2021 Kia K5

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Other car companies – notably, Ford and GM – have all-but-given up on cars, cancelling most of them in favor of a lineup of almost-all SUVs and crossovers. Even the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord -for decades hot-sellers – aren’t selling as well as they used to.

Kia just launched a brand-new sedan, the 2021 K5.

That took some guts.

Its success – or not – will be an interesting way to test whether the reason GM and Ford dropped their sedans (and why the Camry and Accord aren’t doing well) has to do with lack of interest in these sedans.

Or lack of interest in sedans – generally.

What It Is

Though it sounds like the name of the latest Russian submarine – possibly the star of the sequel to The Hunt for Red October – the K5 is Kia’s newest and largest sedan. It replaces the Optima – and in more than just name.

It is a larger, roomier and closer-to-being-a-luxury car that’s also available with a much more powerful engine.

But for not much more money.

The 2021 K5’s base price – $23,490 –  is only $100 higher than the base price of the outgoing 2020 Optima. And the Optima wasn’t available with all-wheel-drive and didn’t offer a 290 horsepower engine, either.

Which you can get for less in a new K5.

A top-of-the-line ’21 K5 GT (with the 290 hp engine) stickers for $30,490 – $1,700 less than the price of a top-of-the-line 2020  Optima SX ($32,190) which came with a 245 horsepower engine.

You can also get an AWD-equipped K5 LXS for $26,590 – $600 less than the MSRP of a mid-trim and FWD-only 2020 Optima EX ($27,190).

That might just pique some interest in this sedan.

What’s New

The K5 is a brand-new model for Kia.

What’s Good

More car – and engine – for less money.

NBA forward front seat legroom (46.1 inches).

Available 10.25 inch LCD touchscreen looks Mercedes, costs Kia.    

What’s Not So Good

11 inches less legroom in the back seats (35.2 inches).

Available 290 horsepower engine isn’t available with AWD.

Though trunk is large for a sedan (16 cubic feet) it’s still a small space compared with what a same-sized crossover can carry in its cargo space.

Under The Hood

2021 K5 GT

Like the outgoing Optima, the K5 is available with either of two four cylinder engines.

Unlike the outgoing Optima, the K5’s standard engine is smaller – 1.6 liters vs. 2.4 liters – but turbocharged to make up for it.

More finely, to make about the same horsepower – 180 vs. 184 for the Optima’s 2.4 liter engine – and a lot more torque – 195 ft.-lbs. at 1,500 RPM vs. 178 ft.-lbs. at 4000 RPM. The 1.6 liter engine is paired with a new eight-speed automatic transmission vs. a six-speed in the Optima.

The result of that is an uptick in fuel efficiency from 25 city, 35 highway previously to 27 city, 37 highway in the K5.

This dips – slightly – to 26 city, 34 highway with the optionally available all-wheel-drive system, which wasn’t offered in the Optima and is only available in a few other cars in this class, such as the Toyota Camry.

Other cross-shops like the Honda Accord are still front-drive-only.

The Optima’s optional 1.6 liter engine was the same size as the K5’s standard engine, but it did have a turbo to make up for it – and made 245 horsepower. But the K5 GT’s 2.5 liter engine is larger- and more than makes up for it, pumping out 290 horsepower – making it one of the strongest engines available in this class. Only the Toyota Camry’s optional 3.5 liter V6 (301 horsepower) is stronger.

But not by much.

It is however, much more expensive.

Toyota only offers the V6 as an option in XLE and higher trims, with the least expensive version of the V6-powered Camry stickering for $34,995 – which is $4,505 more than Kia charges for the K5 GT with almost as much horsepower.

That might also generate some interest in this sedan.

It’s laudable that Toyota still offers a V6 at all; many – including Honda – have dropped the V6 option they used to offer. But when you have to pay almost $35k to get that V6, it becomes harder to get it. Also harder to justify getting it when you can get a turbo’d four that’s almost as powerful for almost $5k less, as here.

But you can’t get it with AWD – which is somewhat unusual in that it is usually the case that when AWD is offered, it’s offered with (or included with) the most powerful engine – because the more power under the hood, the easier it is for the tires to slip when only two wheels have grip.

On the other hand, it is sometimes more fun when the tires slip  . . . when you want them to.

The 2.5 liter engine is also paired with a different transmission, a quicker-shifting eight-speed dual clutch automatic. Kia says 0-60 in 5.8 seconds – another improvement vs. last year’s Optima SX, which needed about 6.5 seconds to make the same run.

It’s still not as quick as the class-quickest Camry V6, however. That one nips at the heels of Camaros and Mustangs with its 5 second 0-60 capability.

But it walks away from the quickest version of the Honda Accord, which is about as quick (with its optional 2.0 liter, 252 horsepower turbocharged engine) as last year’s Optima SX.

On The Road

The K5 is a bigger – longer and wider – car than its Optima predecessor. And feels it.

The feeling is good.

An increase in the car’s width by an inch, wheelbase by almost two inches and overall length by more than two inches helps this Kia feel a lot like something with a more expensive badge on its skin. This is the secret the luxury-sport brands are trying to keep a lid on. If you went just by by the numbers and compared the K5 GT’s stats – and price – to say a BMW 5 Series – you might begin to wonder about the almost $25,000 difference in base price between the two.

For pushing $55k, BMW will sell you a sedan with a 248 horsepower 2.0 liter four, without a dual-clutch automatic. It is, of course, rear-drive while the Kia is front-wheel-drive.

But is it worth the almost $25k additional?

Drive the two back to back and find out.

