much fun driving can still be. 

Just when you think you’re about to own some other mid-sized sedan, the K5 will satisfy you on many levels. You just have to look at it and smile. That is one sharp looking sedan you can’t ignore after taking the alternate route home. 

No matter which logo the K5 will wear, it is Kia’s statement on its commitment to sedans in the face of demand for more SUVs and electrification that resonates even more. 

DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Kia Motors America

All photos by Randy Stern

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