2021 Kia K5: The K5 is much more than just OK

Maybe it’s O-K5?

Photos courtesy of Kia

SAN DIEGO — Contrary to what Ford and General Motors would have you believe, people still buy sedans. They just don’t buy sedans from Ford and General Motors.

Though the crossover, SUV and pickup truck boom continues unabated, there remain terrific options in the sedan world if you’re into that sort of thing. Some of them are even new and, dare I say it, a bit exciting?

OK, let’s not get carried away. Some sedans are legitimately exciting (like the new BMW M5 or a Volvo S60 Polestar), but those typically are considerably more expensive than my test car this week: the Kia K5.

The K5 is the replacement for the Kia Optima (which was an excellent sedan in its own right) and competes against stalwarts like the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and Nissan Altima — not to mention its stablemate the Hyundai Sonata that I drove last year and really loved.

But the car that the new K5 really reminds me of is its big brother: the Kia Stinger. That’s one of those legitimately exciting sedans (though really it’s a fastback) that I mentioned earlier, and a bit of its DNA is shared with this tamer variant.

This Kia is still a bit of a looker, with a fastback silhouette of its own and slippery lines that make it seem more expensive than my test car’s $32,355 sticker price would indicate.

I had the luxury-focused K5 EX trim, which is only missing a handful of features when compared to the top-of-the-line K5 GT (which sports a much larger and more powerful engine, if you’re into that sort of thing).

But for the money, it’s extremely well-equipped and the 1.6-liter turbocharged engine is surprisingly peppy. And, the gas mileage makes this an excellent commuter option — likely the use for many a K5 — with an EPA-estimated 37 MPG highway and 27/31 city and combined. The standard 100,000-mile/10-year warranty is pretty terrific, too.

Kia hasn’t skimped on the features either. The K5 ticks every safety feature box including rear cross-traffic alert with auto-brake, automatic lane following (aka a light version of autosteer), automatic high beams, and adaptive cruise control with full stop-and-go support so it’s ideal for traffic.

There’s also a clever feature called Safe Exit Assist that’s becoming more common in new vehicles. It uses the existing blind-spot monitoring radar at the rear of the vehicle (that are also used for cross-traffic alert when reversing) to detect cars or bicyclists approaching from behind when parallel parked. If it sees one, it will temporarily prevent the doors from being opened on that side of the car until the danger has passed.

This keeps both passengers and bicyclists (who are at real risk of getting impaled on a casually opened car door) safer. I love taking existing hardware on a car and repurposing it for new features, so this is something I’m a huge fan of.

Inside is standard Kia fare with a large touchscreen at the top of the well-designed center stack that supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a hefty bin with USB and power outlets, and a bin for your phone (or whatever else you want to toss in there) in front of the gear shifter, and two adequately sized cupholders.

Even more interesting is a slot behind the gear shifter for you to drop your phone in that keeps it safe and secure while wirelessly charging it as well. I like this sort of outside-the-box thinking when it comes to a phone storage location. Putting a phone horizontal and flat is a huge waste of space when you can drop it into a vertical slot, although with phones getting bigger and bigger, I wonder if the iPhone 17 will fit. I suspect that phones are done getting larger, but I thought that with the iPhone 5, too, and here we are with the iPhone Freaking Enormous, so what do I know?

Comfortable seats and a nice Bose sound system complete the ensemble, with elegant wood accents available in the luxury-focused EX-trim, while the sportier GT gets a sharper brushed aluminum look.

I have to be honest, I’d still buy a crossover over the K5 sedan. They’re almost as good on fuel economy, have a higher driving position and are much better when it comes to cargo space for my biweekly Costco runs. But there are more than a million sedans sold every year in America, and those sedan buyers deserve great options. They deserve the Kia K5.

And if you’re seriously considering a sedan, give the Kia K5 a serious look.

About Jordan Golson 142 Articles
Jordan Golson is North State Journal's automotive reporter. He covers cars - both foreign and domestic - from around the globe.