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2021 Kia K5 GT-Line - Driven

When opting for the AWD model might not be the best move - unless you actually need AWD

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After two decades and four generations in U.S., Kia has decided to globally rebrand the Optima as the K5 – a name it had be using for the Optima in the Korean market since 2010. With the name change came a much sportier exterior, a simple yet attractive interior, and a pair of engines that split the difference between great fuel economy and great performance – you can have one or the other. In early 2021, we had the opportunity to spend a week with the more economical K5 with a 1.6-liter inline-four that was good for 180 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. Fast forward a few months, and Kia graced us with the K5 GT-Line AWD, which comes at a $1,600 premium over the FWD model plus a few extra standard goodies, including a special “Snow Mode.” Is it necessary to have a K5 with AWD, though?

The Kia K5 in General

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When we drove the Kia K5 back in March of 2021, we were pretty impressed with what it offered. It’s the most luxurious Kia to date, that’s for sure, and it was very comfortable. We were very pleased with the simple but attractive interior and even with the 1.6-liter inline-four that put out just 180 horsepower, the K5 was pretty darn peppy for a midsize sedan. In fact, we’d be lying if we told you that you absolutely have to buy the higher-performance K5 GT, as the non-GT models are more economical and should be suitable for about 95-percent of families.

If you’re for mode in-depth information on the Kia K5, check out our full and in-depth review of the Kia K5. Otherwise, read on to learn about our experience with the K5 GT-Line AWD

Making A Case for the Kia K5 GT-Line

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We already told you that the non-GT Kia K5 is probably a very good option for you, but if you’re looking for something a little nicer and more capable, you can move past the entry-level LX and LXS trims to the GT-Line. This isn’t the model that comes with that 290-horsepower BMW-rivalling four-banger, but it does have a go-faster appearance. You also have the option of choosing between FWD and AWD, but AWD comes with quite the compromise. While the FWD models with the 1.6-liter engine deliver 29 mpg in the city, 38 mpg on the highway, and 32 mpg combined, the AWD GT-Line AWD will get you just 26 mpg in the city, 34 mpg on the highway, and 29 mpg combined. It also comes at a $1,600 premium, so you’ll really have to ask yourself if you new AWD or not.

Do I Need the Kia K5 with AWD?

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Since the Kia K5 GT-Line features the same 180-horsepower engine as the EX we drove a few months before this one, we didn’t notice any real difference in performance. It is a little nice to know that you have AWD, but if you live in an area where you don’t experience snow, mud, or a lot of rain, the premium for the AWD model probably isn’t worth it. Topspeed is headquartered in Florida, and the GT-Line AWD felt exactly the same as the EX we drove previously. For us, the additional of all-wheel-drive really wouldn’t be worth it. If you’re from northern states that experience a fair amount of snow, it might make more sense.

Kia K5 GT Line Powertrain and Performance

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Total power output is 180 HP and 195 LB-FT

Like the majority of the K5 lineup, the GT-Line – with or without AWD – comes with a 1.6-liter inline-four that’s good for 180 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. Despite its weight of 3,228 pounds, the GT-Line mages to accelerate decently and will get up to speed without much effort. It’s not BMW or Audi fast, but you won’t find yourself wishing for more on your daily drive. That said, it’s also not the car that will have you drawing attention in terms of performance or the car to do burnouts with. It does look cool – especially with those LED strips along the headlights and fender, but it’s a classic case of more show than go. Unless you opt for the $1,600 AWD package, you’ll have the handling of a typical and modern FWD sedan. The standard offering includes sport 18-inch wheels, and you have the benefits of four-wheel independent suspension, so it does have a bit of a sporty feel to it on the road.

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Kia K5 GT-Line specifications
Engine 1.6-Liter Inline-Four
Horsepower 180 HP
Torque 195 LB-FT
Transmission 8AT
Driveline FWD
Fuel Regular
Steering Electric
Suspension Four-Wheel Independent
Tires P235/45R18
Curb Weight 3228 LBS
Fuel Economy 29/38/32

Kia K5 GT-Line Fuel Economy

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Kia has become pretty well known for building economical vehicles, and the K5, for its size, is no exception. When equipped with FWD, the K5 GT-line will deliver 29 mpg in the city, 38 mpg on the highway, and 32 mpg combined. The $1,600 AWD package, however, drops those numbers to 26 mpg in the city, 34 mpg on the highway, and 29 mpg combined. So, the bottom line is that if you don’t need AWD, you should probably stick with the FWD model as you’ll save money in fuel costs over time.

