It’s no secret that vehicles from Hyundai and Kia, two affiliated automakers, share many components. And for the most part, that’s been a good thing. Take for example, the Hyundai Palisade and Kia Telluride — the twin versions of the three-row SUVs have won or been nominated for their fair share of Cars.com awards. It can get a little confusing, however, to decide which is better for you. In the case of the Kia Forte and Hyundai Elantra compact sedans, there’s a lot to like about both models.
Both budget-friendly sedans have gotten a lot of attention during the last couple years. The Kia Forte was redesigned for 2019 and has seen few changes since. The biggest of them was the addition of a sport-oriented GT trim level for 2020 with a new turbocharged engine and a sport-tuned suspension. The Forte returns for 2021 with no significant changes.
With its redesign for 2021, meanwhile, the Elantra stepped up its game with a roomier interior, an 8-inch touchscreen with standard wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and an available hybrid model.
See the models compared and continue below for a closer look at how they differ in a couple key areas:
The Elantra lineup runs the spectrum from green to sporty, thanks to several variants. Regular models come in SE, SEL and Limited trim levels, all with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and continuously variable automatic transmission. The first-ever Elantra Hybrid pairs a smaller four-cylinder with electric assist; it comes in Blue and Limited trims. Lastly, the more performance-oriented Elantra N Line has a 201-horsepower, turbocharged four-cylinder and the lineup’s only manual transmission.
The Forte, meanwhile, also comes standard with the 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that works with a six-speed manual or CVT automatic. The Forte lineup also features a bit of fun factor with the GT trim, which uses the same 201-hp, turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder as the Elantra N Line and seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic or six-speed manual. What the Forte lacks, however, is a hybrid model — and it could use some help in the fuel economy department.
The base version of the gas-powered Elantra is rated 33/43/37 city/highway/combined mpg, beating out the Forte’s 31/41/35 mpg rating in the automatic-equipped base trim. The turbocharged Elantra N Line gets 28/36/31 mpg, also higher than the Forte GT’s 27/35/30 mpg rating with the automatic. And of course, the Elantra Hybrid beats the rest of the group with its EPA estimated 50 to 54 mpg combined, depending on trim level.
I enjoyed the Forte’s slick touchscreen: The standard, tabletlike 8-inch unit sits high on the dash for good visibility. It’s responsive, and the system’s clear graphics and straightforward menu structure simplify overall operation. Wired Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration are standard.
But the Elantra trumps it. A similar 8-inch touchscreen is standard but it comes with wireless capability for both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. What’s more, a larger touchscreen (10.25 inches) is optional — though it curiously reverts to wired phone integration — as is a 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster.
Both models offer a similar list of standard safety features, including a forward collision warning system with automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane keep assist and a driver attention warning system.
The Elantra offers more available features, and some of them are standard — such as the rear occupant alert system, hands-on lane-centering down to a stop, a system to help avoid collisions in your blind spot and rear cross-traffic collision assist. In the Forte, blind spot and rear cross-traffic warning systems are standard on higher trim levels, optional on middle trims and unavailable on the base model.
The Forte has a lower base price, however. It starts at $18,885 compared with the Elantra’s $20,655 base price (all prices include destination) — though the Forte’s base transmission is the manual, while the Elantra’s is the CVT.
If you’re comparing each car’s sportier variant, the Forte GT ($23,785 with the dual-clutch automatic or $24,385 with the manual) is also less expensive than the Elantra N Line ($26,205 with the auto and $25,105 with the manual).
The upshot? The 2021 Hyundai Elantra trumps the Kia Forte in tech and fuel economy, but if you’re looking for cheap, well-equipped wheels, the Forte will do nicely.
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