2021 Kia K-5 Mid-Size Sedan Replaces Kia Optima

by Tom Crosby
red kia k5 sedan in front of trees

Kia completely redid its now-discontinued Kia Optima mid-size sedan for 2021, renaming it the K5 and showcasing a profile differing dramatically from competitors’ homogeneous look.

2021 K5 GT-LINE FWD Review

The sedan market has been shrinking, and the K5 faces stiff competition from Toyota Camry and Honda Accord – top mainstays in this market segment – but K5 costs $1,400 less than either for the base trim.

Our test drive Passion Red Kia K5 GT-Line front-wheel-drive (AWD is an option) featured a grille resembling a snarling tiger with distinctive, narrow LED headlights underneath zigzag turn signals. (Trims are LX, LXS, GT-Line, EX and GT.)

A sharply raked windshield and sloping rear roof produced a sporty, fastback look with glossy black rear spoiler and trapezoidal chrome dual exhausts that hint at muscle power. Chrome roams continuously in a U-shape over side and rear windows with black trim underneath.

Sport Alloy 18-inch black wheels wear Pirelli P-Zero all-season tires interacting with the MacPherson front strut and rear independent multi-link suspension for excellent handling and ride over rough pavement and while hugging curves.

The 1.6-liter turbo 4-cyclinder engine operated flawlessly with smoothly shifting 8-speed automatic transmission in four sport modes – Smart, Normal, Sport and Custom.

Sport holds rpms longer and tightens steering feel.

Kia’s Drivewise standard safety technology suite and our $1,600 GT-Line FWD premium package, including dynamic cruise control, forward collision avoidance/assist for cyclists and turning, provided a panoply of safe driving aids.

Kia shares it new N3 platform with Hyundai and it is longer, lower, wider and more solidly built than the Optima. It should earn top crash safety scores when tested.

Inside, the ergonomically designed cabin conquers noise. Soft leatherette bolstered seats pamper front occupants under a panoramic sunroof with sunshade. Rear seats are very comfortable for those less than six feet tall and have USB charger ports.

Textured plastic, faux wood trim and brushed aluminum augment a dual-level dash to provide a warm and modern vibe.

Storage areas are generously sized and the graphically clear 8-inch infotainment touchscreen is easily manipulated with surrounding buttons and knobs.

Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard and used for navigation with a smartphone that can access the K5’s owner’s manual. A phone charger sits in a center spine tray.

Visors fully extend and when standing behind the car, the trunk opens automatically to reveal a nicely sized cargo area above a compact spare tire.

At a Glance

LIKES: Looks, price, standard features, handling, ride, cabin
DISLIKES: Rear seat height limit, mild tire thrum at higher speeds.
BOTTOM LINE: Wallet-friendly and emerging competitor in diminishing mid-size sedan market

Fact File: 2021 K5 GT-LINE FWD

Base price w/destination fee
Curb weight
EPA Rating
$26,335 (as tested $28,400)
3,228 lbs.
112.2 inches
193.1 inches
73.2 inches
1.6-liter, I-4, DOHC, turbocharged
180-hp at 5,500 rpm
195 ft.-lbs. at 1.500 rpm
8-speed automatic
27 mpg city/37 mpg hwy
14.8-gallon tank, regular
0 to 60 in 6.9 seconds

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Tom Crosby has written more than 1,000 automotive reviews and is a retired Vice President of Communications for AAA Carolinas. He has seen dramatic changes in the automotive industry over the past 25 years and ponders the advent of self-driving vehicles, electric-only vehicles, sophisticated in-car telematics and the financial challenges facing automotive manufacturers in an increasingly congested world-wide market.

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