Does the Kia K5 represent a strong evolution or is it just another midsized sedan?

LISTEN 15:42

Let me introduce you to the Kia K5 midsize sedan – a car that really doesn’t need much of an introduction because you’ve known it as the Kia Optima ever since it hit the market back in 2000, but I’ll discuss that a bit later. Like the Optima, the K5 is known for its attractive styling, sexy yet functional interior, and – naturally – a great value for the money. Highlights of the new k5 (or 5th-gen Optima, if you like) are even bolder styling, new engine offerings, and, believe it or not, available all-wheel drive. Pricing for the new Kia K5 starts out at a very reasonable $23,590 (making it one of the most affordable midsize cars on the market) with the loaded, more powerful, range-topping GT trim commanding just $30,590. With this in mind, is the Kia K5 right for you? Keep reading to find out.

The Kia Optima, Magentis, Lozte, and the K5 - The Real Story

2021 Kia K5 - Driven Exterior
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The Optima name has been in the U.S. market since 2000, and over two decades we say four different generations. It was almost like watching a kid grow up, honestly, as we were able to watch it grow from a simple, toned down family sedan to something attractive and capable enough to compete above its class in some cases. While we have the K5 name now, the Optima really isn’t dead, because the K5 is an Optima at its core. In fact, the K5 name is very familiar in certain markets. Here’s an interesting timeline:

  • First Generation: 2000 - 2004S – Starting in 2000, the Optima as we know it was known as the Kia Magentis across Europe and Canada.
  • Second Generation: 2005 – 2009 – When the second-gen model launched, it was also called the Lozte in the South Korean Market.
  • Third Generation: 2010 – 2014 – From 2010 onward, when the third-generation launched, Kia dropped the Magentis and Lozte names, opting to use the Optima name is most markets outside of South Korea and China where the K5 name was born.
  • Fourth Generation: 2015 – 2020 – This naming structure globally (and in the Asian market) continued through the fourth-gen model that launched in 2015.
  • Fifth Generation: 2021 – Come 2020, for the 2021 model year, the Optima name has been retired, with Kia’s midsize sedan bearing the K5 name globally.
2021 Kia K5 - Driven Exterior
- image 978661

So, as you can see, the Kia K5 might – technically – be new for the U.S. market, but it’s really just an Optima and kia has decided the K5 name fits much better. That remains to be seen, but names aside, the fifth-gen midsize sedan is a stunner nonetheless, so let’s have a closer look at it and how it compares to the competition.

2021 Kia K5 – Powertrain, Performance, and Fuel Economy

The 2021 Kia K6 is offered with your choice of two engines. The main offering is a 1.6-liter, turbocharged, inline-four that delivers crisp power to the front wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission (AWD is optional on certain trims). The other engine option is a 2.5-liter, turbocharged, four-cylinder that’s honestly a little too potent for a car this size and it can only be had with front-wheel drive.

How Much Power Does the Kia K5 Have?

2021 Kia K5 - Driven Drivetrain
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The main engine offered in the Kia K5 is the 1.6-liter that delivers 180 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. The K5 GT comes exclusively with a 2.5-liter four-banger that delivers 290 horsepower and 311 pound-feet of torque. Unless you have a desire to accelerate hard in a Kia, the smaller 1.6-liter will do just fine for you, and you’ll achieve great fuel economy too. Our tester was the EX trim, which also included the 1.6-liter. In comparison, the Honda Accord’s 1.5-liter delivers 192 horsepower and 192 pound-feet of torque, while the Nissan Altima will give you 188 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque from a 2.5-liter inline-four.

Does The Kia K5 Get Good Fuel Economy

2021 Kia K5 - Driven Drivetrain
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As expected from the Kia name, the K5 does deliver pretty good fuel economy for a midsize sedan, netting 29 mpg in the city, 38 mpg on the highway, and 32 mpg combined. The K5 GT manages 24 in the city, and 32 on the highway. In comparison to the competition, the K5 performs admirably. The Honda Accord, for example, will give you 29 mpg in the city, 35 mpg on the highway, and 31 mpg combined.

Kia K5 vs competition - fuel economy
City Highway Combined
Kia K5 29 38 32
Honda Accord 29 35 31
Nissan Altima 28 39 32

What Kind of Transmission Does the Kia K5 Have?

2021 Kia K5 - Driven Interior
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The Kia K5 comes standard across the lineup with a modern (but old-fashioned) eight-speed shiftable automatic transmission. This is kind of a big deal, actually, as both the Honda Accord and Nissan Altima are offered dominantly with a CVT. If memory serves correctly, the Accord can be had with a 10-speed automatic in some trims while the Altima is limited to a CVT.

