Kia vs. Hyundai: Looks are Everything


The Car Family

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Forget what your mother told you, looks are everything. At least that is the case when it comes to comparing these two Korean built hybrids. Although there are small differences in features, interior appointments, and cost, they both have the same DNA. The result is a win-win for buyers who just might want to ignore outward appearances and go for the best deal. We liked the handling of the Kia and the ride of the Hyundai, but there were only minor differences.

As for real world driving, both cars have the same powertrain, the same hesitancy when shifting between electric and gasoline power, and abundance of standard features. These cars can easily take you to Las Vegas and back and still have enough fuel for a trip or two to Angel Stadium. They are rated at 40 mpg on the highway, but expect 35 mpg if you don’t stick to the posted speed limits.

The sedans use a 2.4-liter Atkinson cycle four-cylinder engine, complemented by an electric drive system using a 34-kilowatt lithium polymer battery pack that weighs just 96 pounds. The combined 204 horsepower is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. The real surprise is that the Sonata’s battery pack has been given a lifetime warranty, according to Hyundai. That is remarkable as most battery packs cost several thousand dollars and another thousand to install.

As a full hybrids these cars can use either the gas engine, the electric motor, or both, and don’t require plug-in charging. They have a fairly tidy turning radius and visibility is good to the front and sides. The rear vision is more limited. There is an abundance of standard equipment, which has become the hallmark of this manufacture. Our test vehicle had the optional traffic data system that provides suggestions for detours when traffic is blocked. You can even get voice command. There is a lot of technology here that rivals the much more expensive Ford products, the these cars have superior warranties.

Mom’s view: I didn’t like the hick-up I felt when the computer software didn’t seem to know which gear and which mode, electric or gas or both, to use when freeway driving. It doesn’t take long to get become acclimatized to it, but the Toyota’s are smoother. Interestingly, the car could revert to electric only mode even when cruising on the freeway. The interiors are very different and I liked the Sonata’s better. However, it is a matter of taste and the fit and finish were excellent for the price for the Kia and the Hyundai. You lose some trunk room because of the battery placement,but that is the only negative (pun intended). Roomy, family friendly, and with an excellent warranty, it is difficult to resist especially with the Kia/Hyundai legendary warranty. A worthy effort.

Dad’s view: The Kia wants to play, the Hyundai would prefer you stayed on the freeway and enjoyed the ride. Simply pressing a button puts the car into “Blue Drive” which means the software is doing all it can to increase miles per gallon. The accelerator pedal felt a little softer in this mode, but I didn’t notice much difference other than that. Lithium polymer battery packs are expensive, we know, we have been into electric powered vehicles for nearly a decade now. That Hyundai warranty takes a lot of the fear out of hybrid ownership. Although we like Toyota’s hybrid line-up better, it does not offer the unique options these sedans offer or the trendy styling. These cars should be on test drive list if you need a one car does it all sedan.


Young working man’s view: The electronics are first rate and the Infiniti audio system and the Bluetooth capabilities are going to tax your teenager’s patience as they provide such an array of choices from phone to music to traffic. Now which one gets the priority? I think we know. I like the Kia best. The looks grab you, and the interior is a little, ah, more youthful. The 4.3-inch color LC D touch screen, rear view camera and voice recognition are all worthwhile. These are truly unique hybrids.

Working woman’s view: I like the ouch sensitive screen and the fact you can get five adults in without much hassle. The Eco scoring system must be seen. It sort of makes driving the car efficiently like a computer game. The seats are a bit thin on padding, but easy to adjust. The ergonomics are first rate. These cars made you feel comfortable when you are driving. Almost everywhere you look there are thoughtful touches such as an abundance of storage nooks. They even have an engine sound system that lets pedestrians know you are coming when the car is running in its siletn electric mode. I also liked the heated and cooled seats, excellent crash scores, and the many standard safety features. A feel good car.

Family conference: There are alternatives, such as the Toyota Prius and the newly redone Camry hybrid, but for fuel economy and standard features the Kia and Hyundia should be on anyone’s short list of family oriented hybrids. Before you drive on check out the manufacture websites so that you can see the option packages. However, in the end, as always, it will probably be the looks that seals the decision. Sorry, Mom.

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