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Verdict

8.8 / 10

Design | Comfort | Technology | Performance | Safety | Fuel Economy | Pricing

Kia is no stranger to distinctive design. Ever since the 2011 Optima, the automaker has instilled every one of its vehicles with unique, aggressive visuals that set them apart from their competition, including mechanically related Hyundai cousins. The new-for-2021 K5 may replace the Optima in name, but it carries on its predecessor’s knack for sharp styling and competent mid-size sedan credentials.

That’s all the more true of the GT-Line trim, which includes much of the design flair of the sporty K5 GT, though with the base car’s 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder instead of the hot 2.5-liter mill of the flagship. With all the beauty of its sibling but far less athletic talent, the K5 GT-Line is a reverse Q-ship that people may think is faster than it actually is. But folks seeking sharp good looks, practicality, and a reasonable price will still appreciate much about the 2021 Kia K5 GT-Line, especially if all-wheel drive is a priority – it’s available on the less powerful car only.

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Quick Stats 2021 Kia K5 GT-Line
Engine Turbocharged 1.6-Liter Inline-Four
Output 180 Horsepower / 195 Pound-Feet
Fuel Economy 28 Combined
Base Price $27,690
As-Tested Price $31,280

Design

8/10
  • Exterior Color: Wolf Gray
  • Interior Color: GT-Line Red
  • Wheel Size: 18 Inches

The 2021 Kia K5 sets itself apart from competitors like the Toyota Camry and Nissan Altima with a low-slung, fastback design, the roofline comprising one long arc from the windshield to the decklid. One surprising element is a piece of gloss black plastic on the trunk that makes the rear glass look much larger than it is, although that just makes me wish Kia made the mid-size four-door a hatchback if that’s the look it was going for.

Otherwise, it’s hard to fault the K5’s exterior, with Kia-signature amber daytime running lights up front rendered in a pointy design, a forward-leaning grille, and dotted-line LED taillights on my GT-Line tester (the lower LX and LX-S trims get incandescent tails). The sporty package also includes gloss black accents on the side mirrors and rear spoiler, more aggressive front and rear bumpers, and machined 18-inch wheels with black accents. Even in this example’s Wolf Gray (wannabe-Nardo) paint, the Kia K5 stands out from the crowd.

I had no complaints about the interior color Kia chose for this particular K5 GT-Line. The red Syn-Tex faux leather seat upholstery is a bold option in the mid-size sedan segment, and it looks and feels very nice. If vegan materials continue to look and feel this good, traditional leather probably doesn’t have much of a future in car interiors. The rest of the interior is respectably finished with only a few hard plastics down low, and I like the unusual “tailfins” on the door panel switch panels. Other funky styling choices include a cylindrical handle for the traditional PRND gear selector and “GT-Line” embroidery on the seats.

Comfort

7/10
  • Seating Capacity: 5
  • Seating Configuration: 2 / 3
  • Cargo Capacity: 16.0 Cubic Feet

The 2021 Kia K5 GT-Line is reasonably comfortable in most driving situations. The small-displacement engine makes a few thrashing noises on full throttle, and the wide tires produce a fair amount of roar over bad pavement. But the ride is smooth even on moderately pockmarked roads, and while the sonic intrusions are noticeable, they’re not terribly annoying.

The front seats are well-shaped for long-distance driving, with 10-way power adjustments for the driver and 6-way power for the passenger. The rear bench is similarly supportive, though tall passengers may find their scalps brushing the sloped roofline just a bit. And there’s a slight lack of rear knee room in the Kia K5 that Honda Accord refugees will definitely notice.

The K5 has 38.4 inches of headroom up front, about the same as the Toyota Camry, though the Honda Accord and Nissan Altima offer more at 39.4 and 39.3 inches respectively. In back, the K5 has 37.4 inches of headroom, up 0.5 inches on the Altima and 0.1-inch on the Accord and down 0.2 inches on the Camry. But while the 46.1 inches of front legroom is best of this bunch by at least 2 inches, rear passengers must make do with just 35.2 inches – down on the Accord by 5.2 ticks of the tape. A 16.0-foot trunk helps matters, as it’s among the largest in this class.

Technology & Connectivity

7/10
  • Center Display: 10.3-inch Touchscreen
  • Instrument Cluster Display: 4.2-inch
  • Wireless Apple CarPlay or Android Auto: No

The Kia K5 GT-Line is a reassuring mix of technology and old-school user friendliness, starting with the gauge cluster. While the performance-oriented K5 GT gets a fully digital dash, the GT-Line’s quartet of analog gauges is easy to read, with a 4.2-inch information display keeping an eye on active safety functions, fuel economy, and vehicle warnings. The pixel-addicted might wish for the full digital display’s reconfigurable appearance, but functionally, you don’t miss much by going analog here.

The 10.3-inch center display is much more au courant, and it’s a cinch to navigate. Hyundai, Kia, and Genesis have some of the best infotainment software in the industry, and the K5’s system is easy to operate while on the run. The wireless charging pad is cleverly located in a vertical slot near the center armrest, keeping devices out of the way. Unfortunately, the mid-size four-door lacks wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, requiring a USB-A cord for smartphone mirroring. If you don’t have one of those (most new phones come with USB-C cords now), Kia’s decent built-in navigation is an adequate consolation prize.

Performance & Handling

6/10
  • Engine: Turbocharged 1.6-Liter Inline-Four
  • Output: 180 Horsepower / 195 Pound-Feet
  • Transmission: Eight-Speed Automatic

As mentioned before, the GT-Line takes some of its design inspiration from the faster, sportier GT, but it keeps the base K5’s powertrain to keep prices (and pulses) low. Kia gets full snaps for making a puny 1.6-liter feel as stout as this engine does, with more than enough power down low for unprotected left turns and quick freeway merges. And the sedan offers all-wheel drive, something that can’t be said of the Honda Accord or Hyundai Sonata. Otherwise, nothing about the K5 GT-Line encourages apex-clipping or trail-braking.

