The Kia Forte has been on the market since mid-2008 when the South Korean automaker brought it to the U.S. as a 2010 model replacing the well-worn Spectra as the company’s entry to compete against the likes of the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, and Mazda3, among other compact sedans and hatchbacks.
Tucked between the company’s entry-level Rio and more upscale Optima, the Forte offered a competitive price and solid performance to attract buyers but was lacking in the way of esthetics, especially in cabin comfort and quality.
As it moves into its second generation, the 2014 Forte targets improvements in those areas without compromising on ride and performance qualities.
How much better is it?
U.S. News & World Report rates it in a tie with the Ford Fiesta and Mazda3 for second place behind the Honda Fit in its list of affordable small cars. The magazine rates it tied with the Mazda3 at No. 1 among affordable compacts.
“Affordable” is a relative term here. Though the LX (or base) sedan starts at $16,700 and the top-of-the-line EX at just $20,200, to get more of the good stuff you’re going to pay a bit more than that.
Standard features on the EX include anti-lock brakes, traction control, an array of safety features like full-length, side curtain and front-seat mounted side airbags, Kia’s UVO telematics with a rear-camera display, Sirius satellite radio, Bluetooth wireless technology, a leather-wrapped tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel with duplicate audio and cruise controls, and remote keyless entry system.
A well-equipped EX sedan with the Premium Package (which includes a power tilt-slide sunroof, leather seat trim, driver’s seat memory, and push-button start among some other features) and the Technology Package (which includes navigation, HID headlights and LED taillights, and dual-zone climate control) carries an MSRP of $25,515 including destination and delivery.
All in all, though, that’s a pretty good price for what you get.
The EX comes with a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine that is rated at 173 horsepower and 154 pound-feet of torque, not eye-popping numbers but pretty impressive for its class.
Though a six-speed manual transmission is standard on LX trim, a six-speed automatic is the only transmission offered on the EX. That’s kind of disappointing because the combination of the larger engine and a straight stick is a winning one when it comes to driving experience.
Still, the overall performance even with the automatic is one of the best in its class.
Fuel economy is rated at 24 miles-per-gallon city, 36 highway, which is competitive in the segment if even a mile or two off in some cases.
The trimmings inside the cabin are of a quality not usually found in this price range. Especially with the leather seats, cabin ambiance approaches the kind you usually find only in entry-level luxury and full-blown luxury classes.
There’s a nice selection of high-tech features that fall into the intuitive-to-operate class, like the touchscreen operation for the navigation system. Yet the audio and climate control systems also may be operated by turning the proper knobs. Once again, KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) wins out.
Seats both front and rear are nicely bolstered for comfort, and there is nice room in the rear with nearly 36 inches for passengers’ legs and just a tick under 55 inches for their shoulders.
The sedan’s trunk is a generous 14.9 cubic feet, more than you might expect in the class and nearly that of the larger Optima.
Overall, the Forte is in pretty competitive company, but stands up very well. It’s worth a good look, whether as a second car or the family’s primary transportation.