These new automotive appliances from Hyundai and Kia share the same heart and “Seoul”, but offer different kinds of saloon goodness.
STORY JEREMY CHUA PHOTOS LOW FAI MING
BUYING a washing machine is both boring and confusing. You walk into a department store and are faced with rows of similar-looking big, white cubes.
Making your task even more difficult, all the brands claim that they can get your clothes really clean while using the least amount of water and electricity.
I found myself facing a similar dilemma with the Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima K5.
Because Hyundai and Kia are sister companies, both machines are based on the same platform. They’re also identical in size (4855mm long and with a 2805mm wheelbase), and are powered by essentially the same motor. It doesn’t help that both cars here are white.
If the Sonata and Optima were washing machines, I would be more attracted to the Optima, thanks to its “tiger” face that looks fiercer than its Sonata “Seoul mate”. This also makes me imagine that the Kia might be tougher on dirt and be able to wash my clothes more quickly than the other appliance.
But once I get into the Sonata, it seems to be the more upmarket machine. The dashboard has more metal appliques and a prettier display for its hi-fi system. And the front passenger seat is also powered, whereas the one in the Optima’s is manually adjusted.
The Optima’s cockpit is sportier than the Sonata’s, though. True to its “fiercer” nature, the Kia has a three-spoke steering wheel (as opposed to the clumsier four-spoke number in the Hyundai) and paddle-shifters. I also prefer the Kia’s electronic parking brake (more modern and convenient) to the Sonata’s foot-operated one.
Like two washing machines rated for the same loads, the Sonata and Optima off er the same space for rear passenger loads.
However, I prefer being loaded into the Optima’s rear “drum” because its bench is cushier than the Sonata’s and thus more suitable for lounging while watching K-dramas on Samsung tablets, which can be juiced up by the Kia’s USB port and 12-volt outlet (the Hyundai only has the latter for backseat occupants).
As mentioned earlier, both Korean motorcars utilise the same Korean motor: a naturally aspirated 2-litre 4-cylinder. But Kia seems to have optimised the unit for the Optima, which delivers a stronger performance than the Sonata.
The Kia’s engine produces 163bhp, or 6bhp more than its in-house rival, and its redline is 6500rpm – 300rpm higher than the Sonata engine’s.
Not surprisingly, the Optima’s century sprint time of 10.5 seconds is 0.6 of a second quicker than the Sonata’s.
Although the Hyundai is slower than the Kia, it’s actually sweeter during city driving, because its peak torque arrives sooner (at 4000rpm) than in the Optima (4800rpm).
At low to moderate speeds, the Sonata actually feels more responsive than the Optima, even with the driving mode set to Normal. In washing machine terms, the Sonata performs better with smaller loads and shorter spin cycles.
The Optima’s powerplant isn’t just more powerful than the Sonata’s – it’s cleaner, too. Because it emits 182g per kilometre, or 4g/km less than the Hyundai, the Kia has been classified as CEVS neutral. The Sonata, on the other hand, is liable for a $5k CEVS surcharge.
Sonata’s cockpit and controls (top) look classier than the Optima’s, but the latter offers more amenities.
Sonata’s backseat (left) is more comfortable, while the Optima’s is more practical.
If these two saloons were washing machines, the Optima would have an eco label with four ticks, whereas the Sonata’s sticker might have only three.
Making the Optima even more optimal is its 10-year/200,000km engine warranty, which is valid as long as the vehicle is sent to Cycle & Carriage (C&C) for servicing.
Therefore, I could subject the Kia to heavier and more frequent wash loads without worrying about the motor conking out.
The Sonata’s engine is only covered by Komoco’s standard five-year/unlimited mileage warranty, so the aftersales assurance doesn’t stretch as far as C&C’s for the Kia Optima.
In terms of handling, both machines are solid. You can push them hard, and they won’t shake or shudder during their washing/spinning cycles, as their bodies are very torsionally stiff . The Optima, however, is a tad quieter in its operation.
Choosing between these two Korean “white goods” is much easier than shopping for a washing machine. I’m impressed by the Sonata’s upmarket design and tempted by its mass-market price, but I’m ultimately swayed by the Optima’s sportier character. The Kia could get me home sooner, which means my laundry will get done faster, you know.