Luxury-sport sedans like the BMW 5 and others of its pedigree  – and price – used to be obviously superior to cars in the K5’s (and Camry’s and Accord’s) class. But over the past 20 years, cars in the mid-priced/family sedan class have almost caught up to cars in the much-more-expensive classes in almost every way except what they cost and that they’re not rear-wheel-drive. Which is also not that much of a difference anymore because of electronic traction assists that have all-but-eliminated the front-drive torque steer issue as well as the proliferation of AWD as a feature in cars in the mid-priced class, which negates the RWD/FWD distinction.

The high-priced cars have also lost the thing that used to give them distinction: Their V6 and larger engines, which used to be standard equipment in cars with $50k-plus MSRPs. Now, most of them come standard with fours that are smaller- and make less power – than the fours that you can buy in cars like the K5 GT.

As OJ used to say, look out!

It’s not all about the engine, either.

Just as what are still styled “entry level” cars in 2021 are as quiet and refined and better put-together than the luxury cars of the ‘90s, so also mid-priced cars like the K5 have become almost indistinguishable from cars that cost nearly twice as much, insofar as how plush and comfortable and just nice they feel.

The reason why is essentially the same reason why almost everyone is walking around with a smartphone today that would have been so expensive to make 20 years ago that almost no one was walking around with anything even close to as capable 20 years ago. Just so, Kia can build a car like the K5 using materials and manufacturing processes that would have been too costly 20 years ago for much-less-costly today.

The closing of the gap is evident everywhere – and not just in terms of panel fitment. The K5 offers a 10.25 inch, split-function LCD touchscreen – inconceivable in a $30k car 20 years ago. LED headlights. A full-length panorama sunroof. Multi-stage heated and cooled seats.

That is a lot of car – for about half as much as some other cars.

At The Curb

Crossovers may have cargo room in their favor. So do container ships. If you’d rather something that looks less like a container ship, have a look at this thing.

It does not look like everything else – given practically everything else is a crossover or an SUV and it’s becoming hard to tell them apart without having a look at the badge.

This one has more style in its zig-zag parking lights than most of them have all over. No angry Samurai or catfish face, either.

And it does have room – for the driver and front seat passenger. An astounding 46.1 inches of legroom, which for reference is nearly half a foot (5 inches) more than the legroom up front in a six-figure BMW 7 series sedan.

Also up front is an array of technology that you used to have to pay six figures to get, including the available 10.3 inch touchscreen (an eight-inch screen is standard) as well as a T-shaped gear selector that feels good in your hand.

Maybe it can’t carry a refrigerator home from Lowes.

But how does it make you feel?

The Rest

The K5’s back seats aren’t nearly as spacious as the fronts – by almost a foot – but, that’s largely on paper. Because unless you slide the front seats all the way back to their maxim extension – and 46.1 inches of legroom – you’ll have more than-the-advertised 35.2 inches of backseat legroom.

If you want the looks of the top-of-the-line GT but don’t feel the need for the GT’s 290 horsepower engine, you can get everything but in the GT-Line, which also includes extra USB ports for the back seat occupants in addition to the GT’s flat-bottomed/leather-wrapped steering wheel and upgraded 18 inch wheels with Pirelli P Zero high-performance tires.

You can also get the GT-Line with the AWD system that isn’t available with the GT – and for about $1,500 less than the GT’s base price ($29,090 vs. $30,490).

Also available – a 12 speaker Bose Centerpoint audio system and “natural language” voice recognition control that responds to verbal commands such as “turn on the AC” and “heat the steering wheel.”

There’s even a “Sound of Nature” function that permeates the cabin with your choice of six “calming themes.”

The Bottom Line

Kia says its goal was to give this new sedan everything – as opposed to giving up on sedans.

If this sedan doesn’t sell, we’ll know it’s probably time to give up on sedans.

. . . .

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  1. I like what hyundai kia are doing but they continually crap on their own 10 year 100k mile warranty. Carbon build up issues in their gdi engines, dct failures. now their evs r dying under warranty as well. I’d get a stinger, or veloster n, or awaiting their rumored mid engine sports car but i wont buy em based on value or warranty.

  2. “11 inches less legroom in the back seats (35.2 inches).”

    How the heck does a larger vehicle lose a foot of legroom in the back?

  3. I’d give this K5 a serious look. However I’d rather buy the Camry for many reasons….except it is So Freakin’ UGLY.

    PS. Always good to see The Juice make an appearance. Is it true that he has signed to do a series of commercials for the new Bronco? Also heard that he’s going to become the spokesperson for some upmarket, “stretch to fit” driving gloves…..and Bruno Magli Driving Shoes too. 😉

  4. ‘Also available – a “natural language” voice recognition control that responds to verbal commands such as “turn on the AC” and “heat the steering wheel.” ‘ — EP

    … or ‘whack that pedestrian’? No, better not. From NBC News:

    Police returned to Ronald French’s 2016 black Chevy Silverado pickup truck, which had been stolen around the time he vanished, and discovered time-stamped recordings of someone else’s voice using the hands-free system to play Eminem on the radio.

    The voice, according to the police report, belonged to Joshua Wessel, who was arrested and charged with French’s murder.


    NBC’s report goes on to note that infotainment systems store contacts, text messages, and passwords from synced phones under weak security — and usually aren’t wiped of personal data when cars are traded in.

    Modern vehicles, sad to say, are spyware. ‘No LCD screen!’ is the first demand of LoTeks wanting to monkey-wrench the surveillance state and its private-sector contractors.

  5. I still favor sedans over suv’s. Good for Kia. Nice car. Most still left are going with that raised rear section, which is a little weird but I’m getting used to it.
    The prices look hard to beat, although for this old man, a 4cyl-turbo, while probably fine for most, would get me to anti-up a little for my still favorite Charger/300 normal V8, but I can afford it.


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