Automotive consumers continue their rapid conversion from four-door sedans to crossovers and other function vehicles at a pace that has forced several brands to abandon most of their conventional car lineup. Kia (as well as Genesis and Hyundai), plus Toyota, Nissan and Honda in this market, remain committed to sedans.
The latest four-door from Kia is labeled the K5. Essentially a renaming of the distinctive, and popular, Optima, the K5 shares many mechanicals with its Hyundai sibling (the Sonata), while challenging the top dogs in this shrinking midsize sedan class — Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.
Built in West Point, Ga., the K5’s name runs counter to what some other automakers have done with vehicle names — eschewing alphanumeric labels for more easily remembered identifiers. All told, Kia now has six four-door sedans in its lineup: subcompact Rio, compact Forte, midsize K5, sporty Stinger, full-size Cadenza, plus the luxurious flagship K900.
As with other Kia offerings, there is a marked effort to provide more than expected. That is easy here with a visual presence lacking from most of its primary rivals, as the K5 has a certain Euro-emphasis. The sleek body lines, with a steeply sloping rear window (which needs a wiper) plus elongated LED lamps up front that mimic Audi, and numerous decorative LED lamps at the rear that suggest premium car, the K5 looks richer and more distinctive than former offerings in the midsize class. The Optima was a cutting-edge looker over the past few editions. The K5 ups that a notch.
The spacious interior is less bold, but no less impressive. Controls are intuitive and well placed. Seating is spacious and supportive. And the cabin was easily as hushed, if not more so, than our recent Lexus sedan. Push-button and remote starting are standard. You can remotely adjust your climate with the keyfob, plus there are multiple USB ports and Apple/Android functionality. But, the non-cloth seats are manually adjusted and unheated.
Selectable ambient lighting splashes over the door trim and dash, the rear seats can be heated while the fronts offer optional heating and cooling. Plus, you can opt for a color heads-up display, panoramic roof, 12-speaker Bose audio system as well as enhanced electronic driving aids beyond the extensive standard portfolio of rear-cross traffic alert, lane keeping assist, driver attention warning, rear occupant alert, blind-spot detection and forward collision avoidance assist.
AWD is also available, an upgrade that lets the K5 play against the Subaru Legacy or Toyota Camry and Nissan Altima with their optional four-season traction systems.
Our sampled GT-Line ($26,355 to start, $28,400 as shown) is the second tier in a four-level lineup that starts at $24,455 for base LX, climbs to EX ($28,955) and tops out at a new GT model ($31,455) that presents a 290-hp 2.5-liter turbo motor.
The subdued Wolf Gray paint hides road grime well, while the GT-Line featured the 1.6-liter 180-hp turbocharged four-cylinder engine found in many Kia/Hyundai models. Teamed with a slick eight-speed automatic, the K9 was capable and composed at all speeds and never stumbled when pressed — another example of how turbocharging small engines produces admirable results. Compared to the non-turbo version of this motor, this engine is a dramatic upgrade. EPA mileage estimates are 27/37/31; we realized a reasonable 35 mpg for our time together.
While not exactly apples to oranges, the K5 directly followed the recent Lexus ES350 — so mentally some comparisons arose. The Kia lacked SiriusXM, an expected feature in our test cars after almost 20 years of market availability (yes, you can say spoiled), yet the Kia’s ease of use for its touchscreen and other entertainment abilities outshone the cumbersome Lexus system. Ride control, handling and certainly the more lineal response of the Kia’s braking system helped the half-price Kia also drive better than the heavier, slightly larger Lexus. And the Kia’s real-life friendly console was a far better traveling companion.
Subtly effective, the K5 worked very well. At only $100 more than an outgoing Optima, there is a lot more here to admire.
The Kia’s name may take some effort to remember, but a taste of this competent sedan will leave lasting memories.
Next week: Toyota Supra GR