2021 Kia K5 GT-Line AWD – Bottom Line Review

2021 Kia K5 GT-Line AWD: Wolf gray enhances the tiger nose aggression

OPTIMA -LLY -FOOTED: When 2020 drew to a close the ink had just dried on the divorce papers between several U.S. domestic market automakers and their family sedans. Yet a ray of optimism shines forth from the remaining four door fabricators as they either introduce or broaden all-wheel drive availability in 2021.

OPTIMA -L ANCESTRY: Korean automaker Kia, replete with a racy new “K” emblem, in an effort to achieve some global nomenclature consistency, is adopting the K5 Korean domestic market K5 name in the only other major market where the mid size family sedan is sold: North America.

SUM OF OPTIMAL -FOOTEDNESS AND ANCESTRY:  the 2021 Kia K5 GT-Line AWD is dedicated to staving off crossover SUV created extinction giving the family sedan a new lease on life in America’s snow belt.


WHAT: 2021 K5 GT-Line 1.6T AWD. This is the 5th generation K5, designated DL3, replacing the former Kia Optima JF variant , (reviewed at sibling site ChicagoNow.com “Drive…He Said”). The new Kia K5 is cross company cousin with the Hyundai Sonata.


Power: transverse variable nozzle turbocharged 1.6L DOHC 16V DI gas I-4 = 180 hp/ 195 lb-ft @ 1500 rpm, 4 selectable drive modes (K5 does not inherit Hyundai Sonata’s base naturally aspirated 2.5L engine)

2021 Kia K5 GT-Line AWD: Standard torquey 1.6 turbo twincam gas I-4, available mated to an 8-speed automatic transaxle and available viscous clutch differential all-wheel drive

Drivetrain: 8-spd. torque converter planetary automatic transaxle + ABS torque vectoring + (optional) PTU to viscous clutch all-wheel drive.

WHAT (A) STYLING DIFFERENCE(S): Sometime between Luc Donckerwolke’s departure as Chief Designer for Hyundai Motor Group and his rapid return as the company’s Chief Creative Officer, the design team liberally scribed avant garde art form for the new K5 that goes beyond the new cursive KIA badging. Where the related Hyundai Sonata follows the path of an elegant fastback, the K5 follows in the footsteps of its bigger sibling Kia Stinger as an aggressive sportback. It begins with an adaptation of an aggressive wider tiger face front clip, with shark skin pattern finish on GT-Line, and a prominent “Z” scribed front corner daytime running lights grafted from the departed Kia Cadenza executive sedan.

2021 Kia K5 GT-Line AWD: far beyond the new emblem and designation this radically new sportback silhouetted family sedan stays alive with all-weather drive.

Cousin Hyundai Sonata‘s quad-creased sloped hood flows less abruptly into a distinct upper and lower grilles separated grilles, where the top tilts forward. A powerful mid bumper cover arches abruptly at the corners creating large simulated intake arches. The lower body side feature tandem rising lower door creases and flared rocker panels side skirts. The roof features a long slope with a chrome character band flowing down the C-pillar.

Below the truncated trunk-lid with contrasting dark tipped duck-billed integrated spoiler rests a full spanning segmented LED raceway light assembly which teardrops to wrap around the sides as directionals. In the former Cadenza way the bottom of the lid bevels out to meet a creased lower bumper cover where the license place is attached.

2021 Kia K5 GT-Line AWD: long sloped roof w/ character band is going to be confused with the elder sibling Stinger

Completing the sporty GT-Line exterior theme are bisected simulated lower rear bumper ducts which wrap into the quarter panel. The dark lower rear valance features a sporty simulated diffuser and dual chromed exhaust bezels. Darkened spoke centers optically accentuate the  5-spoke 18″ alloy wheels.

WHY: Unmistakable imprint of the designer of Diablo, Murcielago and Gallardo combined with all-wheel drive should ensure that this volume family car survives.

WHEN: On-Sale (in the U.S.) since Autumn 2020

WHERE: Kia new vehicle dealers

WHERE MADE: West Point, Georgia, U.S.A.

HOW IT MOTIVATES: When all-wheel drive is a Kia K5 order sheet must, then so is the standard turbocharged 1.6L twin-cam alloy inline-four engine. The “big-guns” 2.5 turbo mill is exclusive to the K5 GT sure to churn only front rubber. The vocals are gritty rather than pretty, but the variable nozzle boost can whip up the floor hovering torque at will while the quick locking 8-speed manumatic transaxle can keep it there for awhile. Why this sport aspirational version lacks a similarly motivated Sonata Limited’s dorsal steering wheel mounted shift paddles is one of life’s great unanswered mysteries.

+1 Sport and Custom sport throttle drive modes = differential clutch locks up for added torque to the rear wheels.

2021 Kia K5 GT-Line AWD: on demand all weather drive front to rear torque split

+1/- NFC card allows smart car remote parking space vehicle extraction

HOW IT MOVES: The front strut, rear four link suspension is the kind that is sprung a bit soft but over-damped on rebound. The result is a normally smooth ride, though with lift in hard corners. Pavement adhesion from the 235/45 series Pirelli P-Zero shoes is considerable, but may contribute to some of the jarring over frost heaves. Steering ratio wind is genuinely rapid, though it filters out much about what the movement is underfoot. Four decently sized disc brakes grab with easy to modulate gusto.

HOW FAR: 27 miles per gallon combined fuel economy. Increased all-wheel driveline drag pinches highway fuel economy. 537 miles highway range per tank, 87 octane petrol.

HOW BIG / LITTLE: The numbers say the new mid-size Kia K5‘s cabin is more intimate than the outgoing model’s. The sharp sloped panoramic roof combines with a lower rear bench for headroom to suffice. The front perch is plenty roomy with a good view forwards, though it’s more of a gun-slit squint through the sloped backlight.

2021 Kia K5 GT-Line AWD: rear seating

2021 Kia K5 GT-Line AWD 112.2″ wheelbase = 1.0″ > Nissan Altima AWD, 3.9″ > Subaru Legacy 

  • +1 Row 1 legroom = 2.3″ > Nissan Altima AWD, 3.3″ < Subaru Legacy
  • -1 Row 2 legroom = 0.4″ < Nissan Altima AWD, 4.7″ < Subaru Legacy

HOW USEFUL: Considerable growth has occurred in storage:  Deep Trunk = 2 full size cases and 3 roll aboard carry-on pieces; 60/40% split rear seat backs fold nearly flat. Adequately long & deep door pockets; Lower center stack wireless device tray with Qi inductive charging fits larger phablets and then some. Extra front passenger center console saddle pocket w/ roomy glovebox.

-1 Lacks lid for center console forward wireless device tray.

2021 Kia K5 16.0 cu. ft. cargo space (nom.) = 3% > Nissan Altima AWD, 6% > Subaru Legacy

2021 Kia K5 GT-Line AWD: Trunk expanded via 60/40% folding rear seat back


HOW SAFE: IIHS 2021 Top Saftey Pick Plus status: 10 airbags, Rear camera w/ fixed gridlines, Sonar audible park assist;

Driver assist technology: Blind Spot Warning (available); Forward collision & pedestrian avoidance braking; Full adaptive cruise control; Lane departure warning, keep assist, trace; Rear Cross Traffic Alert, collision avoidance; Automatic high beam headlamps

Available (included on test vehicle):

2021 Kia K5 GT-Line AWD: advanced driver assist functions

♦ Cyclist collision avoidance; ♦ Stop and Go adaptive cruise control.


Simulated red leather surfaces as well as ribbed toggles on the steering wheel and center stack and console along with sporadic small gradiated twist knobs, along with a traditional ELD dual analog gauge cluster with deep hood make for a decidedly racy uncluttered 2021 Kia K5. Even the console retains a traditional T-shape transmission shifter. In one notable change the center stack loses its former driver facing tilt. The metallic mid dash climate vents bezels splendidly imitate turned aluminum. Panels and dash top and door panels are soft yet more industrial feeling. The bottom of the center spoke on the handsome 3-spoke D-shape steering wheel receives “GT-Line” lettering. Overall form follows function in the new K5 , where it is less lavish than the Sonata’s environs.

2021 Kia K5 GT-Line AWD: Expansive low cowl Euro styled cockpit with twin analog gauges and 10.25″ split screen, swipe touch LCD infotainment display

GT-Line exclusive: red simulated leather seating, front heated w/ GT-Line emblems; Power front seats: Driver’s 10-way w/ 2-position memory, front passenger 8-way;  4 power windows = front x full express; Heated tilt & telescoping, cross-stitched leather wrapped steering wheel; Dual analog dial gauges Fore center console twin dial and button 2-zone automatic climate switchgear; +1 Lower left lower dashboard dimmer & driver assist controls; +1 Wind & road noise isolation. +1 2nd Row door mounted seat heating switches; +1 Panorama moonroof (optional).

Cool Gizmo(s): ♦ Sounds of Nature six (6) environment ambient sounds & media display

2021 Kia K5 GT-Line AWD: six Sounds of Nature mood audio modes

Details Done Right: ♦ Drive mode color variable 12.3″-inch color LCD gauge cluster♦ Fully padded and contrast stitched dashboard; ♦ Turned metallic dashboard, door accents & center console accents; ♦ Fine upper dash and upper door panel graining; ♦ Piano gloss black center stack trim;+1 Toggle action climate and center console seat heating controls

Nearly Non Descript: -1 Thinner cargo bay carpets; -1 3rd Row and aft dark, hard grained plastic walls, pillars, lower panles; -1 Dim climate control display


HOW “APP” -LICABLE:  Center dash-top 10.25″-inch capacitive swipe touch LCD infotainment split pane screen; +1 Large touch display icons; Voice learning hands-free communications; Native GPS HD voice command, guidance navigation; 6-speaker, 240 W audio w/ streaming audio & HD radio; Mobile powered Android Auto/ Apple Car Play application & navigation overlays; UVO Apps.

2021 Kia K5 GT-Line AWD: Android Auto projection

♦ Helpful vehicle setting menu function pictograms

♦ Standard audio = fine for ears

Subscription based: Sirius XM & Sirius XM TravelLink (90 days included trial); UVO-Link telematics (1 year included)

USB x 3, 12V x 1; Forward center console wireless device tray w/ Qi wireless charging.

HOW MUCH: $34,365 suggested retail price 2021 Kia K5 1.6T GT-Line AWD

WHAT’S MISSING: Wireless device tray concealing lid.

ANY COMPETITION: Hyundai Sonata AWD: +1 classy fastback look; Nissan Altima AWD: +1 CVT fuel economy; Subaru Legacy: +1 standard all-wheel drive, flat-4 engine

BOTTOM LINE: Absolutely, positively going to be mistaken for a Kia Stinger.

(Contributing Editor: T. Paluch)

An automotive enthusiast since an orange toy VW Beetle ended up in his playpen and following him everywhere, George Straton has been chief editor at ChicagoNow.com/Drive-He-Said automotive lifestyle blog since 2010. In 2017 George established Roadblazing.com, dedicated to accurate automotive reviews, news and road trip stories. George is a member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association and the Phoenix Automotive Press Association. George also happens to be an attorney and Loyola University of Chicago Ramblers fan. Present ride: 2022 Mazda 3 Turbo AWD Hatchback.

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