First Drive: 2021 Kia K5 Is Packed With Plenty of Tech and Turbo Power

This flashy midsized sedan has a turbocharged powertrain and available all-wheel drive

2021 Kia K5 front and side driving

Update: Since this first drive was originally published in July, 2020, we finished testing the Kia K5.

Read the complete Kia K5 road test.

The 2021 Kia K5 gives midsized sedan buyers a sleek alternative to more ho-hum-looking competitors. The all-new K5 is slightly longer and lower than the Optima it replaces in Kia’s sedan lineup, and offers consumers the choice of two different turbocharged engines and available all-wheel drive. 

Consumer Reports members will find our detailed first-drive impressions below, including what we like and what we don’t like so far. 

The K5 is based on an all-new platform, shared with the Hyundai Sonata. The K5 name was previously used in the South Korean home market, but Kia decided it was time to use the same nomenclature in all markets. Most K5s sold in the U.S. will be powered by a 1.6-liter turbocharged engine, with a more powerful 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder reserved for the GT model that will go on sale in November.  

Prices for K5 models with the standard engine start at $23,490 for the base LX and top off at $27,990 for the EX, before a $965 destination charge. Pricing for the more powerful GT model will start at $30,490.  

The K5 competes against other midsized sedans such as the Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Mazda6, Nissan Altima, Subaru Legacy, and Toyota Camry.

If you’re a Consumer Reports member, our initial expert assessment of the all-new K5 GT-Line and K5 EX models we rented from Kia is available to you below.

We since purchased a K5 of our own and put it through more than 50 tests at the CR Auto Test Center, including those that evaluate acceleration, braking, fuel economy, handling, car-seat fit, and controls. CR members have access to the full road-test results.

If you haven’t signed up to become a member yet, click below to access this full article and all of our exclusive ratings and reviews for each vehicle we buy and test. Joining also gives you full access to exclusive ratings for the other products our experts evaluate in several categories, including electronics and home appliances.

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What we rented: 2021 Kia K5 GT-Line and K5 EX
Powertrain: 180-hp, 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine; 8-speed automatic transmission; front-wheel drive
MSRP: $25,390 GT-Line; $27,990 EX
Options: $2,045 GT-Line; $3,400 EX
Destination fee: $965
Total cost: $28,400 GT-Line; $32,355 EX

CR’s Take

Kia has broken the mold with the Optima-replacing K5. This is truly an all-new car, and fresh lines make it stand out from the midsized sedan crowd. The base engine feels competitive within the segment, especially against non-turbo rivals, while the larger engine (which we haven’t experienced yet) sounds like it could be quite entertaining. 

One of the best things about the K5 is that Kia is continuing to produce new models with easy-to-use controls. It has a traditional gear selector, an intuitive infotainment system, and physical climate controls—how novel and inviting in this era where creativity often trumps functionality. We’re not big fans of the low-mounted dashboard air vents, though, which direct air toward the hands and arms. 

The availability of all-wheel drive should broaden the K5’s appeal in snowy regions, joining the Nissan Altima and Toyota Camry in moving into a niche that was once owned almost entirely by the Subaru Legacy with its standard AWD. The K5’s pricing isn’t as competitive as its corporate cousin, the Hyundai Sonata, likely because the K5 exclusively uses turbocharged engines in its lineup.

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