Christopher Little

Fresh: 2021 Kia K5 GT-Line

It might seem odd to launch an all-new sedan in 2021. But like only a handful of other automakers, that’s what Kia has done. The 2021 Kia K5 fills the void left by the Optima with a very Optima-sized sedan with a less-than-optimal name. But don’t let the bland name fool you, the K5 delivers an intriguing and modern sedan experience. Our week with the Kia proves that there’s still a compelling reason to buy a midsize sedan.

Unique lighting signatures front and rear accent the K5’s sharp and simple design. The GT-Line trim, like our tester, features uniquely styled front and rear bumpers, a unique mesh front grille, dual chrome exhaust tips, and 18″ wheels with a black accents. In Wolf Gray, it’s a stylish sedan. Kia’s designers put enormous effort into hiding the fastback silhouette from all but the side profile. The signature brightwork that wraps around the greenhouse continues down the c-pillar and wraps around onto trunk lid. A large gloss-black panel between the trim and the rear window glass helps to disguise the trunk lid’s true size. The visual trickery also has interior benefits. Despite what you might think from the outside, the rear headroom and reward visibility of the K5 are quite good. Open the trunk, and you’ll also be shocked at how much room there is. These are the unseen benefits of the K5’s design.

The K5’s interior also feels fresh and new. Moving beyond the era of tacked-on screens, the K5’s wide 10.25″ touchscreen is nicely integrated into the dash line astern of the driver’s cluster. It’s also angled slightly so that it wraps toward the driver, making it easier to reach and reducing glare for the driver. And despite its size and capabilities, there’s still a satisfying amount of real buttons, knobs, and switches for the HVAC and drive modes. The optional two-tone red and black leather interior with a flat-bottomed steering wheel are unique to the GT-Line and add some color and character to the interior. We did find the seat bottoms a bit flat and the bolsters a bit underwhelming for the sportier option, however. But sitting behind the wheel, the cabin is bright, thanks to the large greenhouse and optional panoramic roof, and quiet thanks to the acoustic laminated windshield and use of sound deadening materials. When it comes to technology, we expect Kia to be near the top and the K5 does not disappoint. From a driver assistance perspective, lane keep assist with active steer, forward collision-avoidance assist with cyclist detection and junction turning, and smart cruse control with stop and go capability are all included as part of the GT-Line Premium Package. That package also adds wireless phone charging in one of the most innovating phone storage solution’s we’ve experienced. A recess just in front of the center console is wide and deep enough for even the largest phone. And Kia’s first deployment of wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto mean you don’t need a cable to charge or connect to the car. Interestingly, our tester didn’t come with heated seats, an option we missed in the cold December testing.

Unfortunately for us, the K5’s “GT-Line” trim is merely a visual package, adding sporty cues inside and out without touching the drivetrain. That means this K5 makes due with a 1.6L turbocharged engine producing 180 horsepower and 195 lb-ft torque paired to an 8-speed automatic transmission. Power is adequate, but the economy-minded transmission tuning does keep the engine out of the boost range as much as possible. Dialing the drive mode to Sport does improve things a bit, but the exaggerated throttle sensitivity that comes with it will leave you spinning the front tires as you leave your neighborhood. There’s also no paddles to change gears for yourself, leaving the gear lever as your only option. But for the non-sporty K5, the drivetrain is quiet and efficient, returning 29mpg city and 38mpg highway. An all-wheel-drive model is also available. But if performance is what you’re looking for, the K5 GT arrives in late 2021 with a 2.5L turbocharged four-cylinder making 290 horsepower and 311 lb-ft torque. With an 8-speed dual-clutch transmission, Kia promises a sub-6 second 0-60 time. We can’t wait to get our hands on one when the weather gets warmer.

Kia’s fresh approach on the midsize sedan uses attractive styling to disguise a roomy and quiet interior.The K5 feels fresh both inside and out, and Kia continues to lead the industry in affordable and easy-to-use technology. Wireless Android Auto and Apple Car Play are also a real standout here. Without the fuss of cables and compartments, the phone goes into the charging cradle and runs the show. It’s the simple and easy solution that is also, ultimately, the safest. When integration is this good, there’s no need to have your phone in-hand. We look forward to the “full” K5 GT later this year, but mid-size sedan buyers won’t feel slighted with any trim of the 2021 Kia K5.

-Christopher Little

2021 Kia K5 GT-Line$25,390
Wolf Gray$445
GT-Line Premium Package$1,600
Destination Charges$965
As-Tested MSRP$28,400

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