Kia K5 GT — Satisfying performance

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

(May 9, 2021) Auto buyers who still think a mid-sized sedan is an excellent purchase and who are also fans of performance and who usually opt for a brand's higher horsepower version, might look to Kia for their next car. We think the new 2021 Kia K5 should be on everyone's sedan shopping list — especially those who value 0-to-60 time in the 5-second range. The Kia has an outstanding 290-horsepower variant labeled the GT that we found much to our liking.

The GT is powered by a turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 311 foot-pounds of torque at 1,650 rpm to go with its 290 ponies mated to an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. The only thing the GT lacks is all-wheel drive, which would certainly elevate its performance. All-wheel drive is available on the base 180-horsepower engine, and we urge Kia in the future to also outfit the GT with an AWD option, which we think would make the GT more entertaining for winding rural road entertainment on the weekend.

Zero to 60 has been measured at 5.2 seconds by a major magazine — slightly slower in some other tests — with a solid quarter mile time of 13.7 seconds @ 106 mph. That's a lot of quarter mile performance for a mainstream sedan, and these upper reaches of its performance band come into practical display when quickly passing a slower-moving vehicle on a two-lane road.

Adding to the GT's attraction is gas mileage measured at 24 mpg city, 32 highway and 27 combined — all on regular gas. Many turbocharged engines of this size require the more expensive premium fuel adding hundreds of dollars a year to the cost of driving.

In addition to most of the standard equipment found on the other trim levels, the GT gets upgraded brakes, a sport-tuned suspension, additional styling flourishes, sport front seats, 19-inch sport alloy wheels, and a panoramic sunroof. The starting price is $31,455 including destination charge, and for this outlay we wish Kia would have made such things as adaptive cruise control and the 10.25-inch touchscreen with navigation part of the standard package.

To get some of the good stuff you will need to opt for the $4,000 GT1 Package, which adds adaptive cruise, the big touchscreen with navigation, and a Bose premium audio system. Bottom line of our GT test car was $35,705.

The 2021 K5 replaces the Optima in the Kia lineup improving on a good sedan — one that we have recommended over the years — into a near-great sedan rivaling the Honda Accord, Mazda5 and Toyota Camry for supremacy. Like several Japanese automakers, the South Korean company has not abandoned sedans as have the U.S.-based companies.

The K5 carries a striking design, comes with an upscale interior, possesses driving refinement usually reserved for the best in the luxury class, and exhibits an incredible attention to detail found in few mainstream vehicles.  It has aggressive lines inspired by Kia's Stinger sports sedan. Its new platform is wider (73.2 inches), longer (193.1 inches) and lower (56.9 inches) than the Optima it replaces.  Its fastback silhouette stands out within the segment, and the long clamshell hood, Z-shaped daytime running lights, and air vents add a type of sportiness that the Optima lacked. The new "tiger face" has been modernized to include a wide and thin grille, which now includes a "shark skin-inspired" mesh design.

The windshield is radically angled imparting a sports-car mood to the driving experience. The seating position behind the wheel is spot on. And something we look for these days is adult-sized rear seat space, and in the K5 legroom is generous and the seats are comfortable. Head room might be a bit compromised for very tall passengers because of the raked roofline. The interior is as quiet at highway speeds as many luxury sedans.

The K5 comes in four trim levels in addition to the GT — LX, LXE, GT-Line and EX — and with two engine offerings. The standard engine is a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder producing 180 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque mated to a very smooth 8-speed automatic transmission.

A 10.25-inch touchscreen is available on some trim levels, but most come with an 8-inch screen. Both screens are located high up at center dash and are flanked by physical buttons that make switching between functions easy. The instrument panel is well designed, and material quality throughout the cabin is excellent. Apple and Android phone connection is wireless on all models with the standard 8.0-inch infotainment screen, but surprisingly, you'll need a cable if you upgrade to the 10.3-inch screen.

Earlier this year we drove the GT-Line with the 1.6-liter engine and the $2,100 AWD option and found it engaging with ample performance measured at 7.0-seconds from 0-to-60. With a price of $31,300 with many of the available options we rated it among the top mid-sized sedans sold in America.

The K5 starts at $24,455 including destination charge for the LX. The LXE carries a base price of $25,455. We also drove an LXE and found that it should meet the needs of most buyers. It comes with a fair amount of standard safety including blindspot monitoring with cross traffic alert.

The good thing here is that you don't have to break the bank to find a well-equipped K5. And don't forget — all K5 trim levels come with Kia's vaunted five-year/60,000-mile standard warranty and 10-year/100,000-mile drivetrain warranty.

2021 Kia K5 GT


Base pice, $31,445; as driven, $35,705
Engine: Turbocharged 2.5-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 290 @5,800 rpm
Torque: 311 pound-feet @ 1,650 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed dual-clutch automatic
Drive: front wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 112.2 inches
Length: 193.1 inches
Curb weight: 3,581 pounds
Turning circle: 36 feet
Luggage capacity: 16 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 14.8 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 24 city, 32 highway, 27 combined
0-60: 5.2 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Honda Accord Sport, Toyota Camry TRD, Hyundai Sonata N Line

The Good
• Outstanding performance
• Cutting edge exterior styling
• Comfortable and quiet interior

The Bad
• Sloping roofline makes it tricky to get in and out of back

The Ugly
• Performance engine cries out for AWD