Turbo face-off: Hyundai Sonata vs. Kia Optima

New engines provide an edge in fuel economy and acceleration

Last reviewed: July 2011

In pursuit of better gas mileage and performance, Hyundai and its Kia affiliate have made a bold move. When they redesigned their Sonata and Optima (both available to subscribers) sedans, they dropped the option of a V6 engine, which is a typical choice in higher-end family sedans. Instead they now offer a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that churns out about 74 more horsepower than the 2.4-liter base engine.

What you’ll get with this option is the best fuel economy in this category (see the Ratings, available to subscribers) and acceleration that’s better than most V6- powered competitors. What you won’t get is the same level of smoothness and overall refinement of the better V6s.

We bought a high-end Sonata Limited 2.0T ($28,090) and Optima SX ($29,050). They share the virtues of the base nonturbo versions, including roomy interiors and well-finished cabins, and provide a higher level of interior trim, somewhat sportier handling, and a stiffer ride.

Engine performance of the two cars is very similar, but they have somewhat different characters. The Optima has sportier styling, for example, but it compromises visibility and rear-seat head room. The Optima also falls behind in refinement compared with the Sonata, with less noise isolation and less polished suspension tuning. Ultimately, choosing one over the other might boil down to your preferences for styling and ride comfort.

Neither model is recommended. They scored well enough in our testing but are too new for us to have reliability data.