2021 Kia K5 Is Winning Awards in Tough Market

by Tom Crosby
blue 2021 kia k5 parked in front of boulders

Kia’s K5 mid-size sedan, once called Optima, is picking up buyers and winning awards as it takes on two perennial heavyweight competitors, the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. While it offers six SUV models, Korean manufacturers Kia and sister company Hyundai still offer sedans, attractive to younger shoppers in Asian countries.

2021 Kia K5 EX Review

The 2021 Kia K5 has won Edmunds “Top Rated Sedan” award and the prestigious Good Design Award in Transportation by the Chicago Athenaeum Museum of Architecture and Design.

All K5 trims are hundreds of dollars less than similarly equipped Camrys and Accords.

We test drove the front-wheel-drive (four-wheel drive is available) Kia K5 EX, top trim above the LX, LXS, and GT-Line, with all four using a smoothly articulated 1.6-liter, four-cylinder turbocharged engine.

The highest trim is 2021 Kia’s K5 GT sporty powerhouse with a 2.5-liter 290 horsepower engine costing $2,500 more than the EX’s base price.

Our Sapphire Blue EX, armed with a single $3,400 Premium Package option upping comfort, audio, top safety features and navigation on a 10.25-inch touchscreen, validated Kia K5 plaudits.

The 8-speed automatic transmission flawlessly manipulated the engine in four drive modes – Smart, Normal, Custom and Sport, which holds rpms longer and tightens steering feel.

A new set-up using MacPherson front strut and rear independent multi-link suspension produced a rewarding and compliant ride over rough pavement and confident grip while hugging tight curves riding on 18-inch gray alloyed wheels.

A sharply raked windshield and sloping rear roof highlight a sporty, fastback look with a “tiger nose” grille and z-shaped inset lights.

Kia shares its new N3 platform with Hyundai and it is longer, lower, wider and more solidly built than the Optima. It earned top overall rating in government crash tests.

Inside, the ergonomically designed, driver-oriented cabin feels luxurious with leather trim on doors, wheel and dashboard, accented with brushed aluminum and wood-grain trim.

Soft leatherette bolstered seats are under a panoramic sunroof with sunshade. Rear seats are very comfortable for those less than six feet tall.

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

Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard and a phone charger sits in the center spine tray.

Visors fully extend, the ample cargo area contains a compact spare tire and the limited powertrain warranty covers 10 years or 100,000 miles.

At a Glance

LIKES: Looks, price, technology, handling, ride, spacious cabin, warranty
DISLIKES: Spotty voice recognition, some noise at higher speeds
BOTTOM LINE: Wallet-friendly and well-equipped emerging competitor in diminishing mid-size sedan market

Fact File: 2021 Kia K5 EX

Base price w/destination fee
Curb weight
EPA Rating
$28,955 (as tested $32,355)
3,259 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 just under 8 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 worldwide market.

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