Kia K5 GT-Line Features

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In FWD for you’ll get 29 mpg city, 38 mpg hwy, and 32 mpg combined

The Kia K5 GT-Line features everything from the LXS trim, plus the following extras as standard equipment:

  • GT Body Styling
  • GT Front Grille, Hyper Silver
  • Outside Mirrors, Sport Black
  • Mirror-Mounted LED Turn Signal Indicators
  • Rear Spoiler, Gloss Black
  • Front Fog Lights, LED
  • Rear Combination Lamp, LED
  • 18-inch Alloy Wheels, Gloss Black Machine Finish
  • 10.25-inch Touchscreen
  • UVO link remote connectivity
  • SiriusXM® Satellite Radio
  • Navigation
  • Bluetooth® Wireless Technology, Multi-Device Connectivity
  • Wireless Phone Charger
  • Power Windows w/ Driver and Front Passenger One-Touch Auto-Up/Down
  • Cloth & SynTex Seating Materials
  • 10-Way Power-Adjustable Driver’s Seat w/ 2-Way Power Lumbar Support
  • Sport D-Shaped Steering Wheel
  • Drive Mode Select
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If you go with the GT-Line AWD, the drive mode select also includes a “Snow Mode,” and it comes with heated seats – something we assume Kia throws in for those buying the AWD model to help make the $1,600 premium not feel quite as heavy. That said, you can also go with the Premium package that costs $1,800 on FWD models or $1,900 on AWD models. These include the following:

Kia K5 GT-Line Premium Package
FWD Premium Package AWD Premium Package
Full LED Projector Headlights Panoramic Sunroof
Panoramic Sunroof Full LED Projector Headlights
LED Interior and Map Lighting LED Interior and Map Lighting
Navigation-based Smart Cruise Control - Curve (NSCC-C) Heated Steering Wheel
Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist-Cyc (FCA-Cyc) Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist-Cyc (FCA-Cyc)
Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist-Junction Turning (FCA-JT) Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist-Junction Turning (FCA-JT)
Highway Driving Assist (HDA) Navigation-based Smart Cruise Control - Curve (NSCC-C)
Highway Driving Assist (HDA)

Kia K5 Interior Impressions

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Outside of the Kia Stinger, the K5 has the nicest cabin available from anything with a Kia badge. You don’t get the hardcore sports seats in the GT-Line like you would in the GT, but the seats are supportive enough and feel quite luxurious for a model that starts below $28,000. The flat-bottom steering wheel can make you feel like you’re driving in something from a more upscale brand, as will the general design of the interior. Overall, we’re just as impressed with the interior of the GT line as we are with the K5 EX that we drove in the past. The infotainment system feels modern and very snappy in responding to input, and although it feels like it could have been integrated into the dash a little better, it doesn’t hamper the overall feel of the cabin.

How Much Cargo Room Does the Kia K5 GT-Line Have?

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Since this is a GT-Line you get more than the standard 16 cubic-feet of cargo room thanks to the 60-40 split rear seats

The Kia K5 offers up 16 cubic-feet of cargo room with the rear seats in place. However, on the LWX trim and above, the rear seats fold down in a 60-40 split, which allows you to carry longer items and a bit more cargo. Kia doesn’t give an official max cargo value, but with the rear seats laid down, we estimate at least 30 cubic-feet of comfortable cargo room if not more.

Kia K5 GT-Line AWD Driving Impressions

The Kia K5, in any trim, is comfortable spacious, and modern. You don’t have all the features in the world, but with the right optional packages you won’t really want for anything either. The steering and braking evoke a sense of confidence and, even though you’re not putting down close to 300 horsepower like you would in the GT, the GT line still accelerates fast enough to keep fire inside you alive without making any compromises in how perfect the K5 is as a family sedan. We honestly have no real gripes about he K5, and as a midsize sedan, it comes very affordable. In terms of daily drivability the ranks in the top 5 and, perhaps, even rates higher than models like the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C-Class. It’s not quite as nice inside, but you’re also rolling out of the dealership with a sub-$30,000 price (unless you go crazy with options, of course). In the end, you really can’t go wrong with the K5.

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Pricing for the GT-Line starts at $26,090 while the AWD model will cost you at least $27,690

As far as the AWD system goes, we didn’t even notice it was there. The K5 GT-Line drove the same as the K5 EX that we tested a few months back. We did try the Snow Mode on loose gravel and it basically dialed the traction control system up to 10, but otherwise, AWD or not, the K5 really drives the same – at least until you find yourself in a snowy situation, which we didn’t have the opportunity to experience.

The Bottom Line

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In the end, the new Kia K5 is an awesome family sedan, but it’s not exactly out of the realm of being perfect for singles either. Honestly, we’d probably go for the more expensive GT since it offers impressively better performance, but if you’re not someone that wants to have super-quick acceleration, the K5 GT-Line will give you that “look” without you having to pay for the extra power and performance. On that note, however, going with the GT-Line AWD isn’t exactly a necessary thing. The K5 is a FWD vehicle at its core, so it naturally handles quite well on wet roads. The AWD probably wouldn’t pose any major benefit unless you live in an area that gets seasonal snow and ice.

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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