The V&R Comparo: Two Compact Sedans, No Cups

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2019 Kia Forte EX – All Photos by Randy Stern

Comparing one vehicle against another can go a few ways.

One, it can be a treatment towards a bias. This brand of automobile is far more superior than the other brand. Another is to try to make the comparison between an apple and an orange – and we're not talking smartphones and laptops here. Seriously, does anyone know what is in which segment to make a competent comparison anymore?

Lastly, there is the unbiased apples-for-apples comparison. The one match-up you rather see above all. A comparison so perfect that you would be amazed at which one will be on top.

That is what I have come up with – a perfect comparison, thanks to a serendipitous spark of timing.

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2019 Hyundai Elantra Limited

What I am talking about is a perfect match-up between two vehicles that arrived back-to-back of each other. Two vehicles that are in the same segment, manufactured by the same corporation, and just happened to be priced about the same.

Let me see what I can do with a comparison between a 2019 Kia Forte EX and a 2019 Hyundai Elantra Limited, shall we?

First, let me break down how I should do this comparison. One would be obvious – exterior design. Then, I'll look at the interior in terms of space, ergonomics, equipment level, and comfort. Keep in mind that I am a measuring stick in terms of comfort – a big and tall fella who is not exactly an extreme for humankind. Thirdly, performance. As you know, I look at performance as a whole encompassing driveline performance, efficiency, and driving dynamics. Lastly, to answer the question of winter driving worthiness. The latter is a real test of conditions, vehicle performance, and patience. Yes, patience.

Time to time parse out who's better than what…

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EXTERIOR DESIGN: We should add a few other details to this comparison, such as trunk accessibility and ingress/egress. With that said, both the Republic of Korea-made Hyundai and Mexican-assembled Kia are rather equal. The front doors open enough for me to get in and out of each driver's seat. On both sedans, there was a trick trying to open the trunk. Sadly, I could not figure it out. Instead, the key fob does the trick. There should really be a button on the trunk lid, right?

In a couple of write-ups for the Kia, I mentioned how the new 2019 Forte followed some of the design cues from the Stinger. That's a good thing, because the Stinger is a superb mid-sized touring hatchback. To shape the Stinger onto a compact sedan is not a tricky feat. It actually works well. It gives the Forte a sharp, stand-out look from front to back.

Although the current Elantra was introduced in 2016 as a 2017 model, it underwent a mid-cycle refresh for 2019, that drew inspiration from the larger Sonata in the back. It is a lovely rear end that sets off a handsome silhouette and profile. The front end is where things get interesting. Opinions were split on the rhinoplasty that happened up front. I happen to like it. It is missing a couple of things, however – fog lamps.

It is safe to say that the Kia Forte has the edge on the exterior design department. The Elantra is quite compelling, but the Forte is fresher and currently challenges the 2019 Volkswagen Jetta in terms of style leadership in the compact sedan segment.

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THE INTERIOR: If you follow both Hyundai and Kia well enough, you will notice two schools of thought for design. One is a slightly upmarket approach seen on the Sonata, which the Elantra follows with the integrated infotainment screen in the instrument panel. The other is inspired by the minimalism of the Stinger, as seen in the Forte. The tablet-like infotainment screen is a dead giveaway for this design school.

Both vehicles share plenty of control, switch and infotainment screen look, touch, and logic. That is where the similarities end. The Elantra's cockpit offers a better information screen in-between the main dials – with portrait orientation for cleaner displays. Inside the dials is a checkered flag motif, which may seem pretty corny for those who are very OCD about the details. The button arrangement and trim on the lower center stack for the climate controls are another curiosity that may seem out of place in the Elantra.

On the Forte, the landscape orientation of the TFT screen lends to a better warning light arrangement below. The cleanliness of the control layout in the center stack is also a win for Kia. Not to mention that the Forte also wins the front USB connection game with two against the Elantra's one.

Both "luxury" trims of the Forte and Elantra offer similar seating arrangements and controls. I felt fine behind the wheel of both the Hyundai and Kia, as both offer adequate support and bolstering for this wide-bodied person. Rear seat room is best reserved for smaller humans sitting behind me. The passenger side occupants will be fine with adequate room between them.