2021 Kia K5 Interior Design – Simple yet Attractive

2021 Kia K5 - Driven Interior
- image 978635

The interior of the Kia K5 is somewhat surprising. The whole glow-up statement that every journalist under the sun repeats about Kia is getting old, so I’ll just say that the iK5’s interior is very nice and feels arguably ahead of its class. Interior materials and quality of stitching are on point. You still won’t find a high-end or fully-digital instrument cluster, but Kia has still strived to give a nice offering of technology. The new infotainment system, for example, is quick, easy to operate, and somehow blends in very well with the interior. It’s also easy to appreciate the analog HVAC controls, a real-life shifter instead of some weird knob, and the unobstructive central vents that probably would have been larger and ugly had the car been designed 10 years ago. The dash, door trim panels, and center console are all sleek and despite the nice-for-the-price materials are still pleasing to the eye.

How Much Interior Space Does the Kia K5 Have?

2021 Kia K5 - Driven Interior
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The Kia K5 is a midsize sedan, so don’t expect to seat 5 huge humans in the car comfortably, but you can seat 5 people without a problem. Four is really more desirable, but the interior dimensions are on point with what you get from the competition, for the most part. The K5 does fall short in front headroom, front shoulder room, rear shoulder room, and rear legroom, but it dominates in front hiproom and legroom as well as rear headroom and rear hip room in comparison to the Honda Accord and Nissan Altima, but the differences are negligible in most cases. Here’s a table for comparison:

Kia K5 vs competition - interior room
Kia K5EX Honda Accord Nissan Altima
Front Headroom 38.4 39.5 39.2
Front Shoulder Room 58 58.3 58.2
Front Hip Room 56.6 55.3 54.7
Front Leg Room 46.1 42.3 43.8
Rear Headroom 37.4 37.3 36.9
Rear Shoulder Room 56.1 56.5 57.1
Rear Hip Room 56.6 55 54.5
Rear Leg Room 35.2 40.4 35.2

How Much Cargo Room Does the Kia K5 Have?

2021 Kia K5 - Driven Interior
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The Kia K5 offers up 16.0 cubic-feet of cargo room in the trunk. You can lay down the rear seats more more space, but Kia doesn’t disclose just how much you can carry in that configuration. In comparison, the Honda Accord wins with 16.7 cubic-feet while the Nissan Altima falls short at 15.4 cubic-feet. In all honesty, the difference between the K5 and its competitors isn’t much, and it’s not really much of an arguable selling point unless you’re really trying to haul a lot of cargo in a midsize sedan.

Does The Kia K5 Have Good Technology?

2021 Kia K5 - Driven Interior
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The Kia K5 isn’t much of a tech powerhouse compared to cars above its class, but where it competes, it does pretty well for itself. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard. You can also opt for a wireless charging pad with a cooling fan, and it’s spring loaded so your phone stays in place even under mild spirited driving. The standard eight-inch touchscreen display is crisp and easy to navigate, but the upgraded 10.25-inch system does look better. We’d still recommend the smaller system, though, as we’re not a fan of the capacitive touch buttons on the larger system – simply because they are hard to locate without taking your eyes off the road.

During our time with the K5, we didn’t experience any false alarms from the advanced driver aids, and we should add that it’s become – basically – unanimous that Kia has one of the best driver aid and safety suites on the market.

2021 Kia K5 Exterior Design

2021 Kia K5 - Driven Exterior
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The Kia K5’s exterior design is clearly a leap ahead of the Optima that it replaced, and that’s a very good thing. The fifth-gen midsize sedan is bolder than ever, and you’ll even see a few hints of Stinger DNA here and there. The most impressive factors include the zig-zag LED strips in the headlights, the way the grille extends the entire width of the front without looking ugly, and the “floating” wings in the corners of the fasica that create the corner air vents. The K5 isn’t a four-door coupe in advertisement, as Kia has chosen to continue with the “sedan” designation, but the sloping roofline could classify it as a four-door coupe, and it makes it very sporty too. Even the rear end, while somewhat bubbly, offers up a very sporty appearance, and we’re quite fond of the dotted illuminated third light that runs the width of the rear deck lid to connect both taillights. The K5 might be a Kia, but in terms of exterior design, it ranks right up there with the best of them well ahead of its class, including BMW, Mercedes, Audi, and dare I say Bentley?

How Big is the Kia K5 Sedan?

