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2016 Hyundai Sonata vs. 2016 Kia Optima: What's the Difference?

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Doug DeMuro January 2016

If you're looking for a high-quality midsize sedan with an emphasis on style, technology and comfort, we have no doubt that the 2016 Hyundai Sonata and 2016 Kia Optima are on your shopping list. And they should be, as they both offer virtually everything most midsize sedan shoppers are interested in -- and at a reasonable price. But the Sonata and Optima offer the same powertrains, mechanicals and platform, which begs the question: what's the difference between these two sedans? We've created a close comparison in order to find out.

Exterior

Although the Sonata and Optima share many mechanical traits under the skin, they're surprisingly different on the outside. In fact, we suspect most shoppers would have trouble even realizing that these two models are related, given differences in body panels, front-end and rear-end styling, wheel designs and overall profiles. To us, the Optima has always seemed sportier, while the Sonata has offered a more traditional design -- and while these two models earned a more mature look with their latest redesign, they still have some clear differences.

Interior

The Sonata and Optima also offer major differences on the inside, where they boast different gauge clusters, different dashboard designs, different switchgear and a wide range of other differences -- like interior trim, gear levers, and steering wheels. The only real interior similarity between the Optima and Sonata is passenger room, but then again, most midsize sedans offer fairly similar interior dimensions, even when they aren't related under the skin.

Mechanicals

The Sonata and Optima share virtually every mechanical component, and thus the two sedans offer highly similar powertrain lineups. Specifically, base-level versions of both models use a 185-horsepower 2.4-liter 4-cylinder, midlevel Eco models use a 178-hp 1.6-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder, and range-topping 2.0T versions tout a 245-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder.

The only difference is when it comes to hybrid powertrains: While the Sonata Hybrid offers a 193-hp 2.0-liter hybrid 4-cylinder that boasts up to 40 miles per gallon in the city and 44 mpg on the highway, that engine isn't yet available in the Optima. Kia says an Optima Hybrid featuring that powertrain will go on sale sometime this year.

Features & Technology

Because the Sonata and Optima share most mechanical components, they also share most equipment -- whether standard or optional. In fact, we have a difficult time finding any feature that's available on one model and unavailable on the other, save for the aforementioned hybrid drivetrain.

That's a good thing for gadget lovers, since the Optima and Sonata are both on the cutting edge of the midsize sedan segment. The two models tout available adaptive cruise control, for example, along with optional ventilated seats, a heated steering wheel, an automatic pre-collision braking system, a lane departure warning system and more. The only real difference between these two models is their infotainment technology, and even then, Hyundai's Blue Link and Kia's UVO are both easy to use and fairly similar in operation.

Driving Experience

On the road, the Sonata and Optima both offer a very similar driving feel -- no doubt a product of the fact that they share a platform, engines, transmissions and many other components under the skin. While we used to think the Optima's steering was a little tighter and more communicative than the Sonata's, that's no longer true: Both models now seem to offer the same fairly light steering without much of a sporty edge. The benefit is that both models also offer a compliant, cushy ride and a surprisingly quiet cabin.

Safety

In National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash testing, the latest Sonata earned a perfect 5-star overall score. While the Optima has not yet been crash tested, we suspect the midsize Kia will earn the same rating due to its similarities to the Sonata. It's the same story in testing carried out by the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety: the Sonata earned the firm's best Top Safety Pick+ score -- and while the Optima has not yet been tested, we suspect it'll boast the same figure.

As for safety features, these two models are roughly the same: They both come standard with all the basics (side curtain airbags, a backup camera, anti-lock brakes), while they share options like blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-departure warning, and forward-collision alert with automatic braking. Once again, neither model offers more or less safety equipment than the other.

Conclusions

The 2016 Hyundai Sonata and the 2016 Kia Optima are remarkably similar on paper, touting the same mechanicals, the same features, the same platform and a similar driving experience. The two models even offer virtually identical pricing: the Optima starts at $22,665 with shipping, while the Sonata starts from $22,585. Indeed, the only real differences between the Optima and Sonata are cosmetic ones, so if you're interested in these two sedans, your biggest decision will involve choosing the exterior styling and interior design you prefer.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2016 Hyundai Sonata vs. 2016 Kia Optima: What's the Difference? - Autotrader