The dampers do an adequate job of controlling body motions and there’s a safe margin of grip for most normal driving duties. The brakes can rein things in nicely, too. But the steering is aloof, the tires begin to howl too early for covert ops, and the direct-injected clatter underhood won’t inspire any performance epiphanies. The K5 GT-Line is a competent mid-size sedan dressed up in a sporty wrapper – no more, no less.

Safety

7/10
  • Driver Assistance Level: SAE Level 2 (Hands-On)
  • NHTSA Rating: 5 Stars
  • IIHS Rating: Top Safety Pick+

With standard LED headlights with automatic high beams, automatic emergency braking, and lane-departure prevention, even the base the Kia K5 has most of the big-ticket active safety features built right in. The GT-Line also gets blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic assistance, and safe exit warning. However, adaptive cruise control requires the GT-Line AWD Premium Package, a $1,900 bundle that also includes projector-style headlights, a panoramic moonroof, a heated steering wheel, and navigation-linked Highway Driving Assist (HDA).

Although it’s a bummer to have to spend more to get that feature – the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry have adaptive cruise standard – I defeintely think it’s worth the added cost after spending a few days on the highway in my K5. Kia’s adaptive cruise control and HDA are among the best Level 2 driver-assistance systems on the market, with smooth braking and acceleration inputs and impressive lane centering to keep the K5 an adequate distance away from surrounding traffic.

If the worst happens, the Kia K5 is well-suited to protect its occupants, with a Good score on every IIHS crash test and a five-star rating from the federal government.

Fuel Economy

6/10
  • City: 25 MPG
  • Highway: 32 MPG
  • Combined: 28 MPG

The all-wheel-drive Kia K5 GT-Line gets an EPA rating of 25 miles per gallon in the city, 32 highway, and 28 combined. That’s down a lot from the front-drive model’s 27 city, 37 highway, and 31 combined, but it compares well to other all-wheel-drive competitors. The Toyota Camry XSE AWD achieves 28 mpg combined, while the Nissan Altima SR AWD is a shade better at 29 combined. The front-drive-only Honda Accord Sport 1.5T pegs 29 city, 35 highway, and 32 combined mpg in EPA testing. All of the above take regular fuel. In my week of mixed driving, I saw an indicated 27 mpg – not bad for traffic-clogged Los Angeles.

Pricing

7/10
  • Base Price: $23,790
  • Trim Base Price: $27,690
  • As-Tested Price: $31,280

Gone are the days when a Kia was guaranteed to be the cheapest vehicle in its class. Still, the Kia K5 GT-Line AWD is a good value. With a starting price of $28,685 (including $995 destination), my tester included that $445 Wolf Gray paint, the aforementioned premium package, a cargo mat, and carpeted floor mats for a total price of $31,280. That’s a fair amount of sedan for the money. My ideal K5 GT-Line would probably wear the no-cost Sapphire Blue paint, dropping the price to $30,835.

Equipped with an optional heated steering wheel and panoramic sunroof, a Toyota Camry XSE AWD demands $34,955 – though it does include genuine leather upholstery. Optioned similarly to my K5, a Subaru Legacy Sport is a $30,265 proposition, while the Nissan Altima SR AWD is $30,520.

Of course, none of those alternatives have I-wanna-be-a-Stinger styling or Kia’s impressively integrated driver-assist technology. And while I would personally find it in the budget to get the more powerful, more involving K5 GT and its attendant 291 horses, folks who either need more all-weather capability or better fuel economy can still look the part of the sport sedan while enjoying the good value of the K5 GT-Line.

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FAQs:


What Is The Kia K5?

The Kia K5 is the new generation of Kia’s midsize sedan, replacing the Optima. Although it has similar four-door, fastback styling as its predecessor, the K5 is an all-new vehicle that uses the company’s global name for its mid-size sedan.


Is The Kia K5 A Good Value?

Starting at $23,790 plus $995 destination, the Kia K5 is one of the least expensive entries in the mid-size sedan segment. We drove the K5 GT-Line, which includes sporty styling elements like a bolder body kit, gloss black accents, and larger alloy wheels.


Can You Get All-Wheel Drive On The Kia K5?

Yes. Although the base-model K5 LX is front-wheel-drive only, all-wheel drive is an $1,800 option the mid-level LXS and a $1,600 option the stylish GT-Line. Curiously, the luxurious K5 EX and flagship K5 GT are front-drive only.


How Fast Is The Kia K5 GT-Line?

With a turbocharged 1.6-liter inline-four under the hood, the Kia K5 GT-Line has 180 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. It’s not nearly as sporty as the 2.5-liter K5 GT, but the GT-Line is still quick enough to keep up with modern traffic. Its eight-speed automatic transmission is sportier and more responsive than the CVT found in some competitors.


Gallery: 2021 Kia K5 GT-Line Review

2021 Kia K5 GT-Line AWD

Engine Turbocharged 1.6-Liter I4
Output 180 Horsepower / 195 Pound-Feet
Transmission Eight-Speed Automatic
Drive Type All-Wheel Drive
Weight 3,465 Pounds
Efficiency 25 City / 32 Highway / 28 Combined
Seating Capacity 5
Cargo Volume 16.0 Cubic Feet
Base Price $23,790 + $995 Destination
Trim Base Price $27,690
As-Tested Price $31,280
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