2021 Kia K5 GT-Line by Ben Lewis

When Kia introduced the new Soul recently, we mourned the loss of the adorable hamsters in their ad campaign. But the all-new vehicle more than made up for it. This time Kia is killing off a model name – Optima – and replacing it with the all-new K5. Will we be as enthused as we were with the Soul? Let’s find out!

Bigger Bolder, Badder

The All-new K5 shares the platform with the all-new Hyundai Sonata, and it’s interesting how different they look. We’ll take the K5’s aggressive lines, and it definitely looks longer, lower and wider than the already-handsome Optima that it replaces.

The familiar “tiger nose” is still there, although it is wider and narrower for a modern look. We love the GT-Line’s shark skin-inspired mesh design on the grill and the LED “Heart Beat” daytime running lights – the K5 has real presence that stands out from the crowd and makes the Camrys and Accords of the world look a little frumpy in comparison.

The silhouette is sleek and Audi like, with a sleek profile that looks like a hatchback, and is notably sporty with the GT-Line’s unique 18-inch alloy wheels.  Around back, more shark-skin mesh design teamed up with an LED light that runs the full width of the back is an athletic finish to a stunning design.

Our tester looked especially upscale in its Passion Red Tint Coat but our hearts swoons when we see the new Wolf Gray – gray seems to be the hip color of the season, and it looks breathtaking on the K5.

European Cabin

Inside, the K5 reminds us of its big brother the Stinger, and little brother the Forte, which is no bad thing, as they both have a very BMW/Audi feel to them. In the K5, a large horizontal dash gives a spacious feel, and even though the windshield is raked back for a sporty vibe, there’s plenty of headroom.

The GT-Line sets a very sporty tone with a flat-bottom steering wheel, a sporty T-bar shift handle, a charcoal headliner – even some tasty “GT-line” embroidery on the seatbacks. Two large analog gauges are large and in charge, and the 8-inch info-tainment system is crisp and clear. A pleasant surprise in our K5 was wireless Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and charging – big ticket items you’d expect on BMW and Audi.

The seats are especially comfortable – something we noticed in the Forte as well, and it’s a sign that they are really following the details at Kia. Rear seat room is excellent too, and even though it isn’t a hatchback, the fold-down rear seats give plenty of cargo space.

Our only issue with the interior was the occasional use of hard plastics – everything else is so premium in the K5, they stand out. Luckily, the contact points are padded nicely.

Putting the GT in GT-Line

With a racy exterior and a sporty interior, you hope the drive will keep up. And in the K5, the drive is the icing on the cake. There are two engine choices – most models, including our tester feature Kia’s familiar 1.6-liter turbo 4-cylinder. It’s a stout little guy, punching out a respectable 180 hp, and excellent 195 lb.-ft of torque at just 1,500 rpm.

Teamed to an 8-speed automatic (no CVT, yay!) the K5 jumps off the line with real authority, a nice exhaust note, but remains notably smooth and refined. Around town and merging  it’s got plenty of power, and the transmission is fun to hand shift (no paddle shifter, unfortunately). Only at freeway speeds when you need to pass does the engine start to feel a little small. If you stay out of the turbo zone, mid- 30’s mpg would seem reasonable on the super slab.

Outside of that, the K5 is impressively quiet at speed, and the ride is smooth and relaxed. Those big 18-inch alloys serve up good grip, and steering has a nice light feel, and you find precision in there as well– it’s a fun car to toss around when you want. 

For the true enthusiast, it might be worth ponying up for the soon to be available GT – as opposed to GT-Line – trim, with a 2.5-liter turbo 4, pumping out 290 hp and 311 lb.-ft of torque. Add in the 8-speed DCT transmission that we’ve loved in other Kia/Hyundai products, a sport-tuned suspension and 19-inch alloy wheels, and it sounds like a real performance bargain. Stay tuned for a test soon.

Value-Packed Performer

How much for all this goodness? You can get a K5 LX starting at $23,490, and with that sweet 1.6-liter turbo, standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, dual-zone AC and Keyless entry, plus Auto Emergency Brake, Lane Keeping and Lane Following Assist it’s one stylish bargain.

We think the GT-Line like our tester is the sweet-spot in the lineup, starting at just $25,390. It steps up from the LX trim with a sporty interior, LED lights, 18-inch alloys, power driver seat and more.

Our tester also had Passion Red Paint ($445), and the Premium Package ($1,600) which adds panoramic moonroof, LED projection headlights, Forward Collison warning with Cyclist and Junction turning, Smart Cruise Control with Stop& Go, wireless charging and LED overhead lighting – that’s loads of stuff for a small price. Add in $965, and our tester rang the bell at $28,400.

Competitors are the segment heavyweights, like the Accord Sport at $28,125, also a nice refined ride, but no sunroof available, and the Camry SE, stylish and comfortable at $29,060. Both the Camry and Accord are starting to feel like they’ve been around for a while – the K5 feels fresh, and tech like wireless Apple CarPlay and a non-CVT automatic reinforce that you’re in a vehicle a step above. The  Kia’s 10-year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty is especially nice on a turbo motor.

 We love the new Kia K5. Bold styling, a great interior, loads of equipment, an entertaining drive and impressive value. Move to the head of the class. Goodbye Optima, Hello K5!


Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.

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