• Jun 16, 2009

2010 Kia Forte – Click above for high-res image gallery

If there's one thing we can say about Kia, it's that it keeps making progress. In the 15 years the brand has been selling cars in the United States, South Korea's second largest auto manufacturer has increased its market share every single year. The future looks bright as well, with new vehicles like the Soul receiving rave reviews and a new billion dollar production facility set to open this year. Hoping to build on that success, Kia has launched its new 2010 Forte, replacing the Spectra that failed to stand out among cars like the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Mazda3. With a new name, a new face, upgraded powertrains and aspirations to exceed consumer expectations about the brand, can the Forte help Kia finally make its mark in the compact sedan segment? Read on to find out.




We have to admit we've never been overly excited about Kia or its cars. The brand's emphasis has always been on affordability, a bogey that generally doesn't speak to the enthusiast's adrenal glands. However, when the Forte sedan was launched at the Chicago Auto Show earlier this year, we took notice. The striking design is much more appealing than the comparatively staid Spectra, and the available 2.4-liter inline-four comes with an impressive 173 horsepower.



Available in three variants, the Forte ranges from the base LX (starting at $13,695), which features a 2.0-liter DOHC inline-4 putting out 156 horsepower, to the top-of-the-line SX ($17,195) that benefits from the aforementioned 2.4-liter engine. The mid-range EX ($15,795, shown above) comes standard with the Convenience Package (air-conditioning, folding rear seat, rear center arm rest and adjustable headrests), with the option of Premium (power sunroof and 16-inch wheels and tires) and Leather Packages. Kia has ensured that even the base model comes with standard items like four-wheel disc brakes incorporating anti-lock, stability and traction control systems, as well as full-length side curtain airbags. With the exception of air conditioning on the LX model, buyers won't have to worry about having to pay extra for the essentials.



What first attracted us to the Forte, and what ought to initially help draw potential buyers into the showroom, is its striking design. Our hats are off to the team at Kia's recently-formed California design studios who penned the sedan, and we are happy to hear that much of model's styling DNA will be passed on to future products. The bold stance owes much to the width of the body – at 69.9 inches, the Forte is wider than the offerings from Honda, Toyota, or Mazda – as well as to the slanted belt line and swept back headlights. With the optional 17-inch wheels on the SX model, we would even dare to say the Forte looks...cool!



The interior can often be sore subject for cars built on a budget, but the Forte doesn't disappoint. While there are some hard plastics on the dash and door, most of the materials used are fairly nice to the touch and look attractive. Interior space is abundant at 96.8 cubic feet, and the trunk is simply cavernous for a compact sedan. Kia has made it a priority to provide as many interior features as possible – even in the base LX model – and every Forte gets a six-way adjustable driver's seat, tilt steering column, Bluetooth connectivity with steering wheel controls, Sirius satellite radio (with a three month subscription), and USB and auxiliary input jacks. In our time with the Forte, we didn't find much to complain about inside, but the optional leather seats that are available in the EX and SX models we sampled proved to be somewhat stiff and lacking in support. If it were our money, we would stick with the cloth buckets.



On paper, the Forte is a class-leader in the powertrain department. With 156 horsepower and 144 lb-ft of torque on tap in the 2.0-liter engine, the Forte offers more standard horsepower than any of its competitors. It's also easy on the wallet, with an EPA rating of 25 mpg city and 34 mpg highway. We drove the EX model with the optional four-speed automatic (a five-speed manual comes standard), and came away pleasantly satisfied with the acceleration and smoothness of the combination. Interestingly, a so-called Fuel Economy Package ($600) is also available on the EX model that upgrades the car to a five-speed automatic transmission, Motor Drive Power Steering, a "smart" alternator, silica tires, and aero enhancements. Rated at 27/36 mpg, Kia says this package makes the Forte the most fuel efficient car in its class that's not a hybrid or diesel.



While the base engine was up to snuff, we came away disappointed with the 2.4-liter inline-4 found in the SX model. With 173 horsepower and 168 lb-ft torque, the Forte SX looked like it would be able to outpace a Mazda3. Unfortunately, those numbers didn't translate to the real world. The 2.4-liter powerplant was sluggish to respond to throttle input, and it wheezed and gasped at anything above 3,500 rpm. Surprisingly, the six-speed manual transmission didn't earn our affection either. Shifting feel was vague at best, and we had problems with smoothly modulating the clutch due to a relatively low engagement point combined with a hesitant throttle. An aftermarket shift kit could go a long way toward alleviating our reservations here. The good news is that the Forte SX still manages to get fantastic fuel economy even with the extra engine displacement. Cars equipped with the six-speed manual are rated at 22/32 mpg, and those with five-speed automatics get 23/31.



