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2018 Kia Optima vs. 2018 Hyundai Sonata: Which Is Better?

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author photo by Eric Brandt August 2018
  • The 2018 Kia Optima and 2018 Hyundai Sonata are midsize sedans based on the same platform.

  • Similar pricing and trims make it tough to choose one over the other.

  • Different styling inside and out gives these sedans different personalities.

If you're in the market for a midsize sedan, the Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima should be on your shopping list. On paper these cars are very similar since they're based on the same platform, have the same engine options and nearly identical dimensions. However, when you see these cars in person and get behind the wheel, that's when the differences come to light.

While these are both good options in a competitive segment, the Optima and the Sonata have a few differences you should know about if you're considering them for your next car. Let's take a look at the differences and similarities between these two sedans.

Exterior

The exterior is probably the biggest and most noticeable difference between the Kia Optima and the Hyundai Sonata. The Optima was designed by Kia's esteemed design chief Peter Schreyer, formerly of Audi. The designer's background in luxury cars shows in the design of the Optima with a look that's classy and modern. Like many other modern Kias, the Optima looks more expensive than it is.

The Sonata has an aesthetic that's subtle, but not boring. At the front is a bold hexagonal grille giving way to clean straight lines through the body. The Sonata is good for blending in and keeping a low profile, while the Optima is a little better for standing out from the crowd.

Interior

The interiors of the two cars have similar space in front and back, but like the exterior, they don't look like the same car from the inside. In the Optima, the interior looks a little more modern and techy. It continues the Optima's persona of looking more expensive than it is with the interior design rivaling some luxury cars. The controls are ergonomically friendly and the instrumentation is informative without being cluttered.

The Sonata's interior has many of the same virtues as the Optima's, but looks different enough to set the two cars apart. The inside of the Hyundai looks modern and premium, but in a different way than the Optima. From the inside, the Optima looks more like a sport sedan and the Sonata looks more like a traditional yet modern luxury sedan. Both interiors are very nice and could be considered class leaders in the non-luxury midsize sedan segment.

Mechanicals

The 2018 Kia Optima and 2018 Hyundai Sonata are offered with the same three engines. The base engine in both cars is a 2.4-liter inline-4 that makes 185 horsepower and 178 lb-ft of torque. Those are adequate performance numbers for a car in this class, and it gets strong fuel economy at 25 miles per gallon city, 36 mpg highway and 29 mpg combined.

For better fuel economy, a little less horsepower and a little more torque, you can upgrade to the turbocharged 1.6-liter inline-4, which makes 178 hp, 195 lb-ft of torque and returns the best fuel economy of any available engines in these cars. Partially thanks to a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission, the 1.6-liter turbo-4 gets 28 mpg city/37 mpg hwy/31 mpg combined.

The best performing engine available in the Sonata and the Optima is a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4. It turns up the heat in these cars with 245 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque, which brings some extra excitement to these sedans. It's not bad on gas, but it is the least efficient of the three engines, returning 22 mpg city/31 mpg highway/25 mpg combined.

Features and Technology

The Optima and the Sonata are great values no matter which trim you chose, but they can get into luxury car territory when you look at the higher trims of these well-appointed sedans. The Kia's base trim is the LX model, and from there you can upgrade to the mid-range S, the fuel-efficient LX 1.6T, the tech-savvy EX and, finally, the luxurious SX. The Hyundai has a similar lineup starting with the base SE moving up to the Eco, the SEL, the Sport+, the Limited and the Limited 2.0T+. The Optima SX and the Sonata Limited 2.0T+ are the only trims that come with the turbocharged 2.0-liter engine.

Both cars come standard with a 7-inch UVO infotainment system that comes with a rearview camera, Bluetooth, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Those are excellent features to have on a base model. A bigger 8-in unit with navigation is optional on the Optima EX and SX and the Sonata Limited. Navigation is standard on the loaded Sonata Limited 2.0T+.

These sedans are also pretty generous with standard safety tech, which includes blind spot monitoring, lane-change assist and rear cross-traffic alert for both cars. More advanced safety tech like autonomous emergency braking and lane-departure warning are optional on the higher trims of the Optima and on every Sonata except for the SE and Eco models. The Sonata Limited 2.0T+ comes standard with all available safety tech.

Popular features like a panoramic sunroof, leather seats that are heated and cooled in front, automatic climate control and much more can be had throughout both model ranges. The Sonata and Optima can be optioned very similarly, and either one can give you the same features in cars with different personalities.

Pricing

The Hyundai Sonata has a lower starting price than the Kia Optima, but its highest trim is more expensive than the top trim of the Kia. The Sonata SE has a starting MSRP of $22,050 while the Optima LX starts at $22,600. The Sonata SEL is only $100 more than the Sonata S and the Sonata Limited is priced right in between the Sonata EX and SX. It's worth noting that if you want the most affordable way to get the efficient 1.6-liter engine, you'll want the Sonata Eco, which starts at $22,650, while the Optima LX 1.6T starts at $24,400.

The Sonata Limited 2.0T+ starts all the way up at $31,900, which is a little pricey for this class but is also arguably the best value of the bunch when you consider how much you're getting. Standard features include the fantastic turbocharged 2.0-liter engine, advanced safety tech like adaptive cruise control, a panoramic sunroof, an 8-inch UVO system with navigation, heated and cooled leather seats and much more. You can have all of that for less than the average new car transaction price, which should be a good deal by anyone's standards.

The range-topping Optima SX is also well-appointed and has a lower price of $30,600, but several features that are standard in the top Sonata are optional on the Optima SX, including a lot of the aforementioned safety tech and navigation. You do, however, get heated and cooled leather seats and the panoramic sunroof standard.

Overall, pricing for both of these cars is pretty well in line with their other competitors and offer an excellent value no matter which trim you choose.

Conclusion

Like most cars from different brands that are based on the same platform, which car is right for you largely comes down to personal preference. In the case of the Optima and the Sonata, the styling and interior differences could be all you need to decide which you'd rather have in your garage. With both cars being so well-appointed across the board and such good values, you can't go wrong with either.

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New 2018 Kia Optima EX Plug-In Hybrid
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New 2018 Kia Optima EX Plug-In Hybrid
New 2018 Kia Optima
MSRP $36,495
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New 2018 Kia Optima EX Plug-In Hybrid
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MSRP $36,250
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New 2018 Kia Optima LX
New 2018 Kia Optima
$23,110
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.
2018 Kia Optima vs. 2018 Hyundai Sonata: Which Is Better? - Autotrader