2021 Kia K5: Name change may be sub-Optima, but AWD and bold styling are great

The K5 model name replaces Optima as Kia's midsize sedan and it's got sportier competition in mind this time around.

Sean Szymkowski
It all started with Gran Turismo. From those early PlayStation days, Sean was drawn to anything with four wheels. Prior to joining the Roadshow team, he was a freelance contributor for Motor Authority, The Car Connection and Green Car Reports. As for what's in the garage, Sean owns a 2016 Chevrolet SS, and yes, it has Holden badges.
Sean Szymkowski
3 min read
2021 Kia K5

This is the new face of Kia's midsize sedan. Meet the K5.


The 2021 Kia K5 is a full-stop redo for the Korean automaker's midsize sedan, new platform and everything. Although we've known what the K5 looks like since last December -- and even driven the sedan -- Kia on Tuesday revealed exactly what's in store for the car when it arrives in the US this summer.

First of all, yes, the Optima name is out, and the sedan takes on the same name it goes by in South Korea: K5. With the new name comes a whole lot of other new stuff throughout five trim levels: LX, LXS, GT-Line, GT and EX. The 2021 K5 sits on Kia's latest N3 platform, packs optional all-wheel drive and a pretty potent range-topping powertrain.

That'd be a new 2.5-liter turbo-four engine with 290 horsepower and 311 pound-feet of torque for the K5 GT. If the displacement sounds familiar, it's because luxury-oriented cousin also rocks the engine. A front-wheel-drive-based AWD system is standard here and Kia installed a new eight-speed, wet, dual-clutch transmission that should fire off shifts with authority. The brand's proud to point out no other sedan in its segment offers such a transmission.

Every other K5 trim works with a 1.6-liter turbo-four engine that makes 180 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque. A new eight-speed transmission is standard here, but it's simply a regular automatic transmission. The 1.6-liter engine also sports a new technology called Continuously Variable Valve Duration, or CVVD. By giving each of the valves inside the engine their independence, so to speak, Kia said performance and efficiency improve. And for those who want AWD without the extra performance of the GT, it's optional on every trim save for the base LX. The EX also received AWD as standard.

2021 Kia K5 aims for optimum sport without Optima

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Across the K5 lineup, the sedan's grown longer and wider, but shorter. Its new N3 platform helped cement the sleeker looks, which mimic the shape minus the actual hatchback at the rear. The sedan's new "tiger face," not just its grille, is thinner, but spans more of the front clip now, and thin LED running lights curve and then strike upward the front quarter panel. The C-pillar does a great job making it look like there's a liftback, but the K5 still includes a standard trunk. At the rear, there's a new LED taillight design with dash elements that really set the car apart from any other sedan -- including the new Hyundai Sonata.

Where Kia seems to really have knocked it out of the park is the cockpit, which includes a blend of sporting and premium materials. Seen here is the GT-Line and GT's flat-bottom steering wheel and the 10.25-inch infotainment display. An 8-inch screen is standard, and honestly, the smaller screen might be the one to get.

2021 Kia K5

Why? Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It works seamlessly with the 8-inch touchscreen, but not the optional 10.25-inch unit. It's weird, but that's the way it works here. Other comforts and optional technology include a Bose premium sound system, wireless phone charging, natural voice recognition to control various features and smart key functions.

And of course, there's a boatload of active safety gear, either standard or optional. Every K5 gets automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection, lane-keep assist and a driver attention warning system. The optional amount of equipment is kind of staggering with everything from the excellent Highway Drive Assist, blind-spot collision avoidance and rear cross-traffic alert.

The first 2021 K5 sedans will arrive in the coming months, but for those looking for a hotter K5, the K5 GT won't be ready until this fall.

Watch this: Why you should check out the 2021 Kia Seltos