Proffit at the Wheel: 2021 Kia K5 GT-Line AWD

Midway through the Kia lineup of traditional sedans lies the K5, a front-wheel-drive four-door that exudes style and evokes sportiness just standing still. It replaces the Optima sedan, which had done yeoman duty for Kia the past two decades.

The opportunity to drive the 2021 Kia K5 GT-Line AWD, dressed in luscious Wolf Gray with the GT-Line red SynTex seating material, came at the start of the NHRA’s Camping World Drag Racing Series season, preceded by the 2nd annual CTECH World Doorslammer Nationals, all held in the state of Florida. Since nothing is close-by in this state – and with the first event near Orlando and the second outside Gainesville, there was plenty of opportunity to fully test this sedan.

The Kia K5 is brand new for 2021 and has a lot to recommend. It’s a handsome sedan with popular coupe-like looks, it has elegance inside the cabin and offers plenty of options to fit everyone’s desires and budgets. While it’s not the most fun-to-drive car in the Kia lineup – that title goes to the rear-wheel-drive Stinger sedan – it does have a refined engine and a frugal transmission.

All but the top-line GT sedan in the K5 lineup sport a 1.6-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine that produces 180 horsepower at 5,500rpm and 195 ft-lb of torque between 1,500 and 4,500. Redline occurs at 6,500rpm. Kia mates this engine to an eight-speed, automatic transmission that keeps the K5 frugal with fuel. (The GT has a 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that brings 290 horsepower to the dance and has 311 ft-lbs of torque, using a double-clutch 8-speed automatic transmission.) While the standard engine works well, it does need a bit of time at highway speeds to get into passing mode.

MacPherson strut and multilink independent suspensions are excellent on the K5, but the electric column-mounted motor-driven power steering was definitely a bit vague on-center. Kia fits Pirelli P235/45R all-season rubber on five-spoke, black-and-chrome 18-inch alloy wheels. These are far preferred to the K5’s standard 16-inch rubber. I’d talk about the brakes on this sedan but there’s really nothing more to say than that they stop the car readily and, provided the driver is paying attention, do so without warnings. There are plenty of warning bells and buzzers on this car; finding ways to be rid of them was a regular endeavor during our nearly two weeks together.

The GT-Line Kia K5 comes standard with all-wheel-drive and has some of the GT’s sportier items, like those 18-inch wheels, a 10-way power adjustable driver’s seat (passenger’s seat is manual) and leather steering wheel, together with charging ports for those relegated to the voluminous rear seats. The GT-Line also includes adaptive cruise control, LED projection headlights, a heated steering wheel, panorama sunroof with cover and wireless charging. There’s also SiriusXM with three months gratis, front heated seats, forward collision avoidance assist for cyclist and junction turning and LED interior lighting.

These items were all included in the base price of $30,055 including freight. Kia did add two options to this particular K5 GT-Line AWD. The Wolf Gray paint is $445 and the color, with subdued metallic to it, gives the K5 even more of a luxurious exterior. The GT-Line AWD Special edition adds, for $800, the GT-Line red SynTex seating material, which did very well in warm and cool temps (never used the seat or steering wheel heaters), navigation with a 10.25-inch touchscreen and MapCare, smart cruise control curve with stop-and-go and highway driving assist. The bottom line is $31,300.

That eight-speed transmission sure helps this 3,228-pound sedan achieve 26/34/29 miles per gallon from the 14.8-gallon tank. During this trip, during which we accumulated more than 600 miles, we filled up twice, using regular fuel. Those are real, usable numbers. By accessing Kia’s drive modes of smart, normal, sport, sport +, custom and snow, one can dictate the mileage. During this trip, we only used the sport mode on back roads when the highways were clogged; both steering and suspension tighten up in sport and make the K5 so much more fun.

As with the departed Optima, Kia’s new K5 sedan has great interior space of 102 cubic feet and a humongous, nicely finished 16-cubic-foot trunk to recommend it. There are plenty of soft-touch plastics throughout the cabin and the interior definitely looks and feels more expensive than it is. Even the black headliner adds to the serenity of the cabin, which is exceptionally sound-insulated.

With the excellent sound system, using either the SiriusXM or Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, music is king inside., but with the larger GT-Line screen those features can only be activated by using one of the two USB plugs at the base of the central stack, where an extra 12-volt plug is also included. The wireless charging feature is wonderful to have and one just plops the phone in place for activation. While the navigation system is nice, i did better using my phone for directions to stores and restaurants.

The steering wheel has all the usual buttons for easy access: on the left side lie audio and phone controls while right-of-center one can access the cruise control and trip information. Once following distance is set in cruise control, it doesn’t change, a nice touch. The seats have proper ventilation and support. This writer experienced some sciatica pain during the trip, but was able to survive longer times in the car  without difficulties. I also liked the panorama roof, which opens halfway and reveals sunlight fore and aft.

While rear passengers don’t have air supplies, they can plug in their favorite implements and enjoy the ride. In addition to cupholders in the central pull-down area, there are spaces in the doors to secure beverages. During early-morning trips to the track, defrost was a necessary item and, while the rear defrost takes a bit of time to work, the front is seamless and quick.

Not only is the front LED lighting extremely attractive with its orange running lights and articulated headlights, but the headlights function well enough that high beams were never necessary. The 16-cubic-foot trunk is well finished and holds more than even I could carry during nearly two weeks of chasing racing. There is a release on the lower left of the dash and one can use the fob, too. Kia uses black buttons on the doors to open and close, allowing the driver to retain the car’s fob in pocket.

The 2021 Kia K5 GT-Line AWD is satisfying in many different ways. The drivetrain is well-mated (glad there’s no CVT on this car) and, while the K5 isn’t anywhere near a performance car, it sure looks like one. This sedan wins applause, too, for its physical proportions and its design cues. All the 2021 Kia K5 really needs is a bit more isolation and refinement, items that would give it the performance matching its runway looks.

story and photos By Anne Proffit

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