2021 Kia K5 Mid-Size Sedan Debuts As The Optima’s Sharp Replacement

The Kia K5 2021 mid-size sedan is here, officially putting the Optima name on the American market. Adopting a badge used on the world market for years, the K5 gets not only a new nickname, but a whole set of new technologies for Kia, including a range of fully turbo powertrains, available all-wheel drive and an optional eight Dual clutch gearbox.

These features help the Kia K5 2021 to distinguish itself from the closely linked Hyundai Sonata, giving it a more aggressive look than its gracefully modern corporate cousin. The question of whether the changes made for 2021 justify a name change is the subject of much debate, but it is difficult to ignore the new presence of the K5.

Tiger shark

Style-wise, the K5 shares little with the Optima it replaces. A wider iteration of the brand’s iconic “tiger nose” grille melts deeper into the headlights, and a daring lower air intake in the bumper gives the front a slightly brighter snicker than we love. The leading edge of the hood is contoured to fit the grille, a surprising detail at a time when many midsize sedans have an unattractive panel gap between the front fairing and the hood. The new LED daytime running lights have a “heartbeat” pattern that will spread to other Kias in the future, and the forward tilt of the headlights reminds us very strongly of the 1999 Mitsubishi Galant – not a bad thing given the clean style of this sedan.

The pointed front end gives way to an upwardly inclined hood, with a strong shoulder line generated from the front wheel arch and continuing to the rear lights. A rising character line along the rocker panels is pretty sharp, and the Optima’s unusual chrome strip along the roofline fits the K21 2021 – which has a much more aggressive fast return profile than never. A profile largely free of foreign body surfacing and the nervous front end give the mid-size Kia a vaguely shark look, not a bad thing for style-conscious consumers.

2021 Kia K5 (United States)
2021 Kia K5 (United States)
2021 Kia K5 (United States)

The rear isn’t as well composed as the front, with LED dashes cluttering up the full-width taillight panel and a fake pair of obviously fake air extractors on the corners of the rear bumper. However, the aforementioned chrome roof trim wraps under and around the rear window, a feature we think is bold and attractive. However, we wonder if the fastback style will pinch the trunk opening too much. The sacrifices that we have to make for style.

The wheel options will include 16, 18 and 19 inch alloys, the former probably being reserved for the base K5 LX and the latter two offered on the LXS, GT-Line, EX and GT. The steel wheels have been relegated to the scrap heap, which could help win over some buyers of the base model (the 2020 Toyota Camry LE and the Nissan Altima S have 16-inch Steelies, for example).

Power to spare

The Kia K5 2021 has a line of fully turbocharged engines that starts with a 1.6-liter inline four with 180 horsepower (134 kilowatts) and 195 lb-ft (264 newton meters) – the powertrain optional Sonata upgrade. Coupled with an eight-speed automatic gearbox, the 1.6T will be standard on all versions, except the late-availability GT, giving most of the nippy (but not overtly exciting) performance of the K5 range.

Those who demand more sport from their mid-size sedans would do well to wait for the aforementioned GT, which will come standard with a 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. With 290 hp (216 kW) and 311 lb-ft (422 Nm), the GT should be a lot more exciting to drive than its siblings, especially considering its first Kia eight-speed wet double clutch transmission . Developed in-house, the DCT is expected to offer much 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 from the Stinger GT.

The 2021 K5 will also be the first Kia sedan with front-wheel drive to benefit from all-wheel drive. Available at the end of 2020, the system will be offered on the LXS and GT-Line, offering electro-hydraulic operation and a driving mode specially adapted to snow. Kia did not mention whether the mighty K5 GT would have four-wheel drive, but hopefully, given its sporting predilections. The status of a hybrid K5 variant is also unknown – we would expect one considering how much we enjoyed our week in a hybrid Sonata.


The interior of the new K5 looks as sporty as its exterior, thanks in part to the flat-bottom steering wheel in the GT-Line and GT versions. Contributing to the energetic feel of the new cockpit is a large conventional speed selector which, according to Kia, was inspired by the controls of the aircraft, and the infotainment screen fits perfectly into the cockpit of the instrument for a driver-centered layout. The company also promises unusual style features such as the available red imitation leather, satin metallic accents, contrasting stitching and “wood” accents on the dashboard (depending on the level of finish). At least, Kia is honest about the fact that this last characteristic is not authentic.

2021 Kia K5

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


Based on a brand new “N3” platform which, as already mentioned, underpins the Sonata, the Kia K5 2021 is longer, lower and wider than its predecessor. The external dimensions have gradually increased compared to the outgoing Optima. At 193.1 inches (4,905 millimeters), the overall length was up 2.3 inches, with a width of up to 2 inches to 73.2 (1,859 mm). The roof has been cut from 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 (United States)
2021 Kia K5 (United States)

These dimensions are very close to the Sonata 2020, which has a relatively spacious interior – we wish there was more legroom for the rear passengers. I hope the slightly longer wheelbase of the K5 will help us here.

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

Arrival on time

The Kia K5 2021 will go on sale this summer in the LX, LXS, GT-Line and EX forms, with the full-fledged GT model in the fall. The price is still in question, although we don’t expect it to start much more than the Optima 2020 or the new Sonata – plan to pay around $ 24,500 for an LX. The GT, however, could cost a little more than any other Kia mid-sizer ever, perhaps even more than the Stinger GT Line ($ 33,090).

Whatever it costs, we expect the K5 to still offer plenty of style and functionality for the money, leveraging both Kia’s history as a budget offering and its full future hope as a sportier Korean alternative to other brands.

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