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road test

The 2021 Kia K5.The Globe and Mail

It has a new name, a new engine, a new chassis, pretty much new everything, but the Kia K5 is the next-generation Kia Optima sedan. It’s a better vehicle for it, and it now comes standard in Canada with all-wheel drive. This makes it a much more desireable vehicle for many of us; AWD isn’t available on many affordable mid-sized sedans, such as the Honda Accord or Hyundai Sonata.

The K5 is a sporty-looking vehicle, but it’s not particularly sporty to drive in most of its trims. The engine, shared with the Sonata, produces 180 horsepower and a more respectable 195 lbs-ft of torque, which is nothing to brag about these days. There are three trim levels with this engine, and I drove the top-end GT-Line, with all the bells and whistles, but there will soon be a GT trim powered by a 2.5-litre turbocharged four that will cost an extra $4,000.

So if you want that extra dollop of satisfying power for your drive, stop reading this review and just wait for the GT’s release later this winter. It will produce 290 hp and 311 lbs.-ft. of torque through its front wheels, and the price difference is a lot more reasonable than you’ll find with premium brands.

If, however, you want a comfortable car for five people that lets you feel a bit racy without getting you into trouble, stick with me here to find out about the “regular” K5.

At the back, the brake lights run as an effective sequence across the width of the trunk.The Globe and Mail

The big question is, why get the K5 and not a Subaru Legacy? After all, the Legacy generates about the same amount of power (and has the larger engine option) and is a master of AWD, all for about $2,000 less at each trim level.

The Kia has a true automatic eight-speed transmission, however, not the CVT of the Subaru that mimics eight speeds, and it’s a little larger all around. You’ll need to compare trim levels closely, as you will with the Nissan and Toyota as well, but the Kia has cutting-edge technology that just a generation ago would have only been found in far more expensive premium brands and, even then, would have been less effective.

My tester came equipped with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, complete with a handy charging pocket in the centre console that included a fan for keeping my phone from overheating. A huge panoramic sunroof let overhead light into the back seats, and the rear faux-leather seats on my upper-trim car were heated, while the front seats were heated and cooled and the steering wheel heated.

There are five different electronic drive modes: Normal, Sport, Snow, Custom – for adjusting the parameters yourself – and Kia’s own Smart mode, which learns over time how it is you prefer to drive and adjusts to that. Do you accelerate quickly? Brake harder than most? Just leave the setting at Smart and it will accommodate you a little better. Just be prepared for your partner to complain if you mix up the key fobs.

The sloping rear gives the K5 the look of a fastback.The Globe and Mail

Tech specs

  • Base price/as tested: $29,595 / $35,995, plus $1,750 freight and PDI
  • Engine: 1.6-litre turbocharged inline-four, 180 hp / 195 lbs-ft
  • Transmission/Drive: 8-speed automatic, AWD
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.2 city, 6.9 hwy., 8.2 comb.
  • Alternatives: Subaru Legacy, Nissan Altima, Toyota Camry

Looks

2021 Kia K5The Globe and Mail

All car makers have their distinctive headlights and grilles to make sure other drivers know what’s behind them on the road, and the K5′s cues are better than many. There’s still a squiggle to the daytime driving lights below the headlights, and it’s now a little more pronounced. At the back, the brake lights run as an effective sequence across the width of the trunk.

The chrome side strip that runs over the doors and around the cabin is now both wider and more tapered, looping under the rear window. The gradual slope of the glass at the back makes the car look almost like a fastback with a long rear hatch, but it’s not. There’s a standard trunk lid, which opens just by standing next to it for a few seconds.

Sixteen-inch alloy wheels are standard on the base-level trim, but the EX and GT-Line get 18-inch alloys, while the GT has 19-inch wheels.

Interior

The rear seats are heated on some trims.The Globe and Mail

My tester was fairly monochromatic inside, though the 10.25-inch touch screen was easy to use and clear to read. The GT-Line trim includes a flat-bottomed steering wheel but, as mentioned earlier, this was more of a tease than anything else. I kept reaching around for paddle shifters, but they’re only available with the more powerful GT trim. The transmission lever is in its traditional place in the centre console and gives something to rest your right hand on when you want a break from 10-and-2.

There’s plenty of storage, and the doors have a handy lip as part of their inside handles, which makes it easier to grip and pull the door closed. This is a thoughtful touch that more cars should include. As well, all trims except the base level have heated glass in the windshield, using almost-invisible wires that defrost more quickly and effectively than just blowing hot air onto it.

The base LX trim comes with black cloth seats, but all other trims have synthetic leather seating. The EX trim ($32,595) and GT-Line include the panoramic sunroof.

Performance

Like I said, nothing to write home about, so I won’t. It’s not so much that it’s lacking in power because it really isn’t, but just that it doesn’t offer anything extra, anything special, when you might want it. If this is really your thing, either wait for the GT trim ($39,995) or opt for the slightly smaller Kia Stinger sedan.

The transmission is excellent, however, and would be much better if I could shift with paddles without having to use the centre lever, but this is very much a First-World Problem.

The ride is a little firm and does not adjust through air suspension or magnetic shock absorbers. Again, this is a sub-$40,000 car, which is easy to forget.

Technology

Full wireless connectivity – check. All the apps that matter – check. Some apps that don’t matter – check. The UVO Intelligence app from Google that lets you find your car and check up on it remotely – check.

All trim levels include lane-keeping assistance, blind-spot warning, pedestrian-collision alert and rear cross-traffic-avoidance assist. This is remarkable at this price, especially since these features were only on six-figure cars just a few years ago. Step up to the EX trim and you get smart cruise control, parking assistance and junction-turning assistance, which watches for other vehicles coming toward you at traffic junctions to help prevent left-turn collisions.

My GT-Line tester included Safe Exit Assist, which prevents the doors from opening on the side where a person or vehicle might be approaching from behind. This is a feature of the Hyundai Group and a very smart idea, indeed. It also included what Kia calls Highway Driving Assistance, where you can remove your hands from the wheel while driving for short periods of time. Most other brands that offer this, including Tesla, allow your hands to be off the wheel for 15 to 30 seconds, while the K5 gave me several minutes at a time on the main highway.

Cargo

The trunk has room for a couple of golf bags.The Globe and Mail

The K5 is comfortable for three adults in the rear, with reasonable leg space and head space and a total passenger volume of 2,982 litres. The trunk is a little smaller than some of the FWD competition at 434 litres, but there’s still plenty of room for a couple of golf bags. The rear seats fold down in a 60/40 split if you need to pass anything through.

The verdict

Like most Kias, the K5 is comfortable and satisfying to drive, with aspirations of performance, while fully up-to-date with its technology. If you’re looking for a well-equipped mid-sized sedan with all-wheel drive, then it’s right on the money.

The Globe and Mail

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