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Review: 2015 Kia Forte LX sedan (10th place)

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This review is part of an eleven-car comparison of compact sedans. The Forte is ranked in tenth place of eleven.

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A compact sedan was the first Kia ever sold in the U.S., 20 years ago – but this market segment has eluded the Korean automaker in recent years. Kia has seen tremendous sales performance from its subcompact Soul, its midsize Optima, and its Sorento crossover, all of which successfully blend style, technology and everyday comfort and practicality.

The last-generation Forte, sold from the 2010 to 2013 model years, didn't really have any of that. It was roomy, cleanly styled, and inexpensive, but it felt too cheap to compete with more sophisticated competitors at a similar price point. This reviewer placed it in ninth place of 10 cars in a 2011 comparison.

Just like how the 2010 Forte was supposed to move the bar compared to its humdrum predecessor, the Spectra, the all-new 2014 Forte was supposed to reinvigorate Kia's presence in the compact sedan market. And, as then, the Forte comes up short.

To be clear, the redesigned Forte – also sold as a two-door coupe and five-door hatchback – is a major leap forward from its predecessor in many ways. It's no longer cheap and buzzy; rather, it has an enviable refinement level for this price point, with a pervasively slick, solid feel to the interior and the driving dynamics. The roof is lower and sleeker for a more dramatic profile. The front seats are now among the most comfortable in the class, rather than flat slabs. The dash now boasts multiple touch-screen radio options with voice-activated controls, and many high-end luxury features are available. And although it's no longer especially inexpensive, it's still among the class's better deals.

But the 2014 Forte also took some clear step backs from the simple yet functional previous generation. The low roofline has sliced into the once-outstanding interior room, and hurt rear visibility. The steering has become a sloppy mess that robs the new Forte of its predecessor's decent agility. And the Forte still looks plain from most angles unless you buy plus-size alloy wheels or a snazzy color.

The redesigned Forte also struggled for a couple of ways it hadn't kept up with the class: fuel economy and safety. Kia rushed in an emergency 2015-model update that's now on sale, which is what saved the Forte from a last-place finish in this comparison. Fuel economy increased by 2 mpg to a class-competitive 31 mpg in mixed driving, and although the 2015 car hasn't been crash-tested as of this writing, Kia has made an effort to improve upon the worst-in-class safety ratings of the 2014.

At an estimated transaction price of $18,647 decently equipped – with an automatic transmission; power windows, locks and mirrors; alloy wheels; Bluetooth connectivity; and an infotainment screen – the Forte can seem like a compelling bargain. It's not the value leader in the class in terms of features for the money, or a leader in fuel-efficiency, but it's still less expensive than most. That's not bad for a car that doesn't exude cheapness.

But the Forte is in need of something outstanding to offset its gooey steering feel and the lingering doubts about its crash-test performance. Perhaps you'll find it in the advanced infotainment screen; the relatively tight feel; or the comfortable front seats. But you won't find standout levels of ride quality, quietness, interior space, gas mileage, or budget pricing – which you will in various compelling competitors, several of which also match or exceed the Forte's other strengths.

Overall, there are reasons to buy this car. But there's also a clear reason that even as several Kia models see great sales success, all but one of the 10 other cars in this comparison outsell the Forte.

Overall grade: C+

More from this comparison:
- Next review: 2014 Ford Focus SE (9th place)
- Previous review: 2014 Nissan Sentra SV (11th place)
- Rating the eleven compact sedans
- Ranking the eleven compact sedans
- Introduction to this comparison

More about the 2015 Kia Forte LX:
- Photo gallery
- Report card -- how does it compare in different ways, such as comfort, performance, and fuel economy?
- Report card -- how does it stack up for different types of buyers?

Vehicle tested: 2015 Kia Forte
Vehicle base price (MSRP): $15,890
Version tested: LX
Version base price (MSRP): $15,890
Vehicle price as tested (MSRP): $19,435
Vehicle price as comparable* (MSRP): $20,205
Estimated transaction price as comparable**: $18,647
Test vehicle provided by: Herson's Kia; Rockville, Md.

Key specifications:
Length: 179.5 inches
Width: 70.1 inches
Height: 56.5 inches
Wheelbase: 106.3 inches
Weight: 2,776 pounds
Trunk volume: 14.9 cubic feet
Turning circle: 34.8 feet
Engine (as tested): 1.8-liter I4 with 148 horsepower
Transmission (as tested): 6-speed automatic
EPA city mileage: 26 miles per gallon
EPA highway mileage: 39 miles per gallon
EPA combined mileage: 31 miles per gallon
Assembly location: South Korea
For more information: Kia website

See also:
Review: 2014 Kia Soul !
Review: 2013 Kia Sportage EX
Review: 2013 Kia Optima SX-L
Review: 2012 Kia Rio SX sedan
Review: 2011 Kia Forte EX

* Prices as comparable reflect vehicles equipped with the same features, when possible: an automatic transmission; power windows, locks and mirrors; alloy wheels; Bluetooth connectivity; and an infotainment screen.
** Estimated transaction prices are based on data from Truecar.com and dealer quotes.

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