I should really have resolved this pressing question a long time ago. I think I may have sorted it out so you don´t have to.
Not unlike Thompson and Thomson: Hyundai and Kia. The same corporation owns them, in a situation reminiscent of PSA who look after Peugeot and Citroen. Citroen had a long and interesting life up until Michelin sold the firm to Peugeot and in the intervening years it has been easy to tell one marque from the other despite common ownership (Saxo and 106 are exceptions).
In the case of Hyundai and Kia, no obvious trait serves to hang brand differentiation on. Having been offered the choice of a Kia Ceed or a Hyundai i30 at the rental company recently I was forced to realise that I don´t know the basis of the differentiation of these brands. It is a motto I like to quote that if you have to measure a difference you haven’t really made one. I feel I have to take this opportunity to get the measure of these brands´ European product range to see if I can detect at least a quantitative difference between the pair.
What do I find? For Kia the average price of base model is £14396 and they have nine models. For Hyundai the average price of a base model is £16,037 and they have nine models. Apart from the van-like i800 and the Hyundai Veloster, the two ranges have similar types of car. The Picanto is shadowed by the i10 which costs £350 more. The Rio is paired with the i20 which costs £1414 more. Then the Kia Venga and Hyundai iX20 have identical based prices but the Hyundai reaches up further in cost to £14,445. It seems Hyundais are moderately more expensive, model for model than Kia.
Another way to look at it is price spread. The Kia Ceed range has a price range of £2620. The Hyundai i30 has a range of £4800. I have not looked at options. Conceivably one could choose a cheaper Kia and spec it higher than the equivalent Hyundai.
The numbers are not what I expected. Based on my car-by-car comparison of the Ceed and i30 in the rental car park, the Ceed seemed more pleasantly appointed. Judging merely by on-pavement impressions I can´t detect any noticeable difference in obvious quality or character between the likes of the Picanto and i30. Both seem very professionally resolved small cars. The Venga has a touch of design-interest about it so that´s one to Kia; Hyundai retorts with the Veloster which is a daring design, whether you like it or not.
Received wisdom would hold that the two ranges should be more clearly distinguished. Think of all the ink spilled over Alfa and Lancia or Rover and BMW. Ford USA couldn´t get enough people to fork out for Mercuries, many of which differed from Ford by about the same amount as Kias and Hyundais. Peugeot and Citroen make a big deal to separate their models visually on the grounds that it gives customers a clear choice. There´s also the efforts VW make with their flock. But here we find that Kia and Hyundai seem to do quite well without making a meal of brand differentiation. If it was this easy, why didn´t Fiat manage to keep Lancia and Alfa running concurrently? And the same goes for Ford and Mercury.
The practical conclusion for the person looking at a Hyundai or Kia is that you have two very nice apples to choose from. In most cases the vehicles lie within a stone´s chuck of each other in prices. Neither is making a definitive statement about the owner (barring the more extrovert Venga and Veloster). You´ll have to lay out a big spread-sheet for the options lists to determine who is really getting the best deal. So I suspect Kia/Hyundai have arranged this to resemble a pair of mobile ‘phone tariffs. It gives the illusion of choice without the seller having to make a detectable discount. What matters is a sale is made and the customer thinks they made a rational choice. That means the Kia person thinks they got a few hundred quid off the price of what Hyundai is offering. And the Hyundai buyer thinks they got a bit more kit and quality than Kia were offering. In reality, I suspect the average price paid is probably the same, model for model.
The Data: from Car Magazine´s GBU, September, 2014.
Picanto, a five door hatch. £7,995 to £10,195. 1.0 and 1.2 litre engines.
Rio, a five door hatch. £8,545 to £9,665. 1.4 petrol and 1.5 diesel.
Venga, a small MPV. £11,995 to £13,295. 1.4 petrol and 1.5 diesel.
Soul, a five door hatch. £12,130 to £14320. 1.6 petrol and 1.6 diesel.
Ceed, 5-door hatch, estate. £14,220 to £16,840. 1.4, and 1.6 petrol and 1.4 and 1.6 diesel.
Optima, a mid-size saloon. £19,595. 1.7 engine.
Carens, an MPV. £14,695 to £15,995. 1.6 and 1.6 CRDI.
Sportage, a mid-size SUV. £17,295 to £23,025. 1.6, 2.0 GDI, 1.7 CRDi, 2.0 CRDI.
Sorrento, a large SUV. £23,095 to £23,995. 2.0 and 2.2 CRDI.
i10, a five door hatch. £8345 to £9345. 1.0 and 1.2 petrols.
i20, a five door hatch. £9959 to £13495. 1.2, 1.4, 1.1 CRDI and 1.4 CDRI.
i30, a five door hatch, estate. £14,495 to £19,295. 1.4, 1.4 CRDI, 1.6 CRDI, 1.8 CRDI.
i40, a C-class estate.£17,395 – £19,195. 1.6, 1.7, CRDI, 1.7 CRDI.
i800, a big van. £21,355. 2.5 CRDI
Veloster, a four door hatch**. £18,000 to £21,995. 1.6 GDI and Turbo.
iX20, a five door MPV-oid. £11,995 to £14,455. 1.4, 1.6 and 1.4 CRDI Classic.
iX35, an SUV. £17,300 to £25,060. 1.6 GDI, 1.7 CRDI, 2.0 CRDI (134 and 181 hp).
Santa Fe, an off roader. £25,495. 2.4 CRDI.