No one can deny the massive revolution that Kia and Hyundai have gone through over the last few years. Their models have evolved from shoeboxes with wheels, to elegant motor vehicles that catch the eye of fellow road users. The truth behind their fantastic turnaround was a simple bit of recruiting genius: they took the chief designer from a famous German brand, offered him an opportunity he couldn’t refuse, and the rest is history.

Kia and Hyundai are intrinsically linked, and although they are separate companies, they do their part to drive Korean motor manufacturing to the next level. If you look at the back of a Kia key, it says ‘Hyundai Motor Company’, and underneath the shell of the cars, they share many similar components.

We were lucky enough to test both Kia’s Sportage and Hyundai’s iX35. The 2014 versions of the two Korean SUVs, although strikingly similar, are vastly different.

Our motoring journalist walks us through the evolution of Kia and Hyundai.

Kia Sportage

The Kia is a good-looking car, and when the iX35 and the Sportage initially relaunched a few years ago with their new slick designs, the Kia was quite rightly the more popular choice. Had it not launched so long after the first new-age iX35, we can’t help but imagine the Kia would be the only Seoul SUV we see on the road. The old Sportage was fantastic, and the new Sportage is no different.

In fact, the new Sportage doesn’t seem any different from the previous version. It still drives smoothly and offers plenty of space and comfort for the whole family.

The Sportage is practical and the diesel version we tested was very economical. The nippy engine is handy around town and offers certainty when squeezing in and out of traffic. The gearbox has seamless shifting, so you really can just turn the key, put the radio on and drive off into the sunset happy as the day you bought your car. The diesel engine is fabulous! It gives the bulky SUV hot-hatch economy and is almost as good for the environment as one too. The engine has grunt; diesel engines normally do, but put head to head with a German counterpart, the Kia wouldn’t win a drag race.

The Kia offers the driver plenty of internal comforts too: climate control, Bluetooth connectivity, reverse-camera and a really good sound system. Kia has invested plenty of effort in creating something that puts the driver at the forefront, and when you buy a Sportage at the very attractive price of R321,995 could you really want anything else? Who cares what the Germans can do, when you compare the bang to buck you get from this Korean bombshell? The Sportage is a pound for pound champion.

Hyundai iX35

Unlike the Sportage, the iX35 is almost a brand new car. The Kia needed very little refinement from the previous to the current version, but there were just too many teething issues with the first generation of the face-lifted iX35. Some that spring to mind is the fact that the lights didn’t switch off when you got out of the car; actually they don’t even let you know they are still on, with a simple beep. The old engine was sluggish and struggled to deliver enough power to move the mammoth SUV with any vigour. The design of the old version, although a vast improvement on anything Hyundai has ever produced before, lacked that spark to make people fall instantly in love with it.

This is where we are very happy to sing the praises of the brand new iX35. Hyundai took everything we found wrong with the first version and perfected it. The iX35 drives beautifully and the petrol engine delivered great vooma. The instant gratification you get from the Hyundai’s petrol engine is riveting and while the thrust of petrol isn’t quite that of the diesel, the ride is swift and smooth.

Although the iX35 is a big and bulky SUV, it does drive like a small town car. Inside the Hyundai, the driver and passengers are cocooned in an environment that is five-star luxurious, matched with big family practicality. Everything in the iX35 seems to have a place and a purpose within arm’s reach of the driver. The steering wheel controls can operate most of the Hyundai’s everyday systems like the Bluetooth, radio and cruise control, and what you can’t operate from the steering wheel is controllable through the impressive interactive media control system.

Like the Kia, the iX35 is attractively priced at R319,900. Again, when you weigh it up to what you get for the money you pay, you cannot deny the fact that the value-for-spend is beyond impressive.

Trying to decide which one of these two Korean superstars is better, is like trying to pick your favourite child when you have twins. They are both incredibly good value, they are both incredibly attractive and they are both better than you would imagine when you compare Korean cars to European cars. All we can suggest to those interested in buying an iX35 or a Sportage is go with the one you think looks better. And with all things beauty related, it’s in the eye of the beholder – you.