There’s still plenty of life in the thinned-out midsize-sedan class, at least with automakers such as Kia that continue to play in that particular strata. The fresh-faced K5, which is expected to arrive in Canada soon, is a new name that replaces the decades-old Optima.
The K5 exudes style from every angle, which is saying a lot since the outgoing Optima was no slouch in the looks department. The design team at Kia has created a low-slung shape that bears some resemblance to the Kia Stinger sedan, but the K5 is arguably more attractive. Standout elements include a mesh-style grille with zigzag turn-signal lights, and full-width taillights.
The finished product might not convince those addicted to their uber-popular utility vehicles and similar tall wagons, but the K5 could appeal to younger buyers seeking a cool and roomy ride that their parents might pass over. As well, those piloting competing midsize sedans might also find the eye-catching K5 worth a close-up inspection.
The K5 employs the same architecture that was introduced in the 2020 Hyundai Sonata (Kia is part of the Hyundai group), which is touted as being stronger than the previous structure.
The K5 is about five centimetres longer than the Optima and has been similarly lengthened between the front and rear wheels. The Optima is 2.5 centimetres taller. Passenger and cargo capacities between both sedans differ only slightly. There’s more rear legroom than in the Optima as well as front headroom. Rear headroom is about the same as the Optima’s despite the K5’s fastback styling.
A check of the interior shows plenty of premium-grade materials (seat coverings, door panels, dashboard, etc.) plus a honest-to-goodness floor shifter that could be confused for an airplane throttle.
The dashboard has an 8.0-inch or available 10.25-inch touch-screen with navigation. Both stick out from the dashboard somewhat, but at least they don’t appear tacked-on as some screens on other cars do.
Kia has backed up the K5’s stellar appearance with a revised powertrain lineup. The base model comes with a turbocharged 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine that produces 180 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. It’s mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission, which is a two-gear increase over the base Optima.
Available is a turbocharged 2.5-litre four-cylinder with 290 horsepower and 311 pound-feet. It comes in the top-of-the-line GT model and includes a quick-shifting eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.
For best lowest fuel consumption, the 1.6 is rated at 9.2 l/100 km in the city, 6.9 on the highway and 8.2 combined.
A hybrid K5 will eventually be added to lineup, likely for the 2022 model year.
All-wheel-drive is actually standard for the K5 — it was not available for the Optima — but only with base turbo 1.6 engine. The system comes with selectable Smart, Sport, Snow and Custom settings.
The base K5 LX, for $31,450 including destination charges, comes with active cruise control, emergency braking and lane-keeping assist, but there’s minimal interior/exterior trim and no Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity. Smallish 16-inch wheels are standard. That deficiency is corrected on EX, GT Line and EX trims that have 18-inch wheels and an increasing amount of luxury-oriented content.
The star of the show is the $41,700 GT (not to be confused with the GT Line). Aside from the more potent turbo engine, you get upgraded steering, a sport-tuned suspension, dual exhaust system, beefier brakes, sport bucket seats and 19-inch wheels.
A 12-speaker Bose-brand audio system, navigation-based cruise control and multi-Bluetooth connectivity are optional, depending on the trim.
Over the years, the Optima morphed into a ground-breaking vehicle for Kia, most notably after Audi designer Peter Schreyer joined the company in 2006. The K5 is clearly a big enough next leap in terms of interior and exterior design to earn a new name. And in a time when buyers appear fixated on utility vehicles and even pickups as family rides, the K5 needs to pull out all the stops to be noticed.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: 2021 Kia K5
Type: Four-door, front- /all-wheel-drive midsize sedan
Engines (h.p.): 1.6-litre I-4, turbocharged (180); 2.5-litre I-4, turbocharged (290)
Transmissions: Eight-speed automatic; eight-speed automated manual (turbo 2.5)
Market position: As domestic automakers mostly abandon the sedan category to focus on utility-type vehicles, the remaining import-based manufacturers such as Kia are updating their models with new styling and/or powertrains.
Points: The name seems a bit odd, but the new styling is nothing short of stunning. • All-new interior has a premium look. • Turbocharged engine choices deliver sufficient horsepower and torque. • A good assortment of active-safety tech is standard. • Standard all-wheel-drive with the base engine is ideal for the Canadian climate.
Dynamic safety: Blind-spot warning with cross-traffic backup alert (std.); active cruise control (std.); emergency braking (std.); inattentive driver alert (std.); lane-keeping assist (std.)
L/100 km (city/hwy) 9.2/6.9 (1.6.); Base price (incl. destination) $31,450