While we wouldn't go as far as describing the Forte's handling as sporty, we found it to be more than capable of providing a smooth and comfortable ride. Kia utilizes an independent suspension up front and a stabilizer bar and torsion beam with struts and coil springs at the rear that both do their job, but nothing really more than that. The hydraulic-assisted rack and pinion steering provides a decent amount of feedback, but those looking for some more fun in the twisties might find the Mazda3 or Honda Civic a better fit.

When it comes down to it, the Forte ought to do for Kia what the brand has been doing the last 15 years: make progress. With great looks, plenty of standard features, better (but not great) powertrains, and excellent fuel mileage, the Forte is a much more compelling option in the compact sedan segment than Kia has ever had. Add to that its excellent pricing and a 10-year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty, and we have no doubt that the 2010 Kia Forte will find its fair share of customers.




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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 75 Comments
      • 5 Years Ago
      "the trunk is simply cavernous for a compact sedan"

      Erm, no. See those wheelarches? You might fit a brolly in there, but nothing bulky. Repeat after me: The Jetta's trunk is cavernous, the Forte's trunk is so-so.

      Funny you listed the Civic, Corolla and 3 as its competitors, but not the Focus, which it is clearly styled after (along with the Civic).

      I was looking for the meat of the review -- y'know, how it drives, and there it is: second to last paragraph. You spend a lot of words saying how it handles like a custard-soaked sponge and the steering is approximate.

      This is why the Kia Sorento is good, because SUVs aren't expected to be good for driving: they should just be big enough to hold something from a farm, and bouncy enough to stop it getting stuck between a tree and a cow.
      • 5 Years Ago
      As much as you would like to put the Cobalt in the same segment as the Forte, it really doesn't belong. The Cobalt is somewhere between a subcompact and a compact. The options, build quality, and dimensions aren't even close to the main competitors here.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Jim...there's also BLACK or GRAPHITE interior colors to choose from.
      • 5 Years Ago
      The Cobalt XFE gets 37 highway, so this KIA doesn't get the best mpg even though they lied and said other wise...
        • 5 Years Ago
        The Cobalt XFE with a manual transmission makes 37mpg on the highway. Pair that with an automatic and it drops to 33mpg.
      • 5 Years Ago
      this car, looks like to me as what happens when a civic and corolla get drunk together and breed
      • 5 Years Ago
      Not a *single* full picture of the back of the car. What's the story there?
      • 5 Years Ago
      I saw the Forte at the NY Auto Show and was impressed by the look and the specs. However, on that top 3/4 view shot, from the rear view mirror back it looks very Pontiac G6. Not saying it's a bad thing, but the resemblance is uncanny.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Why can't Hyundai/Kia make a decent manual transmission? Upon reading all the reviews of their recent cars, it sounds like they are just as bad as my '97 Tiburon was.

      They're always described as soupy/gooey/mushy/vague, and the clutch is similarly hard to live with.

      After all this time, and all the improvements, you'd think they'd have learned how, or at least "bought" the know-how from someone else. It's a major impediment to my ever getting one.

      Maybe I'm spoiled by my MINI Coopers manual transmission and the bar is set high for me now, but until Hyundai fixes this, I won't be able to consider one. Please fix it, Hyundai???
      • 5 Years Ago
      After the Cobalt (not counting the G5), this is the second new car I've seen with no oil temperature gage (or gauge). I guess it makes sense. The only time most buyers saw it move was when something was going so wrong that it became redundant by the car's erratic behavior.

      I imagine the manual transmission and the tachometer will quietly disappear next, for two reasons. The expanding mass production of the double-clutch transmission. And the public's expanding sense of entitlement to operate telephones and write text messages while driving.

      Gorgeous car, the Kia Forte. I guess she outgrew her hatch back. Or maybe they don't want to take sales from the Rio5, Soul, and Rondo. Although with that many hatchback models already in one showroom (with others), what's one more.

        • 5 Years Ago
        Agree, I don't use the tach & coolant temp gauges in my car, I cover them up with my GPS unit.

        In case you are wondering, I don't use the suction cup GPS attach unit either, I use a homemade foam attachment to stick the GPS unit to my dash. This way no one knows I have a GPS unit by looking at suction cup marks on the windshield and will not break into the car.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I like its looks. But I can't understand why 31 mpg is excellent for a compact car. I get the same mpg from 2003 bmw 325i.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Anothr KIA posting. Are you folks at AutoBlog getting payola from KIA to run this continuous stream of advertising for their products? LOL.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I don't think I'd call fuel economy with the larger engine "fantastic," except in the sense of "hard to believe." The larger, heavier Optima with the same engine gets 22/32 mpg with either transmission. So the smaller, lighter car gets the same fuel economy with the manual, and does 1 mpg better on the urban cycle and 1 mpg *worse* on the highway cycle with the automatic. Unfortunately, with the 2.0l engine you can't get the stiffer suspension or nicer upholstery, and if you pick the 5-speed auto for better fuel economy you can't have a sunroof. Sigh. Still looking for the car that's equipped the way I want instead of the way the manufacturer thinks I ought to want.
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