Kia’s 2021 K5 gets a shot in the arm with 290-hp GT trim

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Pour yourself another cup of coffee, folks, because your next sleeper sedan could well be a Kia. No, we’re not talking about the ballsy, $50K Stinger, but its volume-seller little brother, the 2021 K5.

Wider, longer, and slightly lower, the erstwhile Optima seems determined not to be boring. The K5 embraces an edgy persona with a meaner front fascia and snazzy kinked running lights—Kia’s hoping you think “tiger.” Around back, the K5 uses a strip of lights connecting its taillights, a styling cue it shares with its Korean sibling, the Hyundai Sonata.


However, we’re not all that jazzed about LED strips; we’re interested in the 2.5-liter turbo under the nose of the top-tier K5 trim, the GT. This aluminum, direct-injection inline-four makes 290 hp and 311 lb-ft of torque, and it’s mated with an eight-speed, wet dual-clutch transmission. Kia’s packed other mechanical goodies into the GT as well, including sport-tuned suspension (MacPherson struts up front, multi-link out back) and larger brake rotors: 13.6 /12.8 inches front and rear instead of the 12.0/11.2 rotors found on other trim levels. The beefier brakes sit behind 19-inch standard wheels wearing 245-width Pirelli P Zero rubber. The combination makes for an appealing everyday driver, though it’s worth noting that, if live in snowier regions and you’re planning to drive your K5 year round, you’ll want to buy another set of winter tires to swap out the summer-rated Pirellis.


Though we’re most excited about the GT, there’s no arguing that the K5’s lower trim levels will fund the fun. The four lower trims (LX, LXS, GT-Line, and EX) make do with the same 1.6-liter turbocharged four-pot, which is good for 180 hp and 195 lb-ft. LX is the bare-bones trim—16-inch wheels, cloth interior, minimal tech goodies. The mid-range LXS and GT-Line offer optional all-wheel-drive with active torque distribution (the latter borrows some trim pieces from the GT for a sportier aesthetic). The EX pitches itself as the cushiest model, offering a leatherette interior trimmed in satin chrome and the optional 10-way adjustable seats and 10.25-inch touchscreen (an 8-inch model comes standard on all trims). The EX also offers a sound system upgrade (shared with the GT) from the standard six-speaker setup to a Bose 12-unit system.


Though the models’ availability varies based on trim level, Kia offers the expected suite of driver-assistance tech. Even the base LX gets a lane-keeping assist function, alerting you whenever you drift from a lane or when it senses your attention is otherwise wandering. All models get a pedestrian-sense front collision avoidance set up, and the GT-Line, EX, and GT get an optional smart cruise-control system.

As for that question that’s burning in your minds—yes, you’ll be able to listen to (digitally recreated) rain, ocean waves, or a fireplace, thanks to Kia’s “Sound of Nature” system. (A useful tactic to combat road rage, perhaps?)

Kia hasn’t yet announced pricing for the 2021 K5 lineup, but the four lower trim levels will be available for purchase this summer. Expect the GT to land at dealerships in the fall. The current 2020 Optima starts at $24,355 (destination included) for the base trim; the top SX trim starts at $33,155 (destination included).

The Kia Optima is dead—long live the K5.

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