2021 Kia K5 GT-Line new car reviews

The Kia K5, the car formerly known as the Optima, now wears the same name worn in its home market of South Korea. Name aside, the K5 has been redesigned for 2021 with a new exterior and interior, though still shares its Hyundai-Kia N3 platform with its cousin, the Hyundai Sonata.

Aside from the upcoming GT trim, all K5s come powered by a turbocharged 1.6-liter “Smartstream” four-cylinder engine that’s rated for 180 horsepower and 195 lb.-ft. of torque. The only transmission choice for the LX, LXS, GT-Line and EX trims is an eight-speed automatic, though buyers can choose either front- or all-wheel-drive on the LXS and GT-Line trims.

As for the aforementioned GT trim—available come November according to Kia—power will come from a turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine mated to an eight-speed, dual-clutch transmission. This powertrain—shared with the upcoming Hyundai Sonata N-Line—will be good for 290 horsepower and 311 lb.-ft. of torque.

In anticipation of the hotter GT, we got our hands on a GT-Line version configured with front-wheel-drive and few premium options like LED projector headlights and smart cruise control. Keep reading to get our driving impressions.

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Other staff views

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens
Editorial Director

For the first time in a while, a Kia, Hyundai or Genesis product left me feeling a bit underwhelmed. Maybe the bar has been set too high. Or maybe I’m being picky–keep reading.

That hint of dissatisfaction doesn’t apply to the looks, though, both inside and out. In fact, I got a "cool car, man" from a Scion xB driver while loading up groceries. (See, I’m still hip.)

The interior follows Kia’s current trend: just the right number of buttons, supportive seats, good gauges and solid touch points. Not sure I need a D-shaped wheel on the street, but figure that most people will dig it. The T-handle shifter almost has a retro vibe. It’s just so mechanical.

Ride in town and on the highway is smooth and comfortable. No hums, no weirdness.

Our tester had the turbo 1.6 so power was adequate. Be nice to sample the turbo 2.5 at some point: 290 horsepower vs. the 180 found in our car.

What left me a bit “meh” on the entire experience? I’m looking at you, transmission.

I the normal mode, it’s too quick to downshift and not eager enough to upshift. I get that’s the price that we pay for fuel economy.

But click into the sport mode, and it’s just hangs up in a low gear for too long. Instead of cruising around in too low of a gear, how about some logic that instead delivers instant downshifts when needed? In fact, I preferred the standard mode.

But then I took a look at the window sticker. Maybe I’m being a bit too critical. Ours, with the GT-Line package and delivery and everything, stickered at $28,400. The K5 GT 2.5T will cost $30,490. The Camry TRD starts at $31,170. If you don’t need the horsepower and don’t mind the transmission logic, our test car suddenly looks like a contender.

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bobzilla MegaDork
10/28/20 3:29 p.m.

That's pretty.

Kreb (Forum Supporter)
Kreb (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand UberDork
10/28/20 7:46 p.m.

The Turbo 2.5 sounds like a winner. As for the lesser motors, I prefer the NA 2.5 to the turbo 1.6 having driven both in the current Sonata.


DirtyBird222 PowerDork
10/28/20 10:09 p.m.

I said a few months back that Kia and Hyundai were knocking things out of the park. Then they killed off a lot of manual transmissions. I'm intrigued about their DCT they are starting to throw into things. 

Datsun310Guy MegaDork
10/28/20 10:24 p.m.

First Chevrolet's Blazer isn't a Blazer now Kia's K5 isn't a K5. Maybe I don't want to live on this planet any more. 

Good news is we still got Dolly Parton.  

chandler UltimaDork
10/29/20 9:07 a.m.
Datsun310Guy said:

First Chevrolet's Blazer isn't a Blazer now Kia's K5 isn't a K5. Maybe I don't want to live on this planet any more. 

Good news is we still got Dolly Parton.  

I was also hoping for a classy box on wheels

Tony Sestito
Tony Sestito PowerDork
10/29/20 9:46 a.m.

The new not-a-Blazer Kia K5 looks nice both in pictures and in person. I think it looks a lot better than the outgoing Optima, which itself wasn't all that bad looking, minus the strange roof treatment they had. The K5 still has something funky going on with the roof trim, but the rest of the car makes up for it.

For GRM-minded folk, it's the turbo 2.5 or nothing. That drivetrain looks a lot more fun than the detuned 1.6T from the Forte GT in this car. I'm wondering if the GT comes with the new wet-clutch DCT they have been working on instead of the dry clutch unit that's in the Forte GT. 

One more thing, and this goes for all the Kia vehicle lines: the GT-Line and GT are completely different cars. The GT-Line is basically an appearance package, while the GT has the mechanical bits to back it up. That's confusing to consumers; when I was car shopping and looking at my Forte GT, this threw both me AND the dealership off, since they offer different financing and incentives for the two lines. They should change the name of the GT-Line to something else, like Touring or Sport, to differentiate them. Take a note from Honda on this.


Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
10/29/20 9:50 a.m.

In reply to Tony Sestito :

I can confirm that the GT will get the wet clutch DCT.

ultraclyde (Forum Supporter)
ultraclyde (Forum Supporter) UltimaDork
12/28/20 2:45 p.m.

I'm not fond of the exterior styling but I like the interior look.

kevinatfms GRM+ Memberand Reader
12/29/20 6:44 a.m.

So its AWD in the K5 GT with the 2.5L but they snuff the Sonata N-Line with FWD?

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