2015 Hyundai ElantraEnlarge Photo
The Hyundai Elantra and Kia Forte, two compact sedans, have common roots, but some very striking differences in styling and interior comfort that makes one the better choice. Comparison-shopping these two vehicles together helps serve to underscore that Kia and Hyundai are run as different automakers, product-wise.
No doubt, it's the Hyundai Elantra that first turned heads. Introduced as a 2011 model, it stands out from a distance. The "fluidic sculpture" theme is sporty, modern, and dynamic, and we like the mix of its wedgy stance and curvy details. 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.
Inside, it's the same story for both cars, with the Elantra making waves with its fashion-forward details and distinctive hourglass center console, while the Forte takes a more simplified design direction that's refreshing and easy to navigate. Overall, we rate the Elantra better for its brand-resetting look—but we realize it's a matter of taste and opinion.
The Elantra also comes in a new two-door body style as well as a five-door Elantra GT hatchback version. Those models earn a mild refresh for 2016. Meanwhile, the Forte also comes as a two-door Koup and as a five-door hatch, which we haven't recently driven. Here, we're content to stay focused on the most popular four-door versions.)
On the performance front, the Forte finally has gained the more advanced four-cylinder powertrain the Elantra's had since 2011, but it also offers a larger-displacement 2.0-liter four with 173 horsepower (which, by the way, the Elantra has also now inherited). The bump over the 148-hp, 1.8-liter four in the Elantra (and in the base Forte) isn't of a magnitude that will have enthusiasts dropping GTI brochures in the dust. On the other hand, the Hyundai Elantra recently gained three-mode steering on the SE and Limited sedan, stiffer shocks and springs and a bigger stabilizer bar on the Sport sedan, and revised steering feel for all the models in its lineup.
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 does a little more with standard-issue hardware. It has a more dynamic feel, and its electric power steering is a step ahead of the Elantra's setup. The Forte's independent front and torsion-beam rear suspension is more firmly tuned, with a more spry driving feel. That somewhat firmer suspension setup doesn't much affect the Forte's ride. It's no more busy than that of the Hyundai.
The Elantra holds a slight advantage in fuel economy numbers; top Elantras earn up to 32 mpg EPA combined, but the Forte's best effort is 31 mpg combined. But overall, with the Forte doing better than the Elantra in highway numbers, for some trim levels, it's a wash.
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.
The Kia Forte and Hyundai Elantra are in theory built on the same platform, so it's puzzling that their safety ratings are so different. While the Elantra is one of the segment's better performers, with IIHS Top Safety Pick status and even a respectable 'acceptable' score in the tough small overlap frontal test, the Forte gets a 'marginal' rating (improved from last year's 'poor') in that test. Otherwise, safety equipment is comparable between the two models, with the requisite airbags and stability control complemented by standard Bluetooth and an available rearview camera.
The Forte has caught up with the Elantra's features list. Both have standard power features, cruise control, air conditioning, and satellite-radio hardware. Hyundai's options list includes heated rear seats, a proximity key system, 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. And for 2016, Hyundai has added a Value Edition, and the Limited model now gets dual-zone climate control and push-button start. 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.
Now that the gap in generations has closed between the Forte and the Elantra, there's less distinction than ever between their spec sheets. That said, the Elantra still wins. The Hyundai might have a small lead in a number of areas, yet that adds up to a significant lead overall.
|from $17,250||from $15,890|
|from $16,734||from $15,587|
|Fuel Economy - Combined City and Highway|
|Front Leg Room (in)|
|Second Leg Room (in)|
|Read Full Specs||Read Full Specs|