The Korean auto industry has come a long way since the turn of the 21st century, and the 10 Best Korean Cars to Buy today are some of the most popular and satisfying choices in America. Of course, these vehicles aren’t all made in South Korea—as even Hyundai and Kia have joined the flock of imports with a U.S. manufacturing presence—but they do showcase Korean roots and a certain amount of Seoul power that’s missing from the competition.
Even better, these cutting-edge Korean cars can be found across the marketplace, from entry-level economy cars to ultra-lux flagship sedans, with even a minivan and crossovers thrown into the mix.
That being said, just remember that the actual Korean competition here in the United States is a bit of a civil war, as Hyundai and Kia are both controlled by the same ownership group, and the only other qualifiers for today’s honor roll come from GM Korea.
Rising like a tiny phoenix from the ashes of GM Daewoo, the Chevy Spark has become a modest hit here in the United States and is the sole city-sized vehicle among the country’s best Korean cars to buy. But potential customers shouldn’t be fooled by its tiny footprint: The urban-friendly Spark can be packed with sophisticated features, highlighted by a mobile wi-fi hotspot, 4G LTE connectivity and, for the brand-new 2016 models, some of the industry’s top driver-assistance measures. As a result, the redesigned Spark rolls into the new model year with forward collision alert, lane departure warning and side blind-zone alert.
And keep in mind, the 2015 Spark is the only vehicle in its class to earn a Top Safety Pick rating from the IIHS.
As for the 2016 Spark, it’s scheduled to go on sale in the fourth quarter, also backed by a16 percent boost in horsepower and a 40-mpg EPA high point.
Like the Spark, the 2015 Chevrolet Trax can trace its ancestry back to GM Daewoo, although this subcompact crossover is just going on sale in the United States this year—right in time to get in on the ground floor of a new and growing segment. The Trax also will follow in the tire tracks of the Spark with the key benefit of 4G LTE connectivity, a mobile-wi-fi hot-spot, Siri Eyes Free integration, a standard turbocharged engine and a whole lot more premium features that were designed to remind customers that “small” doesn’t necessarily mean “cheap.”
Nor does “small” necessarily mean “small,” at least in terms of cargo space: Further adding to its resume as one of the best Korean cars on sale, the Trax can hold up to 48.4 cubic feet of gear, which is more than entries like the Jeep Renegade or Nissan Juke.
Hands-down one of the most popular Korean cars sold in the United States is the inimitable 2015 Kia Soul.
Part crossover, part hatchback, the Soul is all about style, too, showcasing a wild exterior and exclusive cabin accents, including speaker lights that can be set to pulse with the beat. But it also offers a compelling value, thanks to an MSRP of $15,190 that covers six-speaker audio (with dash-mounted tweeters and USB port), Bluetooth technology, rearview camera, cruise control, a multi-function steering wheel and even Kia’s Flexsteer system. With that feature, Soul owners can tailor the vehicle’s steering performance with Normal, Comfort or Sport settings.
On the other hand, those who want more goodies can get them, since Kia additionally offers upgrades like heated and ventilated leather front seats, a heated second row, Infinity audio, Voice Command navigation, and a UVO infotainment setup.
It may be hard to believe, but one of the hottest Korean cars for sale is actually a minivan: the 2015 Kia Sedona. In fact, the brand-new model continues to leverage its recent makeover for triple-digit monthly sales gains and has begun to gain an equally impressive amount of attention from the critics. For example, the Sedona recently earned a spot on the 2015 Ward’s 10 Best Interiors list, one of the industry’s most-watched awards programs and an especially welcome prize for a people hauler.
But regardless of whether owners configure that cabin with “Slide-N-Stow” seating, for optimum cargo flexibility, or a more lounge-like “First Class” setup, highlighted by winged headrests and retracting lower legrests, safety comes standard. After all, the Sedona has both a 5-Star Overall Safety Rating from the IIHS and a Top Safety Pick ranking from the IIHS, honors missing from half the traditional minivan competition.
Hyundai and Kia sell a number of sporty Korean cars for U.S. drivers, but the 2015 Kia Forte Koup stands out for its under-the-radar performance package. While most mainstream brands look to serve up affordable athleticism with a hot hatch, only Kia and Honda do so with coupes. However, when comparing the Forte Koup SX with the Civic Coupe Si, the Kia offers a 20 lb.-ft. advantage in torque and a $2,300 discount in MSRP; the Civic does have an extra 3 hp, but it’s not available until 1,000 rpm higher in the power band.
Plus, beyond the particularly potent SX trim—leveraging a 201-hp turbocharged engine that produces 195 lb.-ft. of torque—there’s also an entry-level EX edition that starts at $18,590 with massive output leads over the entry Civic coupe.
Following right in line with industry trends, the best Korean crossovers in America have become strong sellers for their brands, with the 2016 Kia Sorento being a nice case in point. It’s long been near the top of the volume leaderboard for Kia, but now, following a full redesign for the 2016 model year, the Sorento has seen demand ratchet up yet farther.
Certainly helping matters are upgrades such as:
After a major refreshing for the 2016 model year, it looks like the Hyundai Veloster will extend its reign as the king of the cool Korean hatchbacks.
Consider: The 2016 Veloster is hitting dealerships with new styling up front, new features up and down the roster, and a new range-topping Rally Edition that will raise the performance bar significantly. That newest hi-po Hyundai still holsters a 201-hp turbocharged engine that also makes 195 lb.-ft. of torque, but the Rally model will leverage exclusive aero body pieces, lightweight 18-inch RAYS wheels, a sport shifter sourced from B&M Racing, and a suspension upgrade over the already hot-handling R-Spec model.
The standard Veloster and Veloster Turbo are enhanced for 2016 as well, with the former offering such new content as black-and-yellow sport seats and a revised 7-inch infotainment/navigation setup, and the latter highlighted by its first seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.
Here’s an interesting factoid: The Hyundai Elantra is offered in three separate body styles—coupe, sedan and five-door hatchback—providing the only three-car lineup in the mainstream compact segment. And while that contributes to its position as literally the best-selling Korean car in the country (when this story went to press), the Elantra doesn’t put quantity over quality.
Instead, it already offers standout EPA and safety ratings, complemented by high levels of technology, and will soon introduce further advances for the 2016 model year—starting with the 2016 Elantra GT hatch. That model launched this spring with an array of Elantra enhancements that includes Hyundai’s next-gen navigation and telematics technologies, freshened grille and wheel designs, and, for the first time in the segment, ventilated driver and front-passenger seating.
Needless to say, customers will be able to look for those features on the rest of the 2016 roster, too.
Hyundai and Kia have launched a number of Korean luxury cars in the United States, but mostly to mixed results—except in the case of the Hyundai Genesis Sedan. True, it doesn’t compete against the ultra-lux entries like the Hyundai Equus or Kia K900, but the vehicle has carved out a solid place among the entry-luxury choices by delivering a sophisticated and refined design, the first all-wheel-drive technology ever offered on a Hyundai car, and Hyundai’s most powerful V8, too.
But despite its relatively affordable pricing, the Genesis does serve up its fair share of premium cues, ranging from real wood and aluminum accents to a comprehensive Sensory Surround Safety system to 17-speaker Lexicon audio to the latest infotainment technologies, all backed by a 9.2-inch high-def display screen.
A Genesis Coupe also joins the Sedan at Hyundai dealerships, where it provides a distinctive complement to its four-door sibling.
One of the newest Korean cars on sale this year will be the 2016 Hyundai Tucson, which is expected in dealerships in July with one of the biggest portfolios of safety equipment in the small-crossover segment.
In the mix here will be all the expected driver-assistance measures, such as a blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping technology, backup sensors and a standard rearview camera setup, but the Tucson also pushes ye olde envelope by introducing automatic braking with a pedestrian-detection function.
Then, as those features are expected to raise the Tucson’s safety ratings, engineers also have notably boosted the vehicle’s EPA ratings, with Hyundai expecting owners to enjoy up to a 5-mpg increase in certain models. And that’s with a new 1.6-liter turbocharged engine that makes 175 hp and 195 lb.-ft. of torque, with that output routed through the segment’s first seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.