Hyundai and Kia are the two biggest car manufacturers from Korea, and the only ones with manufacturing plants located in the US. They originally built a reputation for manufacturing affordable, reliable cars, but their immensely popular newer SUVs like the Hyundai Palisade and Kia Telluride border on luxury.
While all eyes might be on their SUVs these days, the Hyundai Elantra and Kia Forte sedans are no doubt what made these automakers so successful. The Elantra dates all the way back to 1990 and is a household name in America, while the Kia Forte stretches back to 2008 when it replaced the Spectra.
If you’re looking for a compact sedan with a generous warranty coverage, these two cars are both good options. Hyundai and Kia have been in partnership with each other since 1998, so they both naturally share many similarities. However, they’re not identical, so let’s go ahead and compare them.
Very little separates these two compact sedans beyond the obvious differences in styling. The Hyundai Elantra boasts some newer features and marginally better fuel efficiency, but the more modest Kia Forte is otherwise the same car for less.
Both sedans are roughly the same length and width with very marginal differences in terms of size.
However, entering its new generation in 2021, the Hyundai Elantra has some wild styling that walks away from the dull looks of its predecessor. It’s shark-like front-end and sharp lines across the board make for an attractive package that align with recent trends.
By contrast the Kia Forte has a slightly more traditional look of a sedan. While it doesn’t look as modern as the Elantra, taking obvious inspiration from the Kia Stinger sports sedan means it looks great in its own way.
In tandem with its new exterior, the Hyundai Elantra gets a dramatically restyled interior which significantly cuts down on the clutter found in its predecessor. With a seamless transition between driver and passenger sides along with new styling elements, the cabin creates a zen environment for everyone inside. Autotrader listed its interior as one of the best under $50,000.
The Kia Forte’s interior looks a little clunky by comparison, but is made using equally upscale materials. While we preferred the Elantra’s interior aesthetic, there’s honestly very little difference between the two from a practical point of view.
Both cars have the same 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine which produces 147 horsepower. Only front-wheel drive is offered, and the accompanying CVT transmission means performance or driving pleasure is neither car’s strong suit.
If there’s a need for speed, the Hyundai Elantra N-Line and Kia Forte GT trims which pack a 201-hp turbocharged 1.6-liter engine are much better contenders. The driving dynamics are dramatically improved in these performance versions, which can be had with a stick shift or dual-clutch automatic transmission.
Those looking for a hybrid will be limited to the Hyundai Elantra, which is available as a hybrid for the first time in 2021.
Hyundai and Kia sedans are traditionally fuel efficient, and these models are no exception. The Kia Forte has a combined fuel economy of 33 miles to the gallon. Despite having the same engine, other differences mean the new Hyundai Elantra achieves an even higher 37 mpg combined.
The Elantra is the winner when it comes to fuel economy, though the difference is small.
Passenger Space and Practicality
Both compact sedan models can seat up to five people and provide a high level of comfort for four. The internal dimensions are remarkably similar, with minor differences in front leg/shoulder/hip/head room. There is slightly more rear legroom in the Elantra, however, by about 2.3 inches.
The differences in the amount of available cargo space in the trunk are also minimal, with trunk volumes of 14.2ft3 (Elantra) and 15.3ft3 (Forte), respectively.
Overall, the Forte’s starting prices are about $1,500 cheaper than the Elantra for equivalent trims.
The Elantra’s base SE trim starts at $19,650. The SEL trim starts at $20,900 and comes with hands-free Smart Trunk release and a proximity key with push button start. The Limited trim is its most expensive, with a starting price of $25,450 and comes with Dynamic Voice Recognition, leather-trimmed seats, and reverse parking collision-assistance.
The Kia’s FE trim comes with a low starting price of $17,890. The LXS trim starts at $19,390 and comes with folding rear seats and soft-touch interior features. The GT-Line trim starts at $20,490 and comes with LED daytime lights, sport cloth seats and six-speaker sound system. The GT model features High-beam assist, a 1.6-Liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, and starts at $22,690. Finally, the EX trim starts at $23,090 and comes with an 8-speaker Harman Kardon sound system, power-adjustable driver’s seat, and a power sunroof.
Technology and Features
Both cars feature 8.0-inch infotainment displays as standard and a similar suite of up-to-date technologies beyond that.
Hyundai’s BlueLink is a comprehensive infotainment and telematics package which has everything from voice assistance, remote unlocking, roadside assistance, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, and more.
Kia UVO looks slightly different, but is otherwise equivalent in terms of features.
Both models come with safety features such as blind-spot collision avoidance and forward collision avoidance.
The Hyundai Elantra packs slightly more safety features, however, such as emergency braking with pedestrian detection as standard (pedestrian detection is an optional extra on the Kia Forte). The Elantra also offers Reverse Parking Collision-Avoidance Assist (PCA-R) in its Limited trim, which isn’t available on any of the Kia Forte trims.
While both cars get adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assist with lane departure warning, only the Elantra gets an intelligent lane-centering feature.
The most recent NHTSA crash testing results saw both models earn a 4-star overall safety rating. While things are close, the Elantra’s more complete set of safety features give it the edge in this category.
As one might expect from two cars built from the same platform, the Hyundai Elantra and Kia Forte are extremely comparable.
The Kia Forte is the more modest sedan, with a slightly lower sticker price and more traditional appearance. It lacks some of the newer technologies and upgrades available on the Hyundai, but the differences are negligible for the most part.
The Hyundai Elantra asks you to reach further into your pockets, in return for bolder styling and a few additional perks. Its most significant advantage over the Kia Forte is perhaps its slightly superior fuel economy.
Buyers will have a difficult time choosing between the two, so a visit to a local dealership for a test drive is advised. Other comparable sedans include the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Chevy Cruze and Nissan Sentra.