2021 Kia K5 GT-Line AWD Review

The new sedan at its Optima-l best

Amos Kwon, Editor-In-Chief

Positives: Breathtaking design inside and out, composed driving experience, excellent in-car technology, great optional AWD, well-priced.
Negatives: Base engine could use a little bit more power, the old shift knob carries over.
Bottom Line: The K5 is the rightful, more upscale replacement for the slow-selling Optima. It's easily one of the best-looking sedans on the market and should satisfy buyers with its premium style, robust standard features, and its solid comfort level.
The Kia Optima was a good car that not many car buyers noticed. Eclipsed by the Camry, Accord, and Fusion, it was the also-ran in the declining family sedan segment. So, it's surprising to just that Kia went whole hog on a full redesign and a renaming, but what a result. The new Kia K5 doesn't look much at all like the car it replaces with premium styling and a fusillade of safety features, it puts its crosshairs on the competition (as does its sibling, the Hyundai Sonata). We drove the top trim with the four-cylinder engine, the GT-Line with all-wheel drive. Read our full review below.

Driving Experience



Very few K5 owners will find it incapable of handling just about every situation when it comes to solid driving chops. The base engine is great most of the time, and the car's composure is apparent when helming it in turns and weaving through traffic. We just wish it had about 200 horses instead of the 180.

Ride Quality: Ride quality is great but not cushy. It manages bumps well and handles pavement gaps on sweeping turns without feeling choppy.

Acceleration: 0-60 comes in about 7 seconds, which is good for a 2.0-liter turbo four sedan. At higher passing speeds, it requires a bit more planning. For those who want more power, go for the 290-hp GT. We're just glad the base car has an 8-speed transmission instead of a limping CVT.

Braking: The brakes have good modulation and feel with no dead spots or sponginess.

Steering: The steering is decently weighted but lacks feedback. It's about on par with the Sonata but not as sharp as the Accord or the Mazda6.

Handling: Minimal understeer thanks to AWD and manageable body roll equate to composure in the turns.




Kia does in-car techology incredibly well, better than most of the mainstream carmakers, actually. When it comes to crisp graphics, ease of use, and controls, the K5 is great. The new funky graphics are a bit polarizing, but they do add flair to the typically unadventurous look of most of their UVO systems.

Infotainment System: Our optional 10.25" touchscreen looks great. The purple retro menu icons are funky and eye-catching. Hopefully, there's a way to change the look to something more monochromatic, but we didn't take the time to check.

Controls: Buttons and knobs are all well-laid out and easy to reach. Kia does some of the best steering wheel controls and center console switchgear we've seen. We just wish the old cylindrical shift knob from the Optima didn't carry over.




The K5 really looks like nothing else in the segment, not even its Sonata sibling. We think it has the right balance of elegance and sportiness, and the unique touches like the artistic DRL signature and the segmented rear LED light strip take the K5 up a couple of notches from the competition.

Front: We especially like the dark mesh tiger nose grille whose cutout extends into the hood creases. The look of the headlights is one of the best in the business, most notably the DLR signature that looks like nothing else we've seen.

Rear: The K5's big lighting elements look great, along with the lip spoiler, the tastefully done faux vents, and the big exhaust ports.

Profile: The car's chunky look is balanced well by the sloping roofline and the elegant chrome strip that carries over from the Optima. Some folks might mistake this for an Audi from the side view.

Cabin: The K5 in GT-Line trim has a superb interior with red seating surfaces and premium materials that belie its below-average new car price.




In terms of overall comfort, the K5 is an excellent vehicle that has more room than before and improved ergonomics and materials. Even the SynTex faux leather material looks and feels like the real thing.

Front Seats: The broad seats have good support and cushioning. We found adjustability to be good, as well.

Rear Seats: The legroom in the back measures 35.2 inches. While it's not as big as the Accord or the Camry, a six-footer can sit back there without too much trouble. The outboard seats have good contouring, and the middle passenger doesn't suffer too much thanks to a well-angled seatback.

NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): The K5 has great sound deadening, and we found it quiet and noise-free.

Visibility: The rear parcel shelf isn't too high, and overall visibility is good. The C-pillar is thick and raked, so you will have to rely on cameras, to an extent, when backing up.

Climate: The automatic climate control system is responsive and works well, along with the heated seats and steering wheel. We were thankful for these during a really cold week in Chicago.




The K5 is one of the safest sedans in the business, having recently earned top ratings from both testing bodies. The list of standard safety features is a long as your arm.

IIHS Rating: The K5 nabbed the top award, the Top Safety Pick+ rating with "good" in all crash tests and Superior Accident Avoidance technology for both pedestrians and vehicles.

NHTSA Rating: It earned 5 stars from the feds, the top rating from the government testing body

Standard Tech: Standard tech in the K5 GT-Line is probably the best we've seen at this price. It even provides an excellent traffic junction turning accident avoidance feature. Our tester also had Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist-Pedestrian, Blind-Spot Collision-Avoidance Assist, Rear Cross-Traffic Collision-Avoidance Assist, Safe Exit Assist & High Beam Assist, Lane Keep Assist & Lane Following Assist, Driver Attention Warning, Leading Vehicle Departure Alert, Tire Pressure Monitoring System, Forward Collision Avoidance Assist - Cyclist, and Smart Cruise Control w/ Stop & Go.

Optional Tech: Our tester came with the Nav Smart Cruise Control - Curve w/ Stop & Go, which lowers the speed in curves, along with Highway Driving Assist.




The K5 does a great job with storage and cargo space, far better than many cars its size. The binnacles are convenient and reachable, and the trunk opening is tall and wide.

Storage Space: The cabin makes great use of space with a front tray, a great wireless charging dock that actually keeps your phone in place, and good door pockets.

Cargo Room: 15 cubic feet is larger than the Mazda6, the same as the Camry, and only a tad smaller than the Accord.

Fuel Economy



In all-wheel drive trim, the 2.0-liter turbo isn't as efficient as the two-wheel drive version, but it still does 34 combined, which is great for the segment. We drove all on local roads and in stop-and-go traffic while in Sport mode, so our numbers were on the low side.

Observed: 24.4 mpg.

Distance Driven: 64 miles.




Our tester came with the stock audio system, which sounded good and clear. We didn't note anything particularly outstanding, but there were no issues with sound or operation during our review period.

Final Thoughts

We love the K5 because it shows that Kia is committed to making great cars, no matter how slow-selling the segment in which it fits. The K5 is easily one of the most attractive vehicles for its price, and it will impress even the most discriminating of car buyers. The GT-Line AWD is the one we would recommend for most buyers who don't care too much about having more power. It's practical, supremely safe, stylish, fun to drive, and it easily stands out in the crowd. Kia has done a masterful job reincarnating the Optima.
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