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By Justin Pritchard
The all-new 2021 Kia K5 replaces the Optima in the automaker’s lineup, giving shoppers a compelling choice on a modern sedan with many strengths and few weaknesses.
After about 1,200 kilometres at the wheel, I think I’ve found the recipe behind the K5’s secret sauce — that is, the key attributes that help set it apart from its competitors. Below, I’ll explain those attributes and what they mean to the driver, as experienced from behind the wheel, in real life.
My tester was the K5 GT-Line — second from top in the K5 family, with a 180-horsepower turbo-four, an eight-speed automatic, four doors, five seats, and All-Wheel Drive (AWD). The base K5 starts at just under $30,000, with the mid-level EX clocking in from just under $33,000 Canadian loons, nicely equipped. The up-level GT-Line, like my tester, starts around $36,000, while the incoming K5 GT — a high-performing range-topper with 290 horsepower from its 2.5L turbo-four — is roughly $40,000.
The first ingredient in K5’s secret sauce is its tech, user interfaces, and how the driver fits into the equation. My tester left me wanting for nothing on the advanced safety and connectivity fronts — it ships complete with radar cruise, collision mitigation, lane-keeping aids, and other outward-looking safety kit. On the connectivity front, gadgets like Android Auto and Apple Car Play seek to integrate your smartphone handset functionality into the vehicle’s central screen, where you can control it more easily by voice. Everything picks up where you left it on your handset, and all you’ve got to do is plug it in.
Drivers can select and customize special drive modes, customize the displays in the instrument cluster, and plenty more. The presence of these features is important, but if this will be your first new car in quite some time, you’ll appreciate how easy and approachable it all is to use. By the way, the up-level central display screen is big, bright, vivid, easy to navigate, and very responsive. Even non tech-savvy types will have it sorted out quickly — likely without swearing.
The K5’s safety features are easy to toggle and manipulate as you learn them, and easy to switch on and off to taste as you get used to how they work. Handy infographics pop up on screen, helping drivers stay up on which safety systems are in use, and what they’re all doing. In summation, the bulk of the K5’s very best tech seems inviting and easy to get comfortable with, not overwhelming and complex.
I’d call the second ingredient in the secret sauce a nicely balanced overall drive that caters nicely to sportier drivers who also want something relaxing on longer trips. The steering, handling, and responsiveness make the K5 feel lively and snappy at the tips of your fingers and toes, more so in sportier drive modes. It’s a nod to the Kia Stinger, something that’s athletic and responsive, but also happily turns in a nice touring experience, too.
Worked hard, the 1.6L turbo-four is smooth and eager, but against K5’s athletic reflexes, some drivers will wish for more all-out firepower. Steering is quick and heavy, giving it a confident athleticism on the highway and your favorite winding backroads. It’s eager if not outright fast, and happy to move and hustle like a smaller and sportier car, if you like. The surprise, though, is despite its frisky intentions, the K5 stands up fairly nicely to rougher roads where ride quality matters. Specifically, you can expect a convincingly spirited feel without big sacrifices to comfort on most rougher surfaces.
The third ingredient in the K5’s secret sauce is its styling. You may or may not like how it looks, but the important thing here for the shopper cutting the cheque, is that the car needs to stir pride of ownership, and to be distinctive and bold. The body pulls this off with plenty of details to keep the eyes busy when a passing glance lingers into a longer look.
Inside, a generous palette of upscale materials and design touches turn in a nice array of rich details and modern finishes and nearly enough metal trim to line the dash in a new Mercedes or Cadillac. Just like the body, the K5’s cabin offers plenty of detail to reward your eyes and fingertips for looking a little more closely. Touches like these help create a cabin that looks and feels modern, fresh, and top of the line.
Downsides? Some will wish for more power and a smoother, more relaxing ride. Also, in a few specific situations at low revs, the engine can be a little gruff — though it does smooth out once you give it some work to do.
Those after something in this segment with a fresh look and sportier driving feel should give the Kia K5 GT-Line a serious look, though I’d also suggest cross-shopping it against some of my other top recommendations in the midsize segment, including the Hyundai Sonata, Nissan Altima, and Subaru Legacy.