The Kia K5 Review: Why This New Kia Sedan Breaks My Heart

Kia K5
Me with the Kia K5. Photo: Scotty Reiss

The critics made a big miss this year; this is not a car to overlook. 

I was sure — sure! — after I drove the brand new Kia K5 that it would make all the best of the year lists. I was certain that the World Car Awards, on which I serve as a juror, as well as other awards programs, would recognize the Kia K5. 

But I was sadly disappointed. I can only fathom that due to the pandemic, the K5 test models didn’t make the rounds to all the jurors who need to test drive it in order to evaluate it for voting. And wow, did they miss out. 

But, it’s your good luck that you’re in on the secret: This is not a car to overlook in your search for a fun-to-drive, well-designed, best-for-the-money sedan. 

The Kia K5 replaced the Optima, the brand’s elegant, tech-filled sedan, with the K5 for the 2021 model year. The K5, both in its name and with its logo badge, gives us a peek into Kia’s future; following the launch of the K5, the company introduced a new futuristic logo setting the stage for its next era.

Related: Space, Luxury and Savings without Compromise in the Kia Sorento Hybrid SUV 

Kia K5

The single piece dashboard screen includes the infotainment system on the right and the driver information screen on the left. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Then, they gave the K5 another bump: GT Line and GT editions. Buyers can amp up the style and sportiness quotient of their daily drive by opting for the GT line, which adds sporty red leatherette seating, a GT Line flat-bottomed sport steering wheel (a must in sports cars), heated front seats, all wheel drive, and of course, sport mode. 

Those who really want to take it up a notch can upgrade to the Kia K5 GT with a larger 4-cylinder engine and 290 horsepower for an additional $5,100. Again, this is a pretty nice price considering all that you get.

Related: An Affordable 4-door Sports Car: The 2019 Kia Stinger

Kia K5

The front cabin in the Kia K5. Photo: Scotty Reiss

I’ll Have What She’s Having 

The idea of a makeover is to update your look to a more modern, on-point look. But to look younger, to take the leading edge? That’s the brass ring. And often, it goes wrong. But not here. From the heartbeat headlights and streaming tail lights—lights that give this car the look of being in motion even when standing still—to the redesigned interior, the K5 gets everything right. 


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Interior highlights include a single panel dashboard that incorporates the infotainment system and driver information screens, wireless Apple Car Play and Android Auto—just hop in with your Bluetooth on and once you’ve connected to the system, it connects automatically—and a clever wireless phone charger ‘port.’  

In addition to updating much of the car’s look, Kia also kept some of the Optima’s top features, like the panoramic sunroof and sweeping roof line, both of which give the car an elegant, expensive look and feel. The roof line, which sweeps across the top of the car then dips down to the rear spoiler in a single line, gives the K5 the look and feel of a hatchback coupe, though it has a standard trunk rather than a hatch.

All of this adds up to a very eye-pleasing look and satisfying feel, inside and out; exactly what a makeover should deliver.

Related: The 2021 Kia Seltos is Here and Yes, You Want One

Kia K5

The interior and that beautiful panoramic sun roof. Photo: Scotty Reiss

What We Loved 

The Kia K5 incorporates all the things that we loved in the Optima but adds enough new features to warrant the new name. This is what we loved about the Kia K5 GT Line: 

  • A sporty new exterior including a wider Tiger Nose grille
  • The heartbeat headlights and tail lights — these are so cool! 
  • The rear seat has plenty of passenger space
  • Four USB chargers — two up front and two in the rear seat
  • The Wolf Gray color of our test model; this ceramic gray gives a grounded, solid look
  • Keyless entry and push button starter
  • The wireless phone charge port, a vertical slot that gently hugs your phone so it charges 
  • The single pane dashboard that incorporates the infotainment system as well as the driver information screen
  • The panoramic sunroof, a Kia staple 
  • A smart trunk… just stand behind it with the key in hand and it opens
  • All the goodies like wireless Apple CarPlay, WiFi, Kia Uvo connected services, heated front seats and steering wheel
  • The GT Line details including red leatherette seating
Kia K5

The steering wheel in the Kia K5 still carries the old logo. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Driver Assist and Safety Features Complete the Package 

Yes, many car brands are still charging for these great features that not only keep you safer on the road but help to ease the stress of driving. Kia includes them free under the Kia Drive Wise package that is standard on all Kias. This includes: 

  • Forward collision avoidance with pedestrian and cyclist detection
  • Driver attention warning
  • Lane departure warning and assist
  • Lane follow assist
  • Automatic high beam headlights
  • Blind spot collision avoidance
  • Rear cross traffic collision avoidance
  • Adaptive cruise control with stop and go
  • Highway driving assist
  • Rear occupant alert
  • Safe exit assist which notifies you if you’re about to exit the car and a vehicle, bicycle or other object is approaching from behind
Kia K5

The phone holder is also a wireless charger in the Kia K5. Photo: Scotty Reiss

What This Car Costs

  • The base model Kia K5 LX, which includes the 4 cylinder 180 HP turbo engine, 8” touchscreen infotainment system, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Kia Drive Wise driver assist and safety technology, starts at $23,590
  • The GT Line, a mid-level trim, adds GT Line style details, black side mirrors, black gloss grille, remote engine start, heated front seats and steering wheel, all wheel drive and Pirelli tires, starts at $25,490
  • Kia K5 EX adds a silver grille, more USB ports, rear climate control, LED interior lighting, leatherette seats, heated and cooled front seats and a panoramic sun roof, starts at $28,090
  • The GT adds a larger turbo charged 290 HP engine, GT style details, quad tip dual exhaust, 19” wheels,  sport bucket front seats, and the option of Bose premium audio, starts at $30,590
  • The price of our test model, with a panoramic sunroof, Wolf Gray paint ($445), a 10.25” touchscreen and enhanced navigation ($800), was about $31,300, including a $965 delivery charge 

I wasn’t optimistic I’d see a big difference between the Optima and the K5. But I was pleasantly surprised. There is so much value and style in this sporty little sedan that it should be on the shopping list of every buyer looking for a top features at a great value. Despite what the critics say. 

Disclosure: Kia provided the K5 for this review; all opinions are my own.

Kia K5

The K5 badge gives a peek at the new Kia logo type. Photo: Scotty Reiss

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Journalist, entrepreneur and mom. Expertise includes new cars, family cars, 3-row SUVs, child passenger car seats and automotive careers... More about Scotty Reiss