2021 Kia K5 - Driven Exterior
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The Kia K5 measures 191.3 inches long, 73.2 inches wide, and 56.9 inches tall. These figures make it an at least an inch shorter in length compared to the Honda Accord or Nissan Altima, yet it rides on a 112.2-inch wheelbase – that’s 0.8-inches longer than the Accord and one inch longer than the Altima. With the wheels pushed deeper into the corners, the K5 actually handles a little better, something that’s also aided by the longer front and rear tracks at 63.7 and 64 inches, respectively. Check out the full exterior dimensions comparison below:

Kia K5 vs competition - exterior dimensions
Kia K5EX Honda Accord Nissan Altima
Length 191.3 192.2 192.9
Width 73.2 73.3 72.9
Height 56.9 57.1 56.7
Wheelbase 112.2 111.4 111.2
Front Track 63.7 63 63.2
Rear Track 64 63.4 63.2
Curb Weight 3228 LBS 3199 LBS 3207 LBS

Kia K5 Pricing

2021 Kia K5 - Driven Exterior
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The Kia K5 is one of the most reasonable midsize sedans on the market, and even if it does go a bit higher in some cases, the standard equipment, build quality, and design tend to make up for it. There are a total of five trim levels available, with the entry-level K5 LX starting at just $23,590. Prices increase marginally from there up to a maximum of $30,590 for the K5 GT with the larger engine. A full price breakdown is as follows:

Kia K5 prices
Kia K5 LX $23,590
Kia K5 LXS $24,590
Kia K5 GT-Line $25,490
Kia K5 EX $28,090
Kia K5 GT $30,590
2021 Kia K5 - Driven Exterior
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In terms of options, the offering is pretty standard, ranging from things like a cargo hook for $30 up to mud guards for $115 or the EC Mirror with Homelink for $350.

Kia K5 Options List
Cargo Hook+$30
Cargo Net+$50
Wheel Locks+$60
Rear Bumper Applique+$75
Cargo Mat+$95
LED Trunk Light (Coming Soon)+$110
Cargo Tray+$115
Mud Guards+$115
Trunk Cargo Management System (Coming Soon)+$120
Carpeted Floor Mats+$155
Paint Protection Package+$200
Puddle Lamp (Coming Soon)+$275
Illuminated Scuff Plates+$300
Interior Light Kit+$300
EC Mirror w/ Homelink+$350
Remote Start (Key Start)+$425

However, the GT-Line is offered with a premium package for $1,600 while the EX Premium Package will set you back $3,400. The GT has a dedicated GT1 package with a cost of $4,000.

2021 Kia K5 - Driven Exterior
- image 978649
Kia K5 Premium Packages
GT-Line Premium Package EX Premium Package GT1 Package
Full LED Headlights 10.25-inch Touch-Screen Full LED Headlights
Panoramic Sunroof w/ Power Sunshade Navigation Ventilated Front Seats
LED Interior and Map Lighting Bluetooth® Wireless Technology, Multi-Device Audio Streaming 10-Way Power-Adjustable Passenger Seat w/ 2-Way Power Lumbar Support
Wireless Phone Charger Voice Recognition Heated Steering Wheel
Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist (FCA) w/ Cyclist Detection and Junction Turning 12 Speaker Bose® Premium Audio System Leather-Wrapped Gear Shift Handle
Smart Cruise Control w/ Stop and Go (SCC w/ S&G) Active Sound Design (ASD) 10.25-inch Touch-Screen
10-Way Power-Adjustable Passenger Seat w/ 2-Way Power Lumbar Support Navigation
Driver's Seat Integrated Memory System (IMS) Bluetooth® Wireless Technology, Multi-Device Audio Streaming
Rear Combination Lamp, LED Voice Recognition
Mirror-Mounted LED Turn Signal Indicators SiriusXM® Satellite Radio
Heated Steering Wheel 12 Speaker Bose® Premium Audio System
Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist (FCA) w/ Cyclist Detection and Junction Turning Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist (FCA) w/ Cyclist Detection and Junction Turning
Smart Cruise Control w/ Stop and Go (SCC w/ S&G) Smart Cruise Control w/ Stop and Go (SCC w/ S&G)
Navigation-based Smart Cruise Control - Curve (NSCC-C) Navigation-based Smart Cruise Control - Curve (NSCC-C)
Highway Driving Assist (HDA) Highway Driving Assist (HDA)
Safe Exit Assist (SEA) with Power Rear Child-Safety Door Locks Safe Exit Assist (SEA) with Power Rear Child-Safety Door Locks
Parking Collision-Avoidance Assist, Reverse (PCA-R) Parking Distance Warning (PDW), Reverse
Parking Collision-Avoidance Assist, Reverse (PCA-R)

In comparison to the competition, the Kia K5 is impressively cheaper, especially when you look at the range topping model. The base K5 is just a little under $2,000 cheaper than the Honda Accord and Nissan Altima, which start out at $24,970 and $24,250, respectively. On the high end, the range-topping Accord Touring 2.0T will set you pack $36,900 ($6,310 more than the K5 GT) while the Altima Platinum trim will set you back $34,150 – some $3,560 more expensive.

