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It’s a rare occurrence someone would cross shop a Kia Optima SX ($25,790) versus a Hyundai Sonata Sport 2.0T ($28,575). Even though both vehicles are ultimately made by the same holding company (Hyundai Motor Group), the power plants in both of them are quite different, along with the overall experience of driving each sedan. It’s probably what made this back-to-back comparison of the two similar―yet completely different at the same time―sedans interesting to the NADA Used Car Guide editorial team.

Why would an automotive company with two different brands create vehicles that have almost the exact same options list, engines and comparable gas mileage? The answer is choice.

In particular, consumer choice is driven by a variety of factors. Whether the drivers are social, emotional and/or financial, Hyundai Motor Group appears to have made sure its consumer choice bases are covered. The result of this base covering is two successfully marketed brands resonating well with consumer automotive purchasing decisions.

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Engine, Performance & Handling

While a direct injected 2.4-liter and turbocharged 2.0-liter are available in both brands, a naturally aspirated 1.6-liter (Eco trim) is also available in the Sonata. All engines are four cylinders mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission―save for the Eco model, which uses a 7-speed dual clutch transmission.

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The 2.0-liter bolted into the Sonata Sport model we tested puts out 245 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. While a bit whiney when floored, the 2.0-liter performed well, able to surge pass smartphone-distracted drivers on the highway, all the while sipping regular gas at 32 mpg (and 23 mpg in the city or 26 mpg combined).

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The tested Optima SX with its 2.4-liter engine puts out a less impressive 192 horsepower and 181 lb-ft of torque. The difference between the 2.0 and 2.4-liter engines is quite apparent, with the 2.4 not having enough power to securely deal with all traffic situations. The upside of selecting the 2.4-liter, however, is an ease on your gas budget: On the highway, the SX achieves 34 mpg. Surprisingly, city fuel economy is the same as the 2.0-liter, yet combined figures bump up only one more mpg than the Sport.

Handling & Ride

The Kia’s suspension appears to be more attune to spirited driving. While steering is light, there is the slightest bit of feedback through the helm―a much needed characteristic to know what is going on with the road beneath. The suspension handles corners well, exhibiting moderate body roll. Strangely, whenever a dip in the road is encountered, the Optima tends to get bucked, sending momentum straight up. It’s almost as if the rebound in the shocks has not been tuned sufficiently.

Conversely, the Sonata handles dips well, yet turning at speed on exit ramps makes the process less confidence-inspiring. Also, the Hyundai seemed noisier inside than the Kia when driven at 70 mph. Roar seemed to emanate from the floor in the Sonata, while quiet mice seemed to rule the Optima’s nether regions.

Interior, Infotainment and Cargo

Both the Optima’s and Sonata’s interiors are attractive and easy to familiarize yourself with. Both sport an abundance of soft touch materials mated to satin-looking trims, chrome accents and premium-looking stitch work. The flat-bottom leather-wrapped steering wheels are identical in each sedan, save for a difference in brand badging at the wheel’s center. Leather quality is the same (though optional Napa leather is possible in the Optima), as is the extremely intuitive and almost twin BlueLink (Hyundai) and UVO (Kia) infotainment systems.

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Inside the 2015 Hyundai Sonata Sport 2.0T.

From heated/ventilated seats to blind spot monitoring, identical safety and pampering systems are all equally possible in both brand of vehicle. In a weird twist of fate however, the HVAC system in the Sonata does not have vents in the driver’s foot well, while the Optima doesn’t have optional radar cruise control as in the Sonata. The reason for these discrepancies? We wish we knew.

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Interior of the 2015 Kia Optima Limited.

With head and leg room being about equal between the two models, the most noticeable difference―when it comes to space―involves the trunk. The Sonata scores a point for swallowing up almost one cubic foot more of space than the Optima. To be exact, the Hyundai’s trunk houses 16.3 cubic feet, while the Kia fits only 15.4 cubic feet.

Summary

If the Sonata looks the tiniest bit newer than the Optima, it's because the sedan went through a mid-cycle refresh. Come this April 1st, an all new version of the Optima will be revealed at the New York Auto Show, furthering the apples-to-apples comparison. Since the 2015 final MSRP price point is only about $200 apart when comparably equipped with the same engine and accessories, Optima and Sonata models make the purchase decision process difficult for shoppers subjectively viewing each vehicle, equally. With the same 10-year/100,000 mile warranty available on both vehicles, along with five years of 24-hour roadside assistance, at least consumers will know that if anything should ever go wrong with their purchase, they’re covered. At least that is an easy decision point to make.