As someone who loves his music and sports programming, both the Elantra and Forte offer their best audio options in each of their respective testers. I found the Kia's Harmon Kardon system much better to my ears than Hyundai's Infinity set-up. Both systems are powered by the same core offering quick Bluetooth connectivity, excellent Apple CarPlay integration and playback.

As I think about it, the Kia Forte takes the lead in this category. It is not that the Elantra is falling behind in the class, but I know many people who would rather have the Hyundai over the Kia in terms of equipment levels and vehicular familiarity. Although, both vehicles should be cognizant of the Honda Civic, Volkswagen Jetta, and the 2020 Toyota Corolla when it comes to superlatives for their respective cabins.

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THE DRIVING EXPERIENCE: With most things being equal, the Elantra and Forte are powered by the same Nu 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine running on an Atkinson Cycle. Both are rated at 147 horsepower with 132 pound-feet of torque. This engine is pretty lively by itself.

Where the fork in the road splits is the difference in transmissions on each sedan. The Elantra continues with a six-speed conventional automatic that has been proven for quite some time. It is a solid transmission, but I found some response issues under full throttle when passing on the highway. However, the Forte employs the company's first continuously variable transmission. This CVT is actually quite good under normal throttle. It goes through its "ratios" like a conventional automatic. Under full throttle in passing situations, it will act like any other CVT with a full hold until the maneuver is complete.

In terms of fuel economy, both the Elantra and Forte turned similar averages – 34.4 MPG and 34.3 MPG, respectively. Both vehicles meet my expectation of an average of 34.0 MPG when it comes to fuel consumption within a metropolitan area.

It is also safe to say that both the Elantra and Forte offer the same driving dynamics, as well. The ride quality is fine between the two – no one actually has anything different from each other from what I can tell. Though the Forte has an edge on handling and cornering. The chassis seems a bit sharper than the Elantra. I also found the brakes and steering sharper on the Kia than on the Hyundai.

Though the advantage is on the 2019 Forte here, it is on par with other competitors, such as the aforementioned Civic and Jetta. I could also throw in the Chevrolet Cruze, but it is now serving a short-timer's existence in 2019. If you want a benchmark for the driving experience in the compact sedan class, the now-prior Mazda3 would be it. Initial rumblings tell me that the just-introduced 2019 Mazda3 will continue its dominance as the sportiest compact car in the market.

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WINTER SURVIVAL: As I pointed in my commentary on the state of winter drivers, it comes down to tires and lights. In this instance, the Kia Forte has the advantage over the Hyundai Elantra.

First, let's start with the lights. Hyundai did not install fog lamps on their Elantra Limited tester, but that's not a complete loss. In truth, fog lamps help to illuminate the critical first few feet of the road. Sometimes, LED headlamps and daytime running lights are simply not enough when it comes to both managing hazards and other winter-related situations from the front end of the car outward. The 2019 Kia Forte EX came with fog lamps and it helped to have them. However, the Elantra's triple-LED bulb design did emit plenty of light at night, including areas where fog lamps would shine.

Both the Hyundai and Kia were shod with all-season tires. Again, the Forte appeared to have an advantage with an interesting tire from Kumho called the Majesty Solus. These tires are known as "grand touring all-season tires," what ever that means. They gripped pretty well in the snow and ice. They assisted the traction control system to ensure that the Forte did not break loose onto a snowbank or a ditch. I wish I can say the same of the Nexens that were shod on the Elantra. They felt a bit loose, but can be controlled under a lighter throttle in sketchy situations.

If there is a compact sedan that may reign supreme in winter, it would be the Subaru Impreza and Crosstrek. Although both rely on their symmetrical all-wheel-drive system, Subaru engineers their vehicles for all season driving. However, any compact sedan would be better served with a set of winter tires. I usually suggest going with either the Michelin X-Ice, Bridgestone Blizzak, or for less money (while they last), the General Altimax.

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IN CONCLUSION: OK, the 2019 Kia Forte took all four categories. Therefore, it is the winner of this comparison. It's that simple, isn't it?

Aside from the on-road testing, I found that when readers (i.e., you) saw both vehicles, you gravitated towards the Kia over the Hyundai.

Now, which one would you own/lease? I'll leave that part to you.

DISCLAIMER: Vehicles provided by Hyundai Motor America and Kia Motors America

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