Kia K5 Competition

2021 Kia K5 - Driven Exterior
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Despite the growing popularity of SUVS and Trucks, the midsize sedan segment is still booming, so there’s no shortage of models the K5 has to compete with. In this case, we’ve picked two fan favorites: The Honda Accord and the Nissan Altima. Here’s how they stack up.

Is the Kia K5 Better Than the Honda Accord

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The Kia K5 may trace its roots back to the turn of the millennium, but the Accord has been a mainstay since 1976, giving it nearly five decades of experience. During this time, the Accord has become known as one of the most reliable vehicles (it’s a Honda thing) and it has also grown up from a compact car to a midsize car, a transition that happened in 1989 when the fourth-gen model made its debut. These days, the Honda Accord is still riding out the midsize segment, and it’s doing so with a 1.5-liter four-cylinder that’s good for 192 horsepower and 192 pound-feet of torque. The main transmission offered is a CVT (not ideal, I know) but you can get a 10-speed auto on certain trims. Fuel efficiency comes in at 29 mpg in the city, 35 mpg on the highway, and 31 mpg combined – putting it kjust a hair below that K5 in highway and combined driving, but on par in the city.

In terms of size, the Accord is just a bit larger than the K5, but not by much. And, with the K5 being brand new for this year, we have no choice but to admit that the now-4-year-old Accord falls a little behind in both technology and interior appointments. Not that it’s bad, as the Accord does have a really nice interior, the K5 is just newer, and that goes a long way. Pricing for the Accord starts out at $24,970 and climbs as high as $36,900 for the range-topping Touring 2.0T trim level.

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Kia K5 vs Honda Accord
Kia K5EX Honda Accord
Engine 1.6-Liter Inline-Four 1.5-Liter Inine-Four
Horsepower 180 HP 192 HP
Torque 195 LB-FT 192 LB-FT
Transmission 8AT CVT
Driveline FWD FWD
Fuel Regular Regular
Steering Electric Electric
Suspension Four-Wheel Independent Four-Wheel Independent
Tires P235/45R18 P235/40R19
Curb Weight 3228 LBS 3199 LBS
Fuel Economy 29/38/32 29/35/31

Read our full review on the Honda Accord

Is The Kia K5 Better Than the Nissan Altima

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Like the Honda Accord, the Nissan Altima started life as a compact car and transitioned into the midsize category later on. This happened with sedan models in 1998 while the Altima coupe was sold as a compact until 2013. On the market since 1993, the Altima is now in its sixth generation, which was introduced back in 2018. So, also like the Accord, the technology and design is just a bit older than what you see in the K5. In fact, one could even argue that Kia did its homework well enough to excel in all the areas slightly older cars like the Accord and Maxima might be faulted. That said, the Altima is still a nice vehicle for the price if you can get past the lack of powertrain options and the fact that you’re stuck with a CVT.

Under the hood sits a 2.5-liter four-banger that delivers 188 horsepower and 180 lb-ft of torque. While the output does come a bit higher that what you get in the K5, the Altime delivers pretty impressive fuel economy. It falls 1 mpg short in the city, but offers the best highway economy at 39 mpg. It’s combined rating is 32 mpg, which make sit equal to the K5 and one point ahead of the Accord. Interior materials are decent and one could even argue that there’s some GT-R DNA hidden away inside, but it still seems as if the K5 excels just a bit in terms of materials, fit and finish, and technology. Pricing for the Altima starts out at $24,250 and climbs to $34,150 for the range-topping Platinum trim.

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Read our full review on the Nissan Altima

Philippe Daix
Philippe Daix
Obsessive and Compulsive Automotive Expert - phil@topspeed.com
Always on the lookout for the latest automotive news, Philippe Daix is our most senior editor and founder of TopSpeed.com. He likes to see himself as a consumer advocate with a mission to educate motorheads of all ages.  Read full bio
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