When considering Kia versus Hyundai, first note that both are Korean and technically have common ownership in South Korea. In the U.S., they also share a technical and design center in Ann Arbor, Michigan. And while they share lots of bits, parts and engineering platforms between the two lineups, their products are sufficiently different to evaluate them separately.
Kia vehicles tend to be priced a bit below those of Hyundai, though there are some exceptions, and they aim to have a bit more sporty designs.
After evaluating and comparing the two lineups–2018 models, 2019 models and some 2020 models–we reached some conclusions, based on test drives and probes of the interiors, about which models in the Hyundai and Kia showrooms are best when compared with one another.
Both Kia.com and Hyundai.com are well-designed websites that make research and comparisons very easy for consumers. And for more information on how to compare any two brands or models, check out our article on how to compare specs and price.
- Which brand has better performance?
- Which brand has better customer service?
- Which brand has better interiors?
- Which brand has better pricing and values?
- Which brand is more reliable and dependable?
- Which brand has better safety ratings?
- Which brand has better small cars?
- Which brand has better midsize cars?
- Which brand has better large cars?
- Which brand has better Subcompact SUVs
- Which brand has better Compact SUVs?
- Which brand has better Midsize SUVs
- Which brand has better hybrids and electric vehicles?
Hyundai and Kia share engines. Kia’s “performance” car is the Stinger, and presents people a legitimate alternative to the Ford Mustang, though we like the Mustang styling better. The Hyundai “performance” model is the Veloster, the styling of which is polarizing. The Kia and Hyundai family of engines are spritely, fuel efficient and modern.
Hyundai and Kia are tied on performance.
- The J.D. Power and Associates Sales Satisfaction Index Study, which measures how satisfied consumers are, indicates Hyundai dealers are better at customer handling than Kia’s. Both brands are unfortunately ranked below the industry average, but Hyundai ranks seven positions ahead of Kia.
Customer Service: Hyundai wins.
- Both Hyundai and Kia rank below the industry average in J.D. Power’s APEAL study, which measures what owners think of performance, styling, comfort and visibility.
- The Kia Optima and Kia Soul show flair and smart design for visibility.
- The Kia Cadenza, the company’s attempt at a premium mid-sized car also scores quite well for design and quality materials.
- Hyundai outdoes Kia, though, on its telematics/entertainment system. While Hyundai’s BlueLink is very simple and intuitive to use, Kia’s UVO is balky and the app-based aspect of it needs much improvement.
Interiors: Kia wins.
Kia offers one of the lowest price entry cars in the market. This will be important going forward because Ford, for example, seems to be mostly vacating the sub-$20,000 category as it phases out the Focus and Fiesta.
- The 2019 Kia Rio sedan and five-door, which start at $15,390.
- The 2019 Hyundai Accent bottom-priced car starts at $14,995.
- The models in both brands’ showrooms generally maintain similar starting-price differentials.
Because the companies generally have very good overall quality and reliability, their aggressive budget pricing means excellent values for their buyers. And both brands have captive finance companies that frequently offer good financing deals on top of good pricing deals for the vehicles.
Price and Value: Kia and Hyundai tied.
There are two kinds of reliability measured in the auto industry–short term (90 days) and longer term (three years). Both brands score very well, which make them not only good, solid new cars, but very good pre-owned and certified pre-owned vehicles.
- In J.D. Power’s Initial Quality Study, Hyundai and Kia both score very well, just 74 problems per 100 vehicles for Hyundai and 72 problems per 100 for Kia.
- The same holds for J.D. Power’s longer term Vehicle Dependability Study, which scores Hyundai 124 problems per 100 vehicles and Kia 126 problems per 100.
- These two brands, along with Hyundai’s luxury brand, Genesis, lead the industry in short-term quality, while they also rank very high for reliability.
Reliability: Hyundai wins.
Because the two brands’ vehicles are developed in tandem, and usually off the same vehicle architectures and engineering platforms, crash safety ratings tend to shake out to be nearly equal. And Hyundai and Kia leadership have staked out safety as something they want to lead on over other Asian makes and Detroit.
- The Hyundai Elantra, Sonata, Santa Fe and Kona score “Top Pick+” ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
- The Hyundai Ioniq, Accent, Veloster and Tucson scored “Top Pick” status.
- Kia Optima, Sorento, Forte and Niro Hybrid score “Top Pick+” ratings.
- Kia Soul and Rio scored “Top Pick” status.
Safety: Hyundai wins
All of the Kia and Hyundai small cars score very high for performance, design, features and handling. These vehicles are going to get greater consideration with Ford ceasing sales of its Fiesta and Focus models.
- The top rated vehicles when both lineups are evaluated, though, are the Kia Stinger, Kia Soul, and Hyundai Kona.
- Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio and Kia Forte are all solid, reliable choices, so it will really come down to taste if you are specifically shopping the values in these lineups alone. In short, you really can’t go wrong here.
Small Cars: Kia is winner
The Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima are a virtual tie in the Midsized sedan category. Both reflect excellent price/value. Both have similar safety features. And both make excellent use of quality materials–cloth and leather.
The biggest differentiator here is that Hyundai’s BlueLink telematics is better than Kia’s UVO.
Mid-Sized Sedans: Hyundai wins.
Hyundai no longer has a large sedan, having discontinued the Azera model.
- The Kia Cadenza is an excellent sedan, but much under-appreciated in the marketplace. It has excellent handling, interior design and features. It packs a lot of value stem to stern for a starting MSRP of just $33,000.
- The Kia K900 is also an excellent value, with an MSRP price starting at $50,000, it has refinement of sedans costing $25,000 more.
Large Sedans: Kia wins.
- The relatively new Hyundai Kona is the best ranked sub-compact crossover in the industry. Handling is exceptional, and the design inside and out is eye-catching. It also comes in an EV version.
- The Kia Niro a bit larger than the Kona, comes in a hybrid, plug-in hybrid and full electric.
- Kia Niro is better handling than the Kona, but does not come with an all-wheel-drive option. Niro has much better fuel economy.
Subcompact SUV: Kia wins.
Kia engineers and designers seem to be in competition against their Hyundai counterparts, if this popular category of SUV is any indication.
- The Kia Sportage has a spacious cabin and excellent handling, edging out the Hyundai Tucson. One knock on the Sportage is lower fuel economy.
- The Sportage is a bit nicer than the Tucson, which has some cheap looking plastics, in the base trim.
- In the higher trim levels, the competition is closer, especially between the engine choices and interior design.
Compact SUVs: Kia wins
The Kia Sorento and Hyundai Santa Fe are extremely close by comparison. The Santa Fe was redesigned for the 2019 model year.
- The company seems to want the Kia brand to attract the biggest transaction prices as the top of the line Sorento is nearly $5,000 more than the similarly equipped Santa Fe, making the Santa Fe a better value.
- The Sorento’s starting price is $26,290, while the Santa Fe starts at $25,750.
- The best MPG version of the Sorento is the Ultimate 2.4 L with Auto FWD at 22 MPG city and 29 MPG highway.
- The 2020 Telluride SUV is actually based on the Sorento platform, but it is a larger SUV, because there seems to be no end of appetite for bigger SUVs. Hyundai is getting its own bigger SUV, the Palisade. Both of these SUVs are incredibly well styled and equipped, and should draw stares and consideration from buyers who are used to only shopping Toyota, Chevy, Ford and GMC for this size vehicle.
Mid-size SUVs: Kia wins.
The good news for the green consumer is that Hyundai and Kia both have an aggressive strategy for providing consumers with electrified vehicles.
- The Hyundai Ioniq is a traditional hybrid, that gets 57 mpg city and 59 mpg highway, but also is sold as plug-in hybrid and fully electrified. The EV goes 126 miles between full charges.
- Hyundai sells a Sonata Hybrid, which gets 40 mpg city and 46 mpg highway. The Kia Optima Hybrid scores virtually the same.
- Kia markets the Niro and Optima in traditional hybrid form.
- The Kia Niro comes as an EV, and gets 240 miles of range between charges. The Kona EV gets 250 miles of all-electric range.
Hybrids and EVs: Kia Wins.
Hyundai vs. Kia is a difficult competition to call. The two companies, joint affiliated ownership in South Korea, share parts and engineering. But each brand also works hard to distinguish itself and differentiate from the other. Both companies excel at achieving reliability, and both can do better on safety. One brand does a bit better than the other when you compare Kia versus Hyundai.
Overall Decision: Kia Wins