2021 Kia K5 EX Review
I’m not sure what else a buyer could want from a stylish family sedan beyond what Kia’s K5 offers, unless they wanted to pay much more.
I know, I know, mention value in a car review and the reader yawns and wants to click on an extended warranty ad. Stop right there. Don’t do it!
Kia’s K5 replaces its attractive Optima sedan and is a sedan par excellence, in appearance, performance and price.
First, give it a serious look.
In profile K5’s fastback looks set it apart from other cars. Kia’s designers assured that not only by sculpting its shape, but cleverly placing a chrome trim line along its swoopy roofline and completely surrounding the expansive rear window. Then there are the arrow-shaped lights similar to some sports cars and Kia’s cousin, the Hyundai Sonata. The taillights are stylish too with a bar spread across the trunk’s face. Some may see this as borrowed from Dodge, but so be it. It works!
The overall blend is breathtaking for a mainstream sedan.
Heck, a lot of car makers have figured out ways to create a looker. Yet, like the Optima the K5 backs up its sassy styling with refined performance that feels much more like a $50,000 car than one starting at about $25,000.
Start with the engine. On its face you might think a 1.6-liter 4-cylinder is too small for a sedan riding on a 112.2-inch wheelbase. But this one, like many now, has a turbocharger that helps it to create 180 horses and 195 lb.-ft. of torque. Coupled with a silky 8-speed automatic transmission the light 3,228-lb. K5 has plenty of giddy-up.
Four drive modes help. In Normal you’ll hear a little more engine grumble when first accelerating, but turn the console knob to Sport and there’s instant power and a firmer steering feel. Hitting highway speeds, plus some, is quick and fun. Wait until the GT model comes along with its 2.5-liter turbo 4 that makes 290 horses, then watch out!
Few buyers with a family of four are likely to worry much about power though, once they settle into the K5. It handles like a luxury sport sedan in Sport mode and is light and easy to handle in Normal mode. Ride is more refined than one might expect in a modestly priced sedan and the interior is as quiet as an art museum after closing hours.
The tested Sapphire Blue (gorgeous) test car was the next to top-level front-drive EX trim, but know that Kia now offers AWD (about $2,000 extra) on all but the base K5. The sedan now rides on a new chassis that’s longer, wider, and lower than the Optima it replaces. In the old days, that’s the sort of thing Pontiac boasted about.
Features matter, of course, and standard on all K5s is emergency braking, lane keeping assist, driver attention warning and Apple CarPlay. All but the base model has a split folding rear seat, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic assist and Kia’s UVO infotainment system that links with a smart phone.
The tested EX adds a panoramic sunroof, heated front seats, wireless phone charger, and satellite radio.
Many buyers also will want the Premium package as was on the test car. For $3,400 it adds a fine 10.24-inch infotainment screen that’s split so the nav system and radio can be shown at once. When only nav is up the smaller screen portion to the right features a close-up of the car’s whereabouts.
The package also includes a fine Bose premium audio system, heated steering wheel, park assist, driver’s seat memory buttons, smart cruise and Stop & Go to save fuel. There’s also a safe exit assist system to keep you from opening a door into traffic and forward collision avoidance for objects and cyclists.
What’s awesome is that with the EX starting at $28,955, adding the premium package only pushes the car to $32,355, about $5,000 short of the average new car price.
But if that’s too rich for your credit union’s loan officer, consider the base LX at $24,455, including delivery. A better choice for just $1,000 more is the LXS model that includes the blind-spot system, and other standard features listed above. Add AWD for $2,100. There’s also a GT Line model with optional red leatherette interior, then the EX and finally the GT that is just now getting to dealerships. The horsier GT starts at $31,455, still a bargain.
If performance, price, and features don’t sell you, consider the fine interior. This EX had black leather seats and black textured dash with sexy satin chrome door releases, air vents and trim. Plus there’s fake open-pore wood trim on the dash and doors to aid the luxury look. Black gloss trims the main gauges, screen and part of the console.
Other pluses beyond the interior’s look and quiet atmosphere are simple climate control buttons and knobs, easy steering wheel toggles, fine main info gauges, and comfortable seats with strong back and hip support. Front and rear seats are roomy too with good head and legroom and there’s a huge trunk behind the rear seat.
Gas mileage is excellent too, rated at 27 mpg city and 37 mpg highway. I got 28.5 mpg in a mix of driving, but in snow a couple days, so less than ideal conditions. Traction was fine from the front-wheel drive system though. Still, I might spring for AWD for the assurance of even better traction.
Not much to grumble about here, just the lack of a radio tuning knob. You must use tiny arrows on the touchscreen to pick a new station. And frequently, but not always, there was a chime that sounded and a dash warning to look in the rear seat. Attorneys must have insisted on that so you don’t forget your child or pet.
Make no mistake, there are plenty of fine high-value sedans in this crossover crazy marketplace. Consider Toyota’s Camry, Honda’s Accord, Mazda’s Mazda6, Hyundai’s Sonata and for AWD there’s Subaru’s Legacy, although the K5 looks kick them all to the curb.
Smart buyers who don’t need a truck or SUV or even a mid-size crossover that gets poor gas mileage now have Kia’s K5 to consider, and to save them some serious coin!
Overview: 2021 Kia K5 EX
Hits: Sporty fastback looks, refined ride, good power and handling, an excellent value. Big info screen, panoramic sunroof, heated wheel, heated/cooled seats, wireless charging, good climate buttons/knobs, easy steering wheel toggles, big trunk, roomy interior, comfy supportive seats, easy to read dash, good mpg.
Misses: No radio tuning knob, just small arrows on screen, occasional chime warning driver to check the rear seat for cargo.
Made In: West Point, Ga.
Engine: 1.6-liter turbo 4-cyl., 180 hp
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Weight: 3,228 lbs.
Wheelbase: 112.2 in.
Length: 193.1 in.
Cargo: 16.0 cu.ft.
MPG: 27/37, 28.5 (tested)
Base Price: $28,955 (includes delivery)
Major Options: Premium package (Nav w/10.25-inch touchscreen, Bose premium sound system, power front passenger’s seat w/power lumbar, heated steering wheel, forward collision avoidance assist – cyclist/junction turning, smart cruise, stop & go, highway driving assist, safe exit assist, parking collision avoidance, LED rear lights, driver’s seat & mirror memory), $3,400
Test Vehicle: $32,355
Editor's note: Mark Savage's auto review column, Savage On Wheels, looks at a new vehicle every week and tells consumers what’s good, what’s not so good, and how the vehicle fits into the marketplace.