Monday, May 27, 2024
First Reviews2021 Kia K5 First Drive Review: Standing Out

2021 Kia K5 First Drive Review: Standing Out

The 2021 Kia K5 stunning entry into the midsize sedan segment that delivers on value and comfort. We just wish it had a better engine.

2021 Kia K5 Pros

  • Unique design
  • Beautiful interior
  • Lots of space
  • Great value

2021 Kia K5 Cons

  • Disappointing 1.6-litre turbo
  • Annoying active safety technology
  • Fuel economy isn’t great

The 2021 Kia K5 was unveiled back in June and to say that it was a shocker would be an understatement. In a world where automakers and consumers alike are enamored by SUVs, here’s Kia putting a ton of effort into a brand-new mid-size sedan.

The Kia K5 is theoretically a new Optima, but this is a completely new model with a unique design that really stands out. I test drove the K5 on the same day I drove the new Cadillac Escalade, and the Kia got more looks and attention. There’s no way the K5 doesn’t generate some kind of emotion when you see it. Some may not like the agressive design, but at the end of the day you have to give Kia praise for trying.

2021 Kia K5
2021 Kia K5 | Photo: Olivier Delorme

Our tester was the 2021 Kia K5 GT Line, a mid-level model that starts at $35,995 in Canada and $25,390 in the US. The K5 has a base price of $29,985 in Canada and $23,490 in the US.

The 2021 Kia K5 Delivers On Value, Versatility, and Refinement

As far as value goes, Kia delivers once again with the K5. Base models in Canada get a heated steering wheel, blind spot monitoring, lane keep assist, push-button start, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The GT Line goes ever further with a 10.25-inch centre screen, cooled seats, heated rear seats, side exit assist, and memory for the driver’s seat. It also has a panoramic sunroof, smart cruise control, wireless charger, and forward collision warning.

In other words, the 2021 Kia K5 gives you a lot of features for less money than most of its rivals. That alone is reason enough to consider it.

The interior design is another reason. This is a really stunning cockpit, a blend of European elegance and very modern tech all wrapped in quality materials and good-looking plastics. There’s a touch of sport here too with the flat-bottomed steering wheel The seats look great and the leather trim looked straight out of a luxury car. Honestly, it feels like an Audi in there and spending time inside the K5 is an enjoyable affair.

2021 Kia K5
2021 Kia K5 | Photo: Olivier Delorme

There’s also a ton of space, especially the trunk. Being a sedan, the K5 doesn’t offer a tall cargo area, but the trunk is deep and wide, making it almost compact SUV-like in terms of capacity. The rear seats are also plenty spacious. The sharply angled roof doesn’t compromise head room for adults and legroom is generous.

Things don’t feel so airy up front, part of that feeling explained by the bulky dashboard and centre console, but overall the K5 delivers in terms of space and versatility.

Lackluster turbocharged engine

The 2021 Kia K5 gets a 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder that delivers 180 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque, paired to an 8-speed automatic and standard all-wheel drive. The AWD system being standard is part of the K5’s value proposition that, as stated previously, truly stands out in the midsize sedan segment.

2021 Kia K5
2021 Kia K5 | Photo: Olivier Delorme

The engine, however, is not. I expected so much more out of the powertrain given the turbo and the near 200 pound-feet of torque. Unfortunately, performance is not its priority. Accelerations are uninspiring and passing isn’t anything to write home about. The K5 is fine when you accelerate normally. As soon as you want a bit of extra power to pass or you realize you’re in the wrong lane to turn at the next headlight and have to pass the car next to you to get there, however, things get noisy and the engine just seems to not like what’s happening.

This is very surprising from a turbo engine where low-end torque is plentiful. Normally it should shine in low speed situations, but that’s not the case. Also surprising is the fuel consumption. The K5 is thirsty, more so than a Subaru Legacy or a Nissan Altima, both also offering AWD. That said, Kia engines tend to be on the lower end of their respective segments when it comes to fuel efficiency.

What it comes down to here is that the K5’s turbo 1.6-litre doesn’t deliver the performance to justify the fuel consumption.

2021 Kia K5
2021 Kia K5 | Photo: Olivier Delorme

The available Kia K5 GT will surely fix this problem with its 290-horsepower turbocharged 2.5-litre powertrain, and given that it’s available at under $40k ($39,995 in Canada, $30,490 in the US), I’d seriously consider putting down the extra money if you want any kind of performance from your K5.

On a less significant note, I also found the active safety systems, particularly the forward collision warning and the blind spot system to be overly sensitive and downright annoying. To put it simply, both wouldn’t shut up in traffic even if there wasn’t any immediate danger.

All that being said, the K5 does deliver on comfort. It’s quiet, its suspension is top notch, and it really puts the driver at ease when cruising. Kia’s tend to have a sportier edge to them that I was expecting to find here, but instead I found myself surprised by how comfortable it was. Not quite the Honda Accord or the Toyota Camry.

2021 Kia K5
2021 Kia K5 | Photo: Olivier Delorme


Aside from the engine, there’s not too much you can say about the 2021 Kia K5 that’s bad. On the other hand, the comfort, value and versatility are all among the best in the segment. The interior design, exterior design, and standard all-wheel drive are a great bonus. Kia put a lot of thought into updating its midsize sedan offering, and it shows.

2021 Kia K5
2021 Kia K5 | Photo: Olivier Delorme
2021 Kia K5 | Photo: Olivier Delorme
2021 Kia K5
2021 Kia K5 | Photo: Olivier Delorme


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Charles Jolicoeur
Charles Jolicoeur
Charles Jolicoeur was studying to be a CPA when he decided to drop everything and launch a car website in 2012. Don't ask. The journey has been an interesting one, but today he has co-founded and manages 8 websites including and as General Manager of NetMedia360. He also sits on the board of the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada. Send me an email


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