Expert Reviews

2021 Kia K5 Test Drive Review

AutoTrader SCORE
This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car
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You’ve really got to hand it to those Korean car companies.

The midsize sedan segment may be in sharp decline these days, but they’re still giving it one heck of an effort. Last year, Hyundai gave us the impressive new Sonata, while for 2021, sister brand Kia is bringing a revised version of its family car, now called the K5, to Canadian showrooms. And while there’s plenty to like inside the K5 — and under its hood — it’s the car’s appearance that has the most appeal.

Styling: 8/10

If the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry are too familiar, and the Sonata’s catfish face a little too, er, distinctive, the K5 could be just the ticket. Kia’s mid-sizer is a bold and contemporary sedan highlighted by several interesting components, and looks especially good in the Wolf Grey paint seen here.

The oversized grille peels back under the multi-lens headlights that are accented by elaborate zig-zagging signal lights that lead the eye up toward the arching greenhouse that’s stretched to flow toward the tail of the car like a fastback (unlike the Kia Stinger,it’s not; it’s got a traditional trunk opening).

The chrome strip that starts at the base of the windshield grows in width, slicing through the C-pillar and wrapping around the bottom of the rear glass before returning up and toward the windshield on the other side of the car. Where a thin, unbroken LED taillight strip across the width of a car is commonplace, Kia has given this a unique, segmented look.

Inside, the K5 is less daring but still modern in its look — although the mostly black interior is a bit stark, broken up only by the band of rather convincing faux wood and metallic accents.

Comfort: 7/10

The K5’s interior is very roomy, enabling space for up to five passengers. Rear head- and legroom are especially abundant, although not class-leading. Up front, the leather-covered seats are decently supportive and comfortable, offering not only seat heating, but cooling functions, too, in the GT-Line and GT trims (which also include heated rear seats). The dual-zone climate control also enables occupants to raise or lower fan speed, even when set in automatic mode.

The K5’s ride is fairly comfortable if a bit stiff, and wind and road noise are well-suppressed, though the engine noise is coarse and penetrates the cabin more than it should.

Features: 9/10

K5 drivers will be spoiled by the feature content Kia has poured in. A heated steering wheel, front heated and ventilated leather seats, and rear heated seats are here, as are other niceties like a premium sound system, wireless charging, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, and even an enormous panoramic sunroof. USB-A plug points are distributed throughout the cabin.

While the K5 does have keyless entry, there are no touch panels on the rear door handles. The hands-free trunk-opening is nice, especially when there aren’t any dance moves or kicks required;  just walk up to the rear of the car and wait a few seconds until the trunk lid pops open.

Safety: 9/10

Unsurprisingly, Kia has also stacked the K5 with active safety features. There’s lane-keeping assist as well as lane-following assist that coincides with the adaptive cruise control. The forward collision avoidance system has also been programmed to scan ahead at intersections to help avoid left-turn crashes. There’s active blind-spot collision avoidance as well. In many cases, the sensitivity of these systems can be adjusted to the driver’s tastes, or switched off altogether.

Beyond that, Kia has fitted the K5 with parking sensors, but the back-up camera shows only a rear view, not a top-down 360-degree view that some competitors have. It also boasts an electrically heated windshield that’s quicker than a conventional HVAC defrost at clearing of condensation or frost, but the downside is that at night, oncoming headlights refract off the tiny wires embedded in the glass, giving a slightly greasy look.

User Friendliness: 8.5/10

Kia’s 10.25-inch touchscreen atop the dash is the command centre for much of the car’s operations and it works quite well. The size of the screen enables three separate information displays, or allows two thirds to be occupied by, say, Apple CarPlay and the other third the embedded navigation, if desired. Menus are simply laid out; although in the pursuit of style, some of the graphic buttons have been made a little tricky to read, and there is often a slight delay to inputs. The infotainment screen does, however, take into account a driver’s eyesight by providing a blue light reduction setting for nighttime driving.

There are great steering wheel controls, too, and redundancy buttons for climate control and audio volume, though the latter is mounted higher than seemed natural to your humble author. Where other manufacturers have jumped on the trend to get creative in their gear selector applications, Kia has stuck with a traditional shifter sprouting from the centre console that slides through P-R-N-D, and it can be operated easily without hunting for a button or moving the lever in some unusual fashion.

The automaker even addressed the long reach to the door pulls by adding a little lip near the power window switches that enable an occupant to give a bit of a tug until they can reach the other door pull. It’s a small detail, but could be appreciated by shorter passengers.

Practicality: 7/10

While the K5’s passenger space doesn’t top the class in any respect, it remains highly competitive and, frankly, very spacious. There’s ample room front and back, and even fitting three abreast in the rear seat wouldn’t be as horribly punishing as it might be in some cars.

While it looks like a sportback from the outside, Kia’s midsize sedan is still a conventional four-door, which is a shame due to its more limited practicality. The trunk — at 434 L — is slightly smaller than the Accord’s or Sonata’s, both of which are front-wheel drive versus the all-wheel-drive K5. With a decent set of winter tires, the K5 should be an excellent all-season machine.

Driving Feel: 7/10

It looks great and is chock-full of amenities, but the K5 is also well-sorted to provide some driving fun, too. The all-wheel-drive system (standard on all trims) helps ensure there’s decent traction, even if the car is being driven more aggressively than most would. The Pirelli P Zero all-season tires lean a bit toward the sporty side versus comfort and help provide good handling grip, too.

The steering is also livelier than expected and the K5 responds crisply to inputs, even if there isn’t a lot of feedback through the wheel as to what’s happening at the pavement level. The brakes are set up with 12-inch front discs and 11.2-inch rears, and there’s great initial bite, lending confidence when driving the K5 briskly. This isn’t a full-blown sport sedan, and an aggressive drive up and down a mountain pass or on a track would quickly reinforce that, but it’s not a boring family sedan. Plus, the upcoming GT model — not to be mistaken with this GT-Line trim — will have more aggressive suspension tuning and larger brakes.

Power: 6/10

The GT model will also get a larger and much more powerful 2.5L turbocharged four-cylinder versus this GT-Line tester’s 1.6L turbo four. This is the standard engine for all but the top-tier trim and, at 180 hp, it’s merely adequate. Shared with its Sonata cousin, the engine is that car’s one real letdown, and it’s even more so here given the K5’s all-wheel-drive system robbing output to turn all four wheels.

In fairness, the K5’s 195 lb-ft of torque dispensed between 1,500 and 4,500 rpm, meaning most drivers will find satisfactory amounts of oomph in daily driving. But with the chassis tuned as well as it is, Kia’s sedan could be an even more rewarding drive with more output. Of course, there’s always the Stinger for a few grand more for drivers needing a spicier sedan experience.

Fuel Economy: 7/10

At an official combined consumption rate of 8.2 L/100 km according to Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), the K5 is less efficient than comparably equipped, front-wheel-drive Accord and Sonata trims; however, it’s competitive with all-wheel-drive variants of the Camry, Nissan Altima, and Subaru Legacy.

Value: 8/10

Generally, the midsize sedan category represents tremendous value, and the K5 offers more than most. This GT-Line tester, at $35,995, is equipped similarly to the various top-of-the-line trims from other manufacturers, yet adds features like wireless CarPlay connectivity and a panoramic sunroof that are not usually seen in this class. Standard all-wheel drive is sure to be a value-adding element many Canadian drivers will appreciate, too.

The Verdict

With competitive dimensions and efficiency, the K5 fits into the class well, but with some of its luxurious features — and all-wheel drive — and some of the most distinctive styling in the category, the 2021 Kia K5 GT-Line represents an excellent choice for buyers still looking for a handsome midsize sedan in an age of lookalike SUVs.

Engine Displacement 1.6L
Engine Cylinders Turbo I4
Peak Horsepower 180 hp @ 5,500 rpm
Peak Torque 195 lb-ft @ 1,500–4,500 rpm
Fuel Economy 9.2 / 6.9 / 8.2 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space 434 L
Model Tested 2021 Kia K5 GT-Line
Base Price $35,995
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,750
Price as Tested $ 38,095
Optional Equipment
$250 – Wolf Grey Premium paint, $250