The 2021 Kia K5 mid-size sedan is here, officially putting the Optima name to rest in the US market. Adopting a badge used in the global market for years, the K5 not only gets a new moniker, but a whole raft of new-to-Kia technologies, including an all-turbo powertrain lineup, available all-wheel drive, and an optional eight-speed dual-clutch transmission.

Those features help the 2021 Kia K5 distinguish itself from the closely related Hyundai Sonata, giving it a more aggressive mien than its gracefully modern corporate cousin. Whether the alterations made for 2021 justify a name change is the subject of much debate, but it’s hard to ignore the K5’s newfound presence.

Tiger Shark

Styling-wise, the K5 shares little with the Optima it replaces. A wider iteration of the brand’s signature “tiger nose” grille dovetails deeper into the headlights, and a bold lower air intake in the bumper gives the front end a slightly glowering sneer that we like. The leading edge of the hood is contoured to fit the grille, a surprising detail in an era when many midsize sedans have an unattractive panel gap between the front fascia and the hood. New LED daytime running lights have a “heart beat” pattern that will spread to other Kias in the future, and the forward cant of the headlights reminds us very strongly of the 1999 Mitsubishi Galant – no bad thing given that sedan’s crisp styling.

The pointed front end gives way to an upward-sloping hood, with a strong shoulder line generating from the front wheel arch and continuing all the way to the taillights. A rising character line along the rocker panels is rather crisp, and the Optima’s unusual chrome strip along the roofline carries over to the 2021 K5 – which boasts a much more aggressive fastback profile than ever. A profile largely free of extraneous body surfacing and the edgy front end give the mid-size Kia a vaguely sharklike appearance, no bad thing for style-conscious consumers.

2021 Kia K5 (US)
2021 Kia K5 (US)
2021 Kia K5 (US)

The rear end isn’t as well-composed as the front, with LED dashes cluttering the full-width taillight panel and an obviously fake pair of air extractors on the rear bumper corners. However, the aforementioned chrome roofline trim wraps underneath and around the rear window glass, a feature that we think is daring and attractive. We do wonder, however, if the fastback styling will pinch the trunk opening too much. The sacrifices one must make for style.

Wheel options will include 16-, 18-, and 19-inch alloys, the former likely earmarked for the base K5 LX and the latter two offered on the LXS, GT-Line, EX, and GT. Steel wheels have been relegated to the scrap heap, which might help win over some base-model shoppers (the 2020 Toyota Camry LE and Nissan Altima S get 16-inch steelies, for example).

Power To Spare

The 2021 Kia K5 features an all-turbocharged engine lineup that starts with a base 1.6-liter inline-four with 180 horsepower (134 kilowatts) and 195 pound-feet (264 newton-meters) – the Sonata’s optional-upgrade powerplant. Mated to an eight-speed automatic gearbox, the 1.6T will be standard on all trims but the late-availability GT, giving the majority of the K5 lineup nippy (but not overtly exciting) performance.

Gallery: 2021 Kia K5 (US)

Those who demand more sport from their midsize sedans would do well to wait for that aforementioned GT, which will come standard with a turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. With 290 hp (216 kW) and 311 lb-ft (422 Nm), the GT should be substantially more exciting to drive than its siblings, more so given its Kia-first eight-speed dual-wet-clutch transmission. Developed in-house, the DCT should offer a lot more driving verve than is common in the mid-size sedan market. Kia estimates a 0-60 time of just 5.8 seconds, not far off from the Stinger GT.

The 2021 K5 will also be the first front-drive–biased Kia sedan to get all-wheel drive. Available in late-2020, the system will be offered on the LXS and GT-Line, boasting electro-hydraulic operation and a driving mode specifically tailored for snow. Kia didn’t mention if the powerful K5 GT would get four driven wheels, but we’d hope so given its sporting predilections. Also unknown is the status of a K5 Hybrid variant – we'd expect one given how much we enjoyed our week in a Sonata Hybrid

Behind The Wheel

The new K5’s interior looks as sporty as its exterior, thanks in part to the flat-bottomed steering wheel on the GT-Line and GT trims. Contributing to the energetic feel of the new cockpit is a large, conventional gear selector that Kia says was inspired by aircraft controls, and the infotainment screen dovetails neatly into the instrument binnacle for a driver-centric layout. The company also promises unusual styling features like available red leatherette, satin-finish metallic trim, contrast stitching, and “wood-like” accents on the dashboard (depending on trim level). At least Kia is honest about that latter feature not being genuine.

2021 Kia K5

Interior features include a standard 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system, with a 10.3-inch unit optional. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto also come standard, although surprisingly, only wired smartphone mirroring is available with the larger infotainment package. The Kia Drive Wise safety suite is standard on the K5, bundling forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-keep assistance, and driver-attention warning. Optional driver-assistance features include blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, navigation-based adaptive cruise control, and lane centering assistance.

Spacing Out

Based on an all-new “N3” platform that, as already mentioned, underpins the Sonata, the 2021 Kia K5 is longer, lower, and wider than its predecessor. Exterior dimensions have grown incrementally over the outgoing Optima. At 193.1 inches (4,905 millimeters), overall length is up 2.3 inches, with width up 2 inches to 73.2 (1,859 mm). The roof has been chopped by 0.8-inch to 56.9 (1,445 mm), and the 112.2-inch (2,850-mm) wheelbase is 1.8 inches longer.

2021 Kia K5 (US)
2021 Kia K5 (US)

Those dimensions are very close to the 2020 Sonata, which has a relatively spacious interior – we wish there were more legroom for rear passengers. Hopefully the K5’s slightly longer wheelbase helps out here.

The new platform also yields dividends in handling, strength, and rigidity. A lower center of gravity and revised suspension geometry should improve roadholding, likewise an increased average tensile strength for the steel used in the structure. Additional hot-stamped parts help provide rigidity without adding weight, paying off in noise and ride comfort, handling, and safety. Speaking of noise, every K5 will come standard with an acoustic-laminated windshield.

On-Schedule Arrival

The 2021 Kia K5 will go on sale this summer in LX, LXS, GT-Line, and EX forms, with the full-blown GT model coming in the fall. Pricing is still in question, though we wouldn’t expect it to start at much more than either the 2020 Optima or the new Sonata – plan on paying about $24,500 for an LX. The GT, however, could cost quite a bit more than any Kia mid-sizer ever has, perhaps slotting in higher than even the base-model Stinger GT Line ($33,090).

Whatever it costs, we expect the K5 to still offer lots of style and features for the money, cashing in on both Kia’s history as a budget offering and its hopeful future as a sportier Korean alternative to other brands.

Got a tip for us? Email: