Relative newcomers to the mid-size sedan area, the Kia Optima and Hyundai Sonata have not taken long time to go up to the best of the class. The pair have gone from distant finishers to extremely rated competitors that now rank in sales alongside car like the Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and Ford Fusion--and for strong reason, thanks to excellent fuel economy, great interior styling, available hybrid models and class-leading value.
As soon as you've narrowed down your alternatives to the South Korean-designed pair, however, how can you select between them? Here we've rated them identically, which makes the alternative even more hard. For the most part, it comes down to styling, though there are some differences in dealing with too that may tip the scales in one direction.
The Optima and Sonata have much more matching than any other two mid-size family sedans--no great surprise, since Hyundai has owned Kia since the early 2000s. Both are drived by a variety of four-cylinder engines, from the basic usually aspirated vehicles with about 200 horsepower, to the 274-horsepower turbocharged designs, with manual or six-speed automatic transmissions. Our choose: either with the turbocharged four and the automatic, a good pairing that executes quick freeway passes without much turbo lag, replicating V-6 power without the drain on gas. Base fours are rated at 35 mpg highway--but turbo fours still earn an EPA-pegged 32 mpg highway. We've driven both hybrids, and think they have guarantee, but the 40-mpg-rated sedans require more drivetrain refinement before we suggest them.
Both the Optima and Sonata have high quality suspension.
Interior and trunk space is quite comparable, too, with quite a lot of front-seat leg room and head room, with head room that's fine for all but six-foot adults and those any taller as well as above-average knee room in the back seat. Each has an all-independent suspension with a very tight, borderline firm, ride quality, and electric power steering that has more heft and somewhat more realistic sense in the Optima. Both the two sedans could use comfortable seats with longer bottom cushions, particularly on base models; ventilated and heated seats are an option on either, as is leather trim. Trunk space and small-item storage are quite good.
In safety and features, the Sonata and Optima have been leaders for their brands and for the most recent generation of family sedans. Both have earned outstanding safety scores from the IIHS and NHTSA; Bluetooth is common on both, and a rearview camera can be had on either.