The Hyundai Elantra and Kia Forte are two compact sedans with common roots, but some very striking differences in styling and interior comfort.
One of them is the better choice, at least for now. But which one is better for you?
First, a disclaimer. We've driven the new 2017 Hyundai Elantra, which benefits from some important changes in styling, safety content, body structure, and powertrains. The Forte, meanwhile, is due for a 2017 model-year update--but because production is moving from Korea to Mexico, the new model hasn't yet been launched.
Also, while the Elantra comes as a five-door GT, and the Forte as a five-door hatchback and as a two-door Koup, we're focusing here on the new Elantra sedan and the 2016 Forte four-door.
No doubt, it's the Hyundai Elantra that first turned heads back in 2011 when it was given a dynamic new look. In its latest form, that shape has been toned down and smooth out. We still like its stance and details, but it's less interesting than it once was.
The Forte's last redesign saw it grow a little to almost exactly the same proportions, but to an altogether more European-influenced effect. Its crisp details and gently arched roofline are inspired reinterpretations of classic compact-car profiles, with Kia's corporate face carving out its own identity. It's the more attractive of the pair by a slight margin, to our eyes, though both cars are handsomely drawn.
Inside, the Elantra has given up its fashion-forward design for a very traditional, horizontal dash trimmed in more ordinary black plastics. The Forte takes a more simplified design direction that's refreshing and easy to navigate. Overall, we rate the cars equally, but the Forte's shapes have held up well while the Elantra has ceded its styling edge.
On the performance front, the Forte uses a pair of four-cylinder engines a half-generation behind the new Elantra. The base Forte offers a 148-horsepower, 1.8-liter four, with an option for a 2.0-liter four with 173 horsepower. The new Elantra sports a 147-hp 2.0-liter four, or on an Eco model, a 1.6-liter turbo four with 128 hp. Neither will have enthusiasts dropping GTI brochures in the dust, but they're adequately smooth and efficient.
The Elantra holds a slight advantage in fuel economy numbers; top Elantras earn up to 35 mpg EPA combined, but the Forte's best effort is 31 mpg combined. That should change when the Forte adopts the 147-hp four now in the Elantra, for the 2017 model year.
The Elantra has pulled ahead in dynamic behavior and road feel. Its body has been beefed up with stronger steel and adhesives, which translates into a stiff body. That in turn let engineers tune its ride for more compliance, while its steering has a better sense of true. The Elantra also offers an optional driving mode selector, which tailors steering, throttle, and shifting to the driver's taste.
What this adds up to in these cousins comes down to subtleties. If you drive them back-to-back, as we've done, you'll notice the Forte tucks more spry handling into its hardware. It has a more dynamic feel, and its electric power steering is a step ahead of the Elantra's setup, and it doesn't much affect the Forte's ride. But the Elantra now has a very quiet ride and smooth demeanor; there's a clearer division between the corporate cousins, though that too could change with the updated '17 Forte.
As for interior room, the cars now ride on identical wheelbases and have almost exactly the same interior dimensions, though the Elantra's leg room is biased toward the front seat, the Forte's more evenly split. Neither has great rear-seat head room, but both are acceptable for adults.
In the past, safety ratings for the Forte and Elantra have been quite different. The Elantra earned top scores, while the Forte now gets a "marginal" IIHS score for small-overlap impacts. The new Elantra has yet to be tested, but its revamped body structure could yield top scores. It's also one of the few vehicles in its class to offer a suite of advanced safety features, everything from adaptive cruise control to forward-collision warnings with automatic braking.
On the features list, both the Forte and Elantra have standard power features, cruise control, and air conditioning. Hyundai's options list includes ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, push-button start, and a navigation system and infotainment system with one of the largest screens among compact cars. It also supports Bluetooth audio streaming, and the nav system includes voice controls and XM Data services.
Forte shoppers can now get all those features, with a twist: the UVO infotainment controller is a new, superior, smartphone-driven system that uses cell data to get mapping information and to stream audio.
There's a generation gap between these Korean compact sedans, at least for now. Once we drive a 2017 Forte, we'll let you know if its carry-over styling and revamped hardware can overcome the edge the Elantra now enjoys.
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|from $16,621||from $15,684|
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