All-wheel drive, 290 horses, high style: is the 2022 Kia K5 your next midsize sedan?

2021 Kia K5 GT-Line

by Chuck Giametta

What changes will make the 2022 Kia K5 different?

Perhaps some connectivity tweaking but nothing major following a model-year-2021 redesign that brought fresh styling, optional all-wheel drive, a 290-horsepower flagship — and a name change.

All-new for the first time since model-year 2016, Kia’s midsize sedan dropped the Optima badge it carried since its 2001 U.S. debut and adopted the K5 designation used in overseas markets. The 2022 K5 will carryover the longer, lower, wider structure and the dramatic new look that came with the ’21 redesign.

All-wheel drive (AWD) will return as a traction-enhancing alterative to the standard front-wheel drive. So will two turbocharged four-cylinder engines and the value pricing that’s helped fuel the growth of this South Korean automaker. Don’t expect any sort of gas-electric hybrid model, however. That’s reserved for the K5’s underskin twin, the Sonata sedan from Kia’s corporate partner, Hyundai.        

Should I wait for the 2022 Kia K5 or buy a 2021?

2021 K5 EX

Buy a ‘21. The ’22 K5 won’t change enough to wait for, but it’ll almost certainly cost more. Indeed, the styling, powertrains, and feature set that arrived with the 2021 redesign won’t be significantly altered until the K5’s midcycle refresh, likely for model-year 2024.

Expect the 2022 K5 to reprise a model-year-’21 lineup that started with the base LX trim and ascended through LXS, GT-Line, and EX grades, all with a 1.6-liter turbocharged engine. Topping the roster again would be the GT 2.5T with its 2.5-liter turbo four. AWD should return as a LXS and GT-Line option.

Built at Kia’s plant in Georgia and launched in summer 2020, this five-passenger four-door got off to a respectable sales start, with 31,656 sold. That’s still a fraction of the sales of the segment-leading Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, and Nissan Altima — and less than Sonata, too. But it’s more sales than the Subaru Legacy, Mazda 6, and Volkswagen Passat recorded in all of 2020.

Will 2022 Kia K5 styling be different?

2021 K5 GT-Line

There might be a new color choice or two, but the ’22 K5 will carryover the look that came with the ’21 redesign. Kia calls it a catalyst for the brand’s future styling direction. Highlights include a modernized take on the company’s “tiger nose” grille, along with distinctive serpentine daytime running lamps.

Trim-level differentiation will again be most obvious for the GT-Line and GT 2.5T. They share what Kia calls shark-skink-inspired grille mesh, LED foglamps, and quad exhaust tips. Standard again on those models and optional for the ’22 EX should be mirrors with LED turn indicators and taillamps linked by a dash-pattern LED bar.

All 2022 K5s will return with alloy wheels, gray 16-inch-diameter on the LX and LXS, black 18s for the GT-Line, gray 18s for the EX, and black 19s for the GT 2.5T.

2021 K5 GT-Line with optional 10.25-inch touchscreen

Interior design will again match the K5’s expressive exterior, with fully contemporary shapes and well-placed gauges and controls. An 8-inch central infotainment touchscreen should remain standard, along with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. In our testing, that screen seemed undersized and its icons too small to easily hit while driving.

Less congested and more user-friendly is the 10.25-inch screen that should return as an option for the 2022 K5 GT-Line, EX, and GT 2.5T. It includes an embedded navigation system that doesn’t require a cell signal to furnish real-time GPS mapping. It responds well to natural-language voice prompts, even obeying commands such as “heat the steering wheel” or “turn on the AC.”

Unlike the 8-inch screen, however, the model-year-2021 version of the 10.25-inch display didn’t support wireless CarPlay or Android Auto connectivity. Correcting that should be on Kia’s to-do list for the ’22 K5. So should adding the convenience of an automatic-dimming rearview mirror.

The automaker did a fine job integrating a channel in the center console that holds even a large phone securely. And wireless charging (with a cooling fan) should again be standard on the ’22 EX and GT 2.5T and optional with the GT-Line Premium Package. Feeling stressed? The audio system is available with a “Sound of Nature” ambient setting with six calming themes. 

2021 K5 GT-Line with optional red leatherette upholstery

All in all, interior materials look better than they feel. Padding is confined almost exclusively to the armrests, leaving lots of hard plastic panels. Kia ought to consider softer skins on more surfaces. And it should ponder offering leather upholstery for ’22, as Hyundai does for its Sonata.

If it doesn’t, expect the 2021 K5 LX and LXS to again come with cloth seating surfaces and the GT-Line with a cloth/leatherette combo or an attractive red-leatherette option. The EX would return with artificial leather accompanied by fake wood accents. The GT 2.5T would reprise black leatherette and include heated sport front-bucket seats. Expect the ’22 GT-Line and GT 2.5T to again feature a trendy flat-bottom steering wheel, accompanied by shift paddles on the GT 2.5T.

2021 K5 EX

Compared to its Sonata platform-mate, the K5 has a half-inch-longer wheelbase (the distance between the front and rear axles), giving it slightly more legroom front and rear. But the flank of the K5’s tall center console walls off the front-seat passenger, making that position feel narrow and confining.

The rear seat itself is comfortable, but the cushion is quite low to the floor to maximize headroom beneath the sloping fastback roofline. And the housing for the panoramic moonroof standard on the EX and GT 2.5T and optional on the GT-Line shrinks headroom an additional 2.4 inches in front and 1 inch in back, squeezing clearance for truly tall folks.

2021 K5

Included again on all but the LX should be 60/40 split/folding rear seatbacks. And at 16 cubic feet, the K5’s trunk should again be among the largest in the class. Be careful how you pack, though, lest its cost-cutting bare metal lid hinges scythe items in their path.

Any 2022 Kia K5 mechanical changes?

2021 K5

Nothing likely. The 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder in the ’22 LX, LXS, GT-Line, and EX should return with 180 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque (torque is the prime motivator in acceleration). It’ll again link to an eight-speed automatic transmission.

The 2022 K5 GT 2.5T would be back with a 2.5-liter turbo four with 290 horsepower and 311 pound-feet of torque. It would use a sportier eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. All K5s will return with driver-selected Smart, Normal, Sport, Custom, and Snow modes that adjust drivetrain response accordingly. The ’22 GT 2.5T will again add to those a Sport+ setting for even sharper reaction.

Front-wheel drive will again be standard. Expect optional AWD to remain the province of the LXS and G-Line models. It’s a conventional system that normally runs in front-drive and automatically shuffles power between the front and rear wheels to maximize traction. It’s a reassuring feature in snowy climates, one matched in this class only by the Altima, Camry, and Volkswagen Arteon, where it’s optional, and by the Subaru Legacy, on which AWD is standard.

2021 K5 EX

Expect ’22 K5s with the 1.6-liter to deliver good acceleration around town but have little in reserve for authoritative highway merging or passing. Figure 0-60 mph to remain par for cars with base engines in the competitive set, at around 7 seconds with front drive and around 7.4 with AWD.

One of the most powerful cars in the class, the ’22 K5 GT 2.5T is quick. It does 0-60 in some 5.5 seconds and makes short work of catching and overtaking fast-moving traffic. In anything but judicious throttle application, however, the engine’s power can overwhelm the front tires. The result is unseemly tire spin away from stops and, worse, compromised traction exiting sharp corners. It’s a flaw AWD would do much to eliminate and a solution we’d urge Kia to consider.

Another K5 area that needs refining is ride and handling. Kia’s got the steering dialed in: it’s accurate and natural-feeling. But little in the way any K5 changes direction measures up to the promise of this sedan’s aggressive styling. Body lean and lackadaisical adherence to your line is the rule in turns taken with any brio.

2021 K5 GT 2.5T

The GT 2.5T should again have tauter suspension tuning and bigger brakes but not the degree of precision and poise you’d justly expect in a performance flagship.

And without some recalibration to every model, don’t expect any 2022 K5 to deliver the sort of regimented behavior over bumps and dips you get with class leaders like the Accord, Altima, and Mazda 6. In any but undemanding cruising on good pavement, this sedan simply doesn’t feel as composed as it should.

As for ride comfort, the 16-inch tires are admirably absorbent over ruts and tar strips but on the same surfaces the 18s and 19s transmit too much impact through the car’s structure.

Will 2022 Kia K5 fuel economy improve?

2021 K5 GT-Line AWD Special Edition in Wolf Gray

Probably not, but that’s no penalty. EPA ratings for the 2022 K5 should repeat those of the ’21 K5, keeping this among the segment’s more fuel-efficient cars, excluding hybrids.

Expect the ’22 LX to again rate 29/38/32 mpg city/highway/combined. Look for the LXS, GT-Line, and EX to return at 27/37/31 mpg with front-wheel drive. The LXS and GT-Line should repeat at 26/34/29 with AWD. Look for the EPA to again rate the ’22 K5 GT 2.5T at 24/32/27 mpg. All ’22 K5s models will again be tuned for regular-grade 87-octane gas.

Will there be new 2022 Kia K5 features?

2021 K5 10.25-inch touchscreen

Our proposals are noted: details such as expanded wireless charging and an auto-dimming mirror, along with more ambitious additions, like AWD for the GT 2.5T. More important, we suggest the automaker make its full suite of Kia Drive Wise safety tech available on every 2022 K5, not just the more expensive models.

Laudably, all ’22 K5s will again come standard with autonomous emergency braking designed to automatically stop the car to mitigate a frontal collision with another vehicle, object or pedestrian. Optional again for the GT-Line and standard on the EX and GT 2.5T should be an enhanced system that also senses cyclists and includes Kia’s Junction Turning Detection. This can apply the brakes if you’re about to turn left across traffic and a collision is imminent.

Also returning as standard will be lane-departure warning with automatic steering correction. Same for Kia’s Lane Following Assist, designed to detect lane markings and provide steering input to keep the car centered in the lane. (We found Lane Following Assist generally worked well on straight roads but tended to steer abruptly to keep the car centered on gentle curves. It isn’t designed to work in tight turns.)   

Blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection wasn’t available on the 2021 LX but was included as standard on all other K5s. This is a vital driver assist, and Kia’s system has the added benefit of using the brakes to “steer” the K5 back into its lane or stop it while reversing to avoid a collision with cross traffic.

Also standard on all but the LX was Kia’s Safe Exit Assist, which warns occupants not to exit the car if sensors detect approaching traffic. It’ll also automatically lock the rear doors with the power child-lock option on EX and GT 2.5T models.

2021 K5 GT 2.5T featured transmission paddle shifters

Another helpful assist, adaptive cruise control, was optional on the 2021 GT-Line, EX, and GT 2.5T, but unavailable on the LX and LXS. It can maintain a set distance from traffic ahead even in stop-and-go driving. And in K5s equipped with navigation, it can leverage GPS data to reduce speed for curves. Also available on nav-equipped GT-Line, EX, and GT 2.5T models was Kia’s Highway Driving assist, which can adjust vehicle speed to the posted limit.

We’d urge Kia to follow Sonata’s lead by making adaptive cruise control and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic detection standard on all ’22 K5s. And it would do well to consider borrowing from the Sonata and some of its own cars and crossovers the corporation’s clever blind-spot-view monitor. Signal a turn and it provides within the instrument cluster a live picture revealing traffic otherwise hidden from the driver.

Such conveniences would complement thoughtful assists already standard even on the LX. These include an electronic parking brake with driver-selectable automatic brake hold that keeps the car stationary without requiring pressure on the brake pedal. Also helpful in traffic congestion is the standard chime that sounds if you’re stopped and haven’t noticed that the vehicle ahead has begun to move.

Still, Kia is apt to continue to treat the K5 LX as a budget buy that does without certain niceties. Case in point: the ’22 LX will probably again come with a keyfob that remotely controls the door locks but still uses an ignition key. Other K5s will continue with true remote keyless entry and pushbutton ignition that allows you to keep the fob in pocket or purse to enter and start the car. That fob will also enable remote engine start and remote climate-system control.  

Will 2022 Kia K5 prices be different?

2021 K5

Traditional model-year escalation makes it a safe bet they’ll increase. Adding standard features could also trigger a hike. Still, expect 2022 K5 base prices to again track some $1,000 below similarly equipped direct rivals. Every car has its compromises, so cross shop the competition to decide if that savings compensates for the K5’s.

For reference, here are model-year 2021 K5 prices. Base prices include Kia’s $995 destination fee. Don’t expect significant changes to standard equipment or option-package content and pricing for model-year 2022.

Base price for the ’21 K5 LX was $24,585. Standard features included those already covered, plus dual-zone automatic climate control and one USB charging port in the front console tray.

The ’21 K5 LXS started at $25,585 with front-wheel drive and at $27,685 with AWD. Included with the AWD option was satellite radio, a 10-way power driver’s seat, heated front seats, and two rear USB charging ports. Also included was Kia’s UVO link, which allows remote control of such features as door locks and climate system via your smartphone or with Home-to-Car voice commands through Amazon Alexa.

Base prices for the 2021 GT-Line were $26,485 with front-drive and $30,185 with AWD.  All ’22 GT-Lines should again include the 10-way power driver seat, while the AWD option should again duplicate the other features included with the LXS AWD option.

Expect Kia to again offer the ’22 GT-Line with options packages similar to those available on the ’21 model. The $1,700 Premium Package for front-drive cars added the enhanced safety suite that encompassed cyclist detection and junction-turning. It also included gloss-black rear roof-pillar trim, upgraded headlights, a panoramic moonroof, LED interior lighting, and the wireless phone charger.

The $900 GT-Line Special Edition for AWD GT-Lines duplicated the Premium Package while also adding embedded navigation, Wolf Gray exterior color, and the red leatherette upholstery.  

2021 K5 EX with standard panoramic moonroof

The ’21 K5 EX started at $29,085 and the ’22 should also come with UVO link, satellite radio and wireless charger, plus a panoramic moonroof, heated and ventilated front seats and reverse-parking-distance warning.

Look for return of an EX Premium Package like the one available on the ’21 EX. That $3,500 package included the dash-pattern taillamp treatment, Highway Driving Assist, the 10.25-inch screen with navigation, nav-based cruise control, a 12-speaker Bose audio upgrade, Safe Exit Assist, a heated steering wheel, a 10-way power front passenger seat, and driver’s power memory.  

The ’21 K5 GT 2.5T started at $31,585 and the ’22 should again include features already noted and be available with a package similar to the GT1 Package offered for ’21. That $4,100 option duplicated the EX Premium Package.

When does the 2022 Kia K5 come out?

2021 K5 EX

Expect a 2022 Kia K5 release date in fall 2021.

Best 2022 Kia K5 competitors

Chevrolet Malibu, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Mazda 6, Nissan Altima and Maxima, Subaru Legacy, Toyota Camry, Volkswagen Areton and Passat

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]