It’s a point that’s becoming tired, but it still bears repeating: This test wouldn’t have been possible 10 years ago. Back then, Hyundai and Kia were still at the beginning of their stratospheric climb to respectability. Today, it isn’t unusual to have buyers cross-shopping these brands against the best Toyota, Honda, Ford, and GM have to offer — in fact, more and more car buyers are every year. Thanks to improvements in reliability, styling, fit-and-finish, and one of the best warranties in the business, the term “South Korean car” is no longer synonymous with “cheap.” At long last, they’re both contenders in almost every segment they compete in, from entry-level sporty cars, to minivans that are way more luxurious than they need to be.
But it’s unfair to paint these two as sister brands. Despite sharing platforms, Hyundai and Kia’s American arms are completely separate, which means that the brands are in as much competition with the other as they are with any other automaker. And now that their entry- and mid-level ranges have been established, both are moving into premium segments. So while the Kia K900 and Hyundai Genesis duke it out against the likes of Mercedes, Audi, Lexus, and each other, the Kia Cadenza and Hyundai Azera take on the full-size sedan segment against the likes of the Toyota Avalon, Chrysler 300, Chevrolet Impala, and Ford Taurus.
Sharing the N-Platform and the same 3.3-liter V6 that pumps out 293 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque, these two big sedans more than hold their own against the competition. But how well do they stack up against each other? Styling aside, we find that there’s a world of difference between these two fighting cousins in this week’s installment of Buy This, Not That.
Tale of the tape
As Hyundai’s lineup moves toward a crisper, restrained look, the Azera is a throwback to the brand’s flowing, creased look popularized by the 2010-’14 midsize Sonata. That’s not to say its styling is out of date; the Azera is mildly refreshed for 2016, and easily holds its own against the Toyota Avalon and Buick Lacrosse in the looks department.
Unlike many of its competitors, the Azera comes with a host of standard features like a backup camera, navigation, blind-spot alert, and cross-traffic alert. Two trims are available: the $34,100 base car and the $39,300 Limited model. Inside, there’s plenty of room up for rear passengers, and high-quality switch gear and appointments up front that work to give it one of the most attractive interiors in the segment. But the Azera’s weak point is the way it drives. Steering is vague at best, and its suspension isn’t exactly the most refined in the segment.
On the other hand, the Kia refined and tuned the N-Platform to make the Cadenza a credible driver’s car. The sedan’s styling is taut and attractive, fully fitting in with Kia’s current styling language (though an all-new Cadenza is on the way for 2017). There’s a bit more range in the Cadenza lineup than in the Azera’s as well. Three trims are offered: the $32,990 base car, the $35,990 Premium, and the $44,090 Limited, which creeps close to K900 territory.
Inside, the Cazenza offers the same cavernous space as the Hyundai, but its tasteful, restrained styling punches well above its weight, and has a distinct European flavor to it — possibly an influence of chief designer Peter Schreyer’s time at Audi. In all, the Kia feels refined, respectable, and well-thought out, and with the next-generation model on the way, it will only get better.
Hyundai may be as respectable as any automaker on the market today, but when it comes to full-size sedans, we can’t help but like Kia’s current offering better. Better steering and handling, crisper styling, and more variety in its lineup have made the Cadenza more popular at dealerships (around 7,300 U.S. sales in ’15 versus 5,500 sales for the Azera), and with the all-new, even better-looking ’17 Cadenza hitting dealerships in a matter of weeks, we’d be shocked if Hyundai can play catch up anytime soon with its current car.
But all is not lost. We were impressed with the 2016 Sonata Hybrid, like the brand’s styling direction, and are cautiously optimistic that its new Genesis luxury brand can make some noise in premium segments. Just a decade ago, these two brands weren’t even upstarts. In the decade since, they’ve leap-frogged over that position to go from also-ran to contender, thanks in no small part to a rivalry between the two. As long as that is kept up, Hyundai and Kia’s cars will only get better. Who said a little sibling rivalry was a bad thing?