With striking style and an upscale interior, Kia's new mid-size sedan is some chassis refinement away from rivaling the leaders in its class.
Children don't sketch SUVs in study hall and car designers don't spend years in school working their way up to studio boss to figure out how to draw a grille and headlights on a potato. The designers we know dream of penning performance cars, and while the 2021 Kia K5 isn't exactly that, it definitely looks like one.
"Longer and lower with a wider track" sounds like a Chevy ad from the '50s, but those descriptors belong to Kia's mid-size sedan, too. Compared with the Optima it replaces, the K5 measures two inches longer and nearly an inch lower and has an extra 0.8 inch between the tires. The proportions and design yield a striking car that belies its front-drive layout, the $24,455 starting price. We drove a GT-Line model with an asking price of $27,955, but a mechanically identical EX went to the test track and that's where the numbers came from. Aesthetes who find the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry too common might not turn their noses up at the K5.
While the styling pleases eyes, the K5 is satisfying in many other ways. The base engine is a 180-hp turbocharged 1.6-liter four shared with the Sonata, and it's paired to an eight-speed automatic—no rubber-band CVT here. Shifts are smooth and quick, and the right gears are called up without any fuss. Low-end torque feels more abundant than its peak of 195 pound-feet at 1500 rpm indicates, and the turbo makes itself felt right away. Stomp it and the K5 gets to 60 in 7.0 seconds.
Venture beyond 5000 rpm and the engine moans, something you won't hear in an Accord. Driven more sedately, the K5 hums 67 decibels of sound into the cabin at 70 mph. All GT-Line and EX models have the same suspension tuning as the base K5, but they use 18-inch wheels with wider Pirelli all-season tires than the entry trim's 16s. Sharp impacts expose a lack of isolation. While not a deal breaker, it's worth noting that an Accord sops up the same hits with less coarseness. It's likely the shorter sidewalls of the 18-inch wheels and the one-size-fits-all tuning are to blame. The steering is both unerringly stable at highway speeds and deft and responsive when you're sawing through a canyon road or interesting on-ramp.
A radically angled windshield lends a sports-car mood to the driving experience, and the seating position is excellent. Rear-seat space is generous and comfortable. A 10.3-inch touchscreen is available on some trim levels, but the GT-Line comes with an 8.0-inch screen. Both sprout out of the dash and are flanked by physical buttons that make switching between functions easy. The instrument panel has a BMW-ness to it, and material quality throughout the cabin is good. Apple and Android phone mirroring is wireless on all models with the standard 8.0-inch infotainment screen, but strangely, you'll need a cable if you upgrade to the 10.3-incher.
The K5 inches closer to the Accord's ability to deliver everyday joy. A bit of suspension tuning to increase isolation and refinement would give it the manners to match its designer looks.