Sedans & Coupes

The Biggest 2021 Kia K5 Complaint Might Be Too Much To Overlook

The midsize sedan is slowly fading away, with favoritism towards SUVs and crossovers tipping the scales. With not many good midsize sedans left to pick from, Kia’s decision to kill its popular Optima almost guaranteed the death of the segment.

But Kia doesn’t plan to run from the midsize sedan segment, but rather reinvest in it with a reimagined version of the Optima: the 2021 Kia K5. One big improvement to the 2021 Kia K5 might not be an improvement, however, and could be enough to turn Optima fans away.

The 2021 Kia K5 works hard to replace the Optima, but does it drive like one?

One of the Kia Optima’s best features was its easy and comfortable ride, so with the arrival of its K5 replacement, expectations for the “new Optima’s” driving experience were high.

Upon driving the new Kia K5, experts at CarFax found plenty to compare and enjoy. But after a week of driving the 2021 Kia K5, one thing stood out, and not in a good way.

The new K5 gets an updated and improved transmission, meant to be more refined and gentle to accelerate. But according to CarFax experts, the 2021 Kia K5’s new eight-speed automatic transmission “detracts from the experience;” even describing it as “jerky.” 

While these same experts maintain that the K5 is “quick off the line,” with a “firm but comfortable ride,” the K5’s transmission performed “twitchy at low speeds.” The K5 manages to get into a groove at higher speeds, but seemingly has issues finding the right gear at low speeds, with review experts even stating that the K5 “slammed” into second gear with a “jolt.”

With so much to love about the Optima predecessor, a jerky transmission isn’t a good way for the K5 to earn fans. And it may be just enough to bring down the new K5’s reputation.

What did Kia get right with its new sedan?

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While the jerky transmission certainly caused distraction during its driving test, CarFax experts did find plenty that Kia got right with the new midsize K5. The 2021 Kia K5 might not look quite like its discontinued sibling, but it comes with a sleek new look that’s more modern and athletic.

It still “retains many of the Optima’s best qualities, including roominess and ride comfort.” The K5 also shares the Optima’s well-known, well-appointed interior, and impressive list of standard features.

In fact, Car and Driver experts say that the 2021 Kia K5 is “gorgeous outside and in,” delivering “a truly upscale experience at what is expected to be an accessible price.”

Features and pricing: is the 2021 Kia K5 worth a look?

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Starting prices for the new K5 are average for the midsize sedan segment, at around $23,490. But according to U.S. News experts, starting prices for higher trim levels on the 2021 Kia K5 extend to around $30,000, which is below average when compared to the competition.

Even base-level K5s (LX), however, come with plenty of standard features like an 8.0-inch touchscreen, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and USB ports. Standard safety features include automatic braking with pedestrian detection, forward-collision warning, lane-keeping assist, lane-departure warning, and rear-seat alert. 

The base engine on the Kia K5 is a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 180 hp, while an optional 2.5-liter making 290 hp is also available. All engines are paired to the new, eight-speed automatic transmission, with front-wheel drive.

All-wheel drive is available on upper-end trims. The K5 also earns a competitive combined estimated fuel-economy rating of around 31 or 32 MPG, depending on its powertrain option.