By Eric Peters
Other car companies — notably, Ford and General Motors — have all but given up on cars, canceling most of them in favor of a lineup of almost all SUVs and crossovers. Even the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, which were hot sellers for decades, aren’t selling as well as they used to.
Kia just launched a brand-new sedan, the 2021 K5.
That took some guts.
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Its success — or lack thereof — will tell us whether the reason GM and Ford dropped their sedans (and why the Camry and Accord aren’t doing well) has to do with lack of interest in those sedans or lack of interest in sedans generally.
What It Is
Though it sounds like the name of the latest Russian submarine, the K5 is Kia’s newest and largest sedan. It replaces the Optima — and in more than just name.
It is a larger, roomier and closer-to-being-a-luxury car that’s also available with a much more powerful engine.
But for not much more money.
The 2021 K5’s base price — $23,490 — is only $100 higher than the base price of the outgoing 2020 Optima.
A top-of-the-line ’21 K5 GT stickers for $30,490 — $1,700 less than the price of a top-of-the-line 2020 Optima SX.
You can also get an all-wheel drive-equipped K5 LXS for $26,590 — $600 less than the MSRP of a mid-trim and front-wheel drive-only 2020 Optima EX ($27,190).
The K5 is a brand-new model for Kia.
You get more car and more engine for less money.
The front-seat legroom is NBA forward-worthy (46.1 inches).
The optional 10.25-inch LCD touch screen has looks like Mercedes but prices like Kia.
What’s Not So Good
The back seats have 11 inches less leg room (35.2 inches).
The 290-horsepower engine isn’t available with all-wheel drive.
Though the trunk is large for a sedan (16 cubic feet), it’s still a small space compared with what a similar size crossover can carry in its cargo space.
Under the Hood
Like the outgoing Optima, the K5 is available with either of two four-cylinder engines.
Unlike the outgoing Optima, the K5’s standard engine is smaller — 1.6 liters instead of 2.4 liters — but turbocharged.
This is how the K5 makes about the same horsepower — 180 versus 184 for the Optima — and a lot more torque: 195 foot-pounds at 1,500 rpm versus 178 foot-pounds at 4,000 rpm. The 1.6-liter engine is paired with a new eight-speed automatic transmission instead of the six-speed in the Optima.
The result of that is an uptick in fuel efficiency from 25 mpg city and 35 mpg highway previously to 27 mpg city and 37 mpg highway in the K5.
This dips slightly to 26 mpg city and 34 mpg highway with the optionally available all-wheel-drive system.
The Optima’s optional 1.6-liter engine was the same size as the K5’s standard engine, but it did have a turbo to make up for it — and made 245 horsepower. But the K5 GT’s 2.5-liter engine is larger — and more than makes up for it, pumping out 290 horsepower.
On the Road
The K5 is a longer and wider car than its Optima predecessor. And it feels like it.
The feeling is good.
An increase in the car’s width by an inch, wheelbase by almost 2 inches and overall length by more than 2 inches helps this Kia feel a lot like something with a more expensive badge on its skin.
This is the secret the luxury-sport brands are trying to keep a lid on.
If you went just by the numbers and compared the K5 GT’s stats — and price — to, say, a BMW 5 Series, you might begin to wonder about the almost $25,000 difference in base price between the two.
At the Curb
Crossovers may have cargo room in their favor. So do container ships. If you’d rather something that looks less like a container ship, have a look at this thing.
It does not look like everything else — given practically everything else is a crossover or an SUV, and it’s becoming hard to tell them apart without having a look at the badge.
And it does have room for the driver and front-seat passenger. There are an astounding 46.1 inches of leg room, which, for reference, is nearly half a foot (5 inches) more than the legroom up front in a six-figure BMW 7 series sedan.
Also up front is an array of technology that you used to have to pay six figures to get, including the available 10.25-inch touch screen (an 8-inch screen is standard) as well as a T-shaped gear selector that feels good in your hand.
Maybe it can’t carry a refrigerator home from Lowe’s.
But how does it make you feel?
If you want the looks of the top-of-the-line GT but don’t feel the need for the GT’s 290-horsepower engine, you can get everything but in the GT line, which also includes extra USB ports for the back-seat occupants in addition to the GT’s flat-bottomed, leather-wrapped steering wheel and upgraded 18-inch wheels with Pirelli P Zero high-performance tires.
You can also get the GT-Line with the all-wheel-drive system that isn’t available with the GT — and for about $1,500 less than the GT’s base price ($29,090 versus $30,490).
The Bottom Line
If this sedan doesn’t sell, we’ll know it’s probably time to give up on sedans.
Eric’s new book, “Don’t Get Taken for a Ride!” is available now. To find out more about Eric and read his past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
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