Kia K5 breathes new life into midsize segment

The 2021 Kia K5’s powertrain options includes a choice of two engines. Other features are an available 8-speed 'wet' dual-clutch transmission, plus an available all-wheel drive system for improved traction and capability. Metro News Service photo
The 2021 Kia K5’s powertrain options includes a choice of two engines. Other features are an available 8-speed 'wet' dual-clutch transmission, plus an available all-wheel drive system for improved traction and capability. Metro News Service photo

New name brings new excitement

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

This utterance by Juliet in her famous soliloquy in Romeo and Juliet is a famous and often misquoted representation. I’m using it here for this week’s reviewed vehicle. After all, Shakespeare can’t sue me.

So, what’s in a name? Perhaps a lot when it comes to my tester this week — the 2021 Kia K5. That sounds like a cool new car with one of those alpha numeric names that can be annoying and confounding. What if I told you the K5, although new for the 2021 model year, is just a renamed Kia Optima?

Well, that’s sort of true. The Optima is no more; the K5 takes its place within the midsize sedan segment. When this segment was ultra-competitive, the Optima was a newcomer. It’s ironic that as the Optima goes away and the K5 enters, the segment is now waning.

I really enjoyed the Optima. I found it to be more appealing and more enjoyable than its Korean counterpart, the Hyundai Sonata. The Sonata has not been renamed, so the K5 is trying to stand out against it and other stalwart nameplates in this segment — including the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.

Does the K5 succeed, name change aside? Yes.

On looks the K5 is one of the most modern-looking, sleekest midsizes in the market today. For eye-catching appeal, Kia has nailed it. It makes a good first impression. However, one of its sharpest styling cues begets a negative aspect inside. The sloping angle of the C-pillar adds sex appeal, but also limits rear headroom.

Kia has been known in recent years for its focus on performance. The Stinger, one of its newest vehicles, is an absolute blast to drive. The K5 is notable for its two engine options. The 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder seems like the way to go if you want enthusiasm and personality. Unfortunately, my tester was the less-athletic, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, also with a turbo. Despite the turbocharger, overall performance with just under 200 horsepower was uninspiring.

There’s a bit of noticeable turbo lag off the line; the eight-speed automatic transmission offers smooth shifts otherwise. All-wheel drive is a nice addition to the K5 and helps keep it competitive with some of the other sedans in the segment. Front-wheel drive is an available option.

The smaller engine seems loud and not in a good way. Also, road noise is obvious and invasive inside the K5. That alone is a major detractor to the overall vibe of this sedan. The interior is nice with quality touchpoints.

The infotainment system, with a mostly intuitive nature, is adequate. Though not cutting-edge, it’s not dated like others in the segment (I’m talking to you, Mazda).

There are four trims plus the sporty GT-line option available. My tester was the EX trim which comes with an advanced audio system, panoramic sunroof, leather seat surfaces and leather steering wheel, park assist and other sensor-based safety systems like collision avoidance and smart cruise control.

Base price is $27,900, although the basic trim LX with FWD starts at less than $23,000. As such, the K5 is competitively priced. My tester carried a final MSRP of $32,355.

The K5, with AWD, has an EPA rating of 27 mpg/city and 37 mpg/highway. In a week’s worth of driving I averaged right at 30 mpg. Anytime I can hit that mark it’s a good thing, especially in a non-hybrid vehicle.

Does a name change give this car any more appeal? If we’ve learned anything from Shakespeare, it’s that a name is not that important. Rather, what sets the Kia K5 apart is not its moniker, but a new look, an attractive price and two engine options for the consumer — all in a segment that needs some new exhilaration. A simple name change breathes just enough excitement into this segment.

Jimmy Dinsmore is a freelance automotive journalist.

2021 KIA K5 EX

  • Price/As-tested price................................................ $27,990/$32,355
  • Mileage.......................................... 27 mpg/city; 37 mpg/hwy
  • Engine............................................. 1.6-liter 4-cylinder turbo
  • Horsepower................................. 180 hp/195 lbs.-ft.
  • Transmission................................. 8-speed automatic
  • Drive wheels................ All-wheel drive
  • Final assembly point................ West Point, Georgia

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