Vital Stats

Engine:
Turbo 1.6L I4
Power:
201 HP / 195 LB-FT
Transmission:
6-Speed Manual
Drivetrain:
Front-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight:
3,007 LBS
Seating:
2+3
Cargo:
13.3 CU-FT
MPG:
22 City / 29 HWY
Base Price:
$20,600
As Tested Price:
$25,285
The Kia Forte and Hyundai Elantra have long followed similar paths, with each available in a four-door sedan, a five-door hatch and (most recently) a two-door coupe bodystyle. The recent death of the Hyundai Elantra Coupe in the US may be threatening to change the narrative on these two affordable compact lines, of course, but the Korean two-doors have a lot in common under their distinct skins. Their most recent iterations came to market under the power of the same 2.0-liter, 173-horsepower four-cylinder paired with six-speed automatic transmissions and riding atop MacPherson strut front suspensions and torsion-beam setups out back. Each arrived weighing between 2,800 and 3,000 pounds and could be had in base form for less than $20,000. Considering this, the empirical performance stats figured to be similar.

There's an important distinction to be made, however. Rather than offer a simple two-door version of a four-door car, like Hyundai did with its Elantra Coupe, Kia has gone to lengths to craft a vehicle with its own unique attitude and attributes. Kia has embraced a sportier stance with its two-door Forte Koup, offering up a standard six-speed manual and going further in an effort to craft a more unique, aggressive coupe design.

That drive to be different was further accentuated last year, when Kia raided Hyundai's parts bin and plucked out the 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder from the Veloster Turbo. The resulting car is decidedly different than any other Forte we've tested, while also feeling like a better all-around product than the smaller hot hatch it stole its engine from. To see just how much better, we drove the Forte Koup SX for a week and set about seeing how this enhanced model stacks up as a performance offering.
2014 Kia Forte Koup SX2014 Kia Forte Koup SX2014 Kia Forte Koup SX

This car's best angle is its rear three-quarter view, which is a real aesthetic highlight in this increasingly style-conscious segment.

Let's start by noting that I'm a big fan of the Forte Koup's appearance. I think that insect-like front end can be a bit ungainly from some angles, but it grows on you, and the overall look has evolved nicely from the Honda Civic clone of the last-gen model. This car's best angle, though, is its rear three-quarter view, which shows off its dramatic rear end, complete with sloping roofline, subtle rear lip spoiler, wraparound taillights and contrasting rear bumper trim. It's a real aesthetic highlight in this increasingly style-conscious segment.

18-inch alloys come standard on the SX, while 16-inch hoops are the sole wheel set offered on the EX. Out back, the EX's single, chrome-tipped exhaust has been replaced with a pair of oval outlets that flank a sporty diffuser designed to look like it's constructed of matte carbon-fiber weave (the front fascia wears a similar strip). Above that is a gloss-black surround for the license plate, which works well with other gloss-black accents (mirror caps and door handles), complementing the Racing Red paint of my tester. Overall, Kia has successfully built a car that balances the Forte Koup's already attractive exterior with a spirit that's clearly meant to appeal to those with sportier aspirations.

In the cabin, Kia has been even more restrained with the sporting touches. The SX boasts standard upgraded seats with optional leather upholstery, while the dash wears the same faux carbon-fiber material found sparingly on the exterior. While automatic-equipped SX models benefit from standard wheel-mounted shift paddles, the third pedal on my tester meant the center console was home to a stout, stylish, round shift knob connected to a six-speed manual gearbox.

2014 Kia Forte Koup SX2014 Kia Forte Koup SX2014 Kia Forte Koup SX

Not a single car at this size and price point can match the Forte Koup for its sheer volume of available equipment.

Familiarizing myself with the cabin, I came to find that the Forte's driving position leaves something to be desired. Despite the inclusion of six-way adjustability, it can be difficult to find a comfortable seating position. Headroom on my sunroof-equipped tester was a primary limiting factor, although a greater range of vertical adjustment (maybe an inch or two) would be all that's needed to make the interior feel more spacious. The seats were flat and lacked significant bolstering, both in the backrest and the bottom cushion, a subtle and unfortunate reminder that this car doesn't have terribly sporting ambitions.

Disappointing chairs notwithstanding, aside from the much smaller Mini Cooper S, there's not a single car at this price point that can match the Forte Koup for its sheer volume of available equipment. Sure, it ticks the necessary boxes, offering up Kia's UVO infotainment system, iPod connectivity, Bluetooth, push-button start, a rear-view camera and steering-wheel-mounted audio controls. But it offers these as standard items. Spend a bit more, and you can get navigation (which includes HD radio and Sirius Traffic), bi-xenon headlights with LED accents, a 4.2-inch TFT display in the instrument cluster, dual-zone climate control, and heated seats with driver's side ventilation. That's an impressive list of extras, and my tester was fitted with all of them. Total price? A reasonable-sounding $25,285.

This is more than a collection of noteworthy tech, though. Kia has also done its homework with the Forte Koup SX's mechanicals. As mentioned previously, underhood sits the same 1.6-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder that I've lived with in the Hyundai Veloster Turbo. 201 horsepower is available, while all 195 pound-feet of torque can be accessed between 1,750 rpm and 4,500 rpm. The 1.6T builds on the naturally aspirated 2.0-liter, four-cylinder from the Forte EX, besting its 173 hp and 154 lb-ft of torque without breaking a sweat.

2014 Kia Forte Koup SX2014 Kia Forte Koup SX2014 Kia Forte Koup SX2014 Kia Forte Koup SX

The turbocharger delivers the amusing whooshing and swooshing sounds so typical of a biggish turbo on a smaller engine.

That improved performance is apparent on the road thanks to the big, broad band of torque offered up by the 1.6. Off the line, there's a hint of turbo lag, but it quickly evolves into an accessible wave of torque that makes getting up to speed a relatively simple matter. Keep it below 6,000 rpm and this remains a fun, easy-to-live-with engine. As for performance metrics, I'd wager the Forte's 1.6 can help it hit 60 miles per hour in just under seven seconds. That's not Volkswagen GTI or Ford Fiesta ST quick, but it feels roughly equal to the lighter, less powerful Fiat 500 Abarth, and it feels significantly quicker than the unloved Veloster Turbo, even if that's just a seat-of-the-pants impression not reinforced by the stopwatch.

It also helps that the 1.6 doesn't sound half bad. Its four-cylinder exhaust note isn't particularly sporting (it can't hold a candle to the aforementioned products from VW or Ford, let alone the 500 Abarth, which qualifies as the Barry White of hot hatchbacks), but the exhaust avoids being loud simply as a means of giving off a sporty vibe. Its one bit of real aural entertainment comes from the turbocharger, which delivers the amusing whooshing and swooshing sounds so typical of a biggish turbo on a smaller engine. Drive with the windows down and accelerate accordingly. The noise won't fail to make you smile.

My tester's standard six-speed manual was both a good and a bad partner during my week with the car. In the "good" column, we have the lever itself. That ball shifter, despite feeling rather cheap, comes with a satisfying sensation when working through the longish throws and slotting into one of the gates. It's an easy gearbox to shift quickly – much better than the notchy Veloster Turbo – and perhaps more importantly, it's smooth. The downside to all this is a clutch that is rather lacking in manners. It's not particularly progressive, and feels disconnected and vague from just above full depression to its catchpoint. Still, the pros outweigh the cons here, so we'll call the Forte Koup's six-speed stick a net win.

2014 Kia Forte Koup SX

Kia claims the suspension has been "sport tuned." Like a packaged food item that touts "real cheