Review: 2021 Kia K5 GT-Line

The 2021 Kia K5 might seem like a completely brand new model for the brand but it’s actually an updated Optima. The updates though are more than just a new name & different styling. It’s a complete refresh of the sedan.

2021 Kia K5


Engine – The 2021 Kia K5 is available with two engines. Majority of the trim levels – including this GT-Line – are equipped with a 1.6L turbocharged 4-cylinder that produces 180 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque (134 kW & 264 Nm). The top GT trim comes equipped with a 2.5L turbocharged 4-cylinder that produces 290 hp & 311 lb-ft of torque (216 kW & 422 Nm). This 1.6L though is more than enough for most people’s needs and even those who like to drive on twisty mountain roads. It’s not the fastest mid-size sedan at around 8 seconds to reach 100km/h from a stop, however, the turbocharged engine provides a good punch throughout the rpm range. 

Fuel economy is not too bad if you commute daily on highways. The highway fuel economy figure is 6.9 L/100km (34 MPG) for this 1.6L turbo engine with AWD. City fuel economy is not quite as good at 9.2 L/100km (25.6 MPG). Happily however, the 2021 Kia K5 with the 1.6L turbo engine does not require premium fuel. 

2021 Kia K5 Interior

Transmission – The 1.6L engine is mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission. Being a traditional automatic, the shifts are smooth and relatively quick. They’re not quite as quick as the new 8-speed dual-clutch transmission found in the Kia Sorento but for most needs, the transmission performs well. This automatic also has no issues when it comes to reaction time. Stomp your foot on the throttle pedal and the transmission reacts quickly to downshift to the appropriate gear. It’s just a shame that there are no paddle shifters on the steering wheel.

Braking – Stopping the Kia K5 are just regular brakes. It doesn’t have any fancy multi-piston brake calipers or a brake-by-wire system. But the brakes feel strong when you put your foot on them. For some, they may seem a bit too sensitive because it doesn’t take much effort to actually bring the K5 to a stop under normal day-to-day commuting situations. Automatic emergency braking is a standard feature.

2021 Kia K5

Handling – While the exterior exudes sportiness, the 2021 Kia K5 doesn’t quite match its exterior looks. Happily however, it still is a great driving car but not quite the same as the Mazda 6. The standard AWD system (for the Canadian market) gives the car a surefooted feeling and makes for quick launches off the line in poor weather conditions. By the way, this AWD system is only available with the 1.6L engine. It is not available with the much more powerful 2.5L Turbo engine which is odd because I suspect that will be a torque steer monster.

The steering feel is on the light side but at least that makes maneuvering around parking lots a breeze. It does become artificially heavier if you switch it to Sport mode but it just doesn’t feel as communicative as the steering feel of the Mazda 6. Overall though, the Kia K5 is an easy car to just get in and drive. 

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2021 Kia K5 Interior


Ride Comfort – The 2021 Kia K5 provides a great ride. Of course if you drive over a road that looks more like the surface of the moon, the ride is going to be awful but for most decently maintained roads and highways, the Kia K5 can handle it. It does a great job of not transmitting the shunts of the tires & suspension into the cabin. 

The front seats are superb for daily commutes or long highway trips. They can accommodate a wide range of body sizes from short to tall like myself. The rear seats are quite a bit more flat but the cushioning is there. They don’t feel rock hard like how the rear seats feel in something like the Chevrolet Trailblazer.

2021 Kia K5 Interior

Interior Space – For a mid-size sedan, the 2021 K5 is on the larger end of the spectrum. It’s not the biggest but it offers more front headroom & legroom than all of its competitors from Mazda, Honda, & Toyota. It’s not quite the same story though in the back seats… at least on paper. On the spec sheet, it has less legroom than its competitors but in reality, I can fit behind my 6’4″ driving position without my knees touching the back of the front seat. Headroom through is a little tighter than in the front with my hair brushing up against the headliner. Cargo capacity is average at 434 L (15.3 cu-ft) and the rear seats can fold down for more space should you need it.

Noise, Vibration, & Harshness – The Kia K5 is a decently quiet sedan. Engine noise is well muted – unless you stomp on the throttle – and you never really notice it on day-to-day drives. Wind noise is also well subdued but road noise is more prevalent. However, this particular demo vehicle had snow tires which are generally louder than all-season or summer tires.

2021 Kia K5

Odds and Ends

Gadgets – Starting with safety & driver aid systems, the Kia K5 comes standard with automatic emergency braking, blind spot sensors, lane departure warning with lane keep, and a safe exit warning system that alerts occupants when exiting the car if another vehicle is coming up from behind. Upgrade to the top GT trim and the K5 also comes equipped with automatic collision avoidance when reversing. 

2021 Kia K5 Interior

As for convenience features, the K5 has most of the features that anyone would ever need from a mainstream mid-size sedan. This GT-Line trim K5 is equipped with a 10.25” touchscreen with excellent resolution, wireless phone charging, heated front & rear seats, heated steering wheel, ventilated front seats, panoramic sunroof, adaptive cruise control with stop & go function, & a heated windshield to name a few. The heated windshield is a bit of a surprise but a pleasant one because it makes for very quick defrosting on subzero mornings. 

Opt for the top GT trim and the Kia K5 is also equipped with a heads-up display, parking collision avoidance in reverse, Bose premium sound system, a 12.3” driver instrument cluster, 19” wheels, and sport bucket seats.

Interior Design – The look of the cabin is a refreshing update from the old Optima. The controls are well laid out and very easy to understand. I particularly like the “airplane” theme of some of the controls. For Example, the heated & ventilated seat controls are toggle switches and the shifter looks like the throttle controls from a Boeing 747. The touchscreen is easily reachable however I’m not a fan of the touch sensitive quick menu “buttons” flanking each side of the display.

2021 Kia K5

Exterior Design – I dare you to say that you’ve seen another car that looks like the 2021 Kia K5. I’ll wait… But you can’t because the K5’s styling is very unique – to put it mildly. The daytime running lights have a cool lightning bolt shape to them and amber DRLs are coming back into fashion. The side profile makes the K5 look as though it’s a sportback but it doesn’t have a hatch, just a regular trunk opening. Around back, the taillights extend from side to side and are angled towards each other & merging in the center of the car. There’s also a silver strip that extends from the mirrors and around the top of the trunk that gives the car a smooth flowing line. If you want to stand out in the office tower parking lot, this is the car to do it in.


The 2021 Kia K5 starts at $29,595 CAD with the standard AWD system. In the United States, AWD is optional and as such the starting price is $23,590 USD. This GT-Line trim is $35,995 CAD ($30,435 USD) which makes it less expensive than the equivalent Toyota Camry but a little bit more than the equivalent Mazda 6 & Honda Accord trims. However, the Accord & 6 are not available with AWD on any trim level.

So is the 2021 Kia K5 worth it? I think it is. It will definitely get you looks and while it is a bit more expensive than equivalent Mazda & Honda models, you get more features & value for your money.

Thank you to Kia Canada for providing the vehicle.

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2021 Kia K5 Gallery

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