Drive: Kia's K5 has gorgeous design but a weak fuel economy

The Korean automaker Kia has exhibited over the years a knack for building very nice-looking cars that are priced right and well equipped.

Some have been derivative of the finest German models. Kia even put former Audi stylist Peter Schreyer to work on the compact 2010 Forte sedan. Following in that tradition, Belgian designer Lu Dockworker nursed the K5 midsize sedan into life, succeeding the Optima.

The K5 features a low-slung look, a low base price ($23,590), surprising functionality, Kia’s typically long standard-features list and available all-wheel drive.

For those who want a little more oomph than the standard 1.6-liter, 180-horsepower turbocharged inline Four can deliver, a 290-horsepower engine is optional with front-wheel-drive GT models.

Our test car was a 2021 K5 GT-Line, with AWD, priced at $31,300. We were satisfied with its acceleration, ride and handling, but we didn’t warm to the exhaust note, judging it coarse.

We also didn’t feel the K5 handled as well as the Mazda6, our favorite midsize model. But the base K5 LX costs about $1,000 less than the comparable Mazda6 and is better equipped for the price.

Still, the K5 has a lot going for it, and not just its drop-dead good looks.

Our Wolf Gray test car had a base price of $29,090 and came with forward collision-avoidance, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic alert and assist — meaning the car not only will warn the driver if he’s headed for trouble, but will take steps to prevent a crash.

2021 Kia K5 GT-Line AWD

Price: $31,300

Engine: 1.6-liter turbocharged inline Four, 180 horsepower, 195 lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: 8-speed shiftable automatic

Drive: all-wheel

Weight: 3,228 pounds

Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear

Wheels: 18x7.5 inch. Painted alloy

Tires: P235/45R V all-season

Seating capacity: Five

Luggage capacity: 16 cubic feet

Fuel capacity: 14.8 gallons

Fuel economy: 26 mpg city, 34 mpg highway

Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline

These and other safety features are part of Kia’s Drivewise Driver-Assist Technology package. This package is standard in all K5 models except the LX.

Also standard in our GT-Line K5 were Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, satellite radio, dual-zone automatic climate control, power driver’s seat, remote start, panoramic sunroof with power sunshade, heated front seats, heated steering wheel and smart cruise control.

A 10.25-inch touchscreen and navigation system were part of an $800 GT-Line AWD Special Edition package.

Among the K5’s many appealing qualities were its easy access and egress, comfortable seating, ample leg room in front, adequate head- and knee-room for tall passengers in back and its large trunk — 16 cubic feet.

Also impressive were the interior materials, including the GT-Line Red Syn Tex seating material, which we took to be real leather until we read the window sticker a little more carefully. Assembled in West Point, Ga., the car seemed to have been put together with care.

A weak spot, compared with models like the Toyota Camry, is fuel economy. The K5 is rated at 26 mpg city, 34 highway. Some Camry models deliver 47 to 53 mpg on the highway. The Nissan Altima, Chevrolet Malibu and most versions of the Honda Accord also are more fuel efficient.

The K5 did itself proud in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash tests, earning the Top Safety Pick Plus designation.

Steven Macoy (semacoy@gmail.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel.