Review: 2021 Kia K5 GT-Line
Tech-heavy new Kia sedan is the right car at the wrong time.
Kia has been on a roll, of that there is no doubt. In fact, few automakers out there are as poised and responsive to change and customer feedback as the Korean giant is.
While they have less of an identity crisis than sister Hyundai, the new Kia K5 neé Optima bears little resemblance to the outgoing model outside of the corporate “Tiger Nose” grille. And even that has been changed quite drastically.
Those that prefer an automaker steeped in heritage and doing things the same way, should probably look elsewhere as Kia seems to re-invent itself every few years. With the once-popular sedan market shrinking at a rapid pace, the new K5 adds a bit of visual excitement to an otherwise stagnant segment. Unfortunately, the excellent new Sorento will likely steal the spotlight and the K5 might not get its day in the sun.
When you first look at the K5 there’s a lot to take in. Like the massive “sharkskinned” grille and the new signature “heartbeat” DRLs that frame slim LED headlamps.
A sloping fastback roofline helps add a bit of drama capped off by a full length light bar that’s made up of a series of dashes rather than one solid strip of light. My only complaint is the obviously fake exhaust tips on the back bumper, an automotive fashion trend that seemingly no one asked for.
The K5 sits on Kia’s N3 platform, which also underpins the new Sorento and is longer, lower, and wider than it was before. With a lower centre of gravity, a choice of turbocharged 4-cylinder engines, and no fun-killing CVTs to be found, the Kia has the cred, on paper at least, to be a good car to drive.
Dipped in a great shade called “Wolf Grey”, my GT-line tester certainly looked like it was going to be fun, drawing inquisitive looks from more than a few passersby.
The GT-Line represents the top end of the three available trims initially offered on sale from Kia. All are powered by a 1.6-litre direct-injected and turbocharged 4-cylinder that pushes out 181 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque, mated to a torque-converted 8-speed automatic. All-wheel drive is standard on all trims, and it’s a front-biased system sending power to the rear wheels when wheel slip is detected.
Coming soon, the full-fat K5 GT will be motivated by a 2.5-L turbo 4 making 290 hp and a stump-pulling 311 lb-ft of torque hooked up to an 8-speed “wet” dual-clutch transmission. It will be offered in front-wheel drive only, a puzzling decision by Kia considering that it’s the performance model and the Sorento offers AWD with the same powertrain. While it might just come down to packaging, we hope Kia is able to offer it sometime down the road. Not having a chance to drive the GT just yet, we will reserve our judgment towards it until we do.
The GT-Line doesn’t have the more powerful engine but it gets the look with performance-inspired elements like a different bumper design, sharkskin mesh grille, snazzy 18-inch wheels, and a flat-bottom steering wheel.
It also adds a larger 10.25-inch centre touchscreen (versus an 8-inch), ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, and more, to an already loaded base model that includes lane keep assist, blind spot collision avoidance assist, a heated steering wheel, drive mode selector, Android Auto and Apple Carplay, and push-button start.
Kia’s latest UVO infotainment system provides crisp graphics, quick response times and features you typically find in much more expensive vehicles like built-in mood music, and wireless Android Auto and Carplay.
Compared to what you find in the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, two of its main competitors, the K5’s tech is in another league. Ditto when it comes to using the Smart Cruise control and lane centering, where it keeps you in line with traffic in a natural manner, without any abrupt steering or braking movements. This is where Kia and Hyundai excel, and at this sub $30K price point these things matter greatly to customers.
. In reality it’s competent but also a bit of a snooze. Those wanting something sportier will probably need to look elsewhere or wait for the GT.
The Kia’s cabin is tightly screwed together with great ergonomics and excellent use of physical buttons. I especially dig the small jog wheel on the console that heats and cools the seats, a smart use of interior real estate. The aesthetic is great but overall quality is still behind what you’d get in the Toyota or Honda.
I seriously doubt most will care about that last bit. I can’t help but notice these things and then draw comparisons about them after driving what feels like a hundred cars a year. Kia has done its homework and they know what people are looking for here and they’ve done their best to give it to them. Their unique ability to adapt so quickly had definitely helped.
Would-be customers will definitely be wowed by the tech and infotainment; it’s a step up from what you’ll find anywhere else. The K5 is very comfortable, comes with standard AWD, and is quiet and efficient around town and on the highway.
Is it as sporty as Kia claims? Not quite. And convincing Honda and Toyota faithful to jump ship isn’t going to be easy. But this car represents a big step in the right direction for Kia and an excellent and sorely needed addition to the ranks of the few sedans that remain.
2021 Kia K5 GT-Line
BODY STYLE: 4-door, 5-passenger mid-size sedan
CONFIGURATION: Front-engine, All-wheel drive
ENGINE: 1.6-L 4-cylinder; Power: 180 hp @5500 rpm; Torque: 195 lb-ft @1500-4500 rpm
TRANSMISSION : 8-speed automatic
CARGO CAPACITY: 434 litres
FUEL ECONOMY : (Regular Gasoline in L/100 km) 9.2 city; 6.9 highway; combined 8.2
OBSERVED FUEL ECONOMY: 10.1 L/100 km
PRICE: LX – $29,995; EX – $32,595; GT-Line – $35,995
WEBSITE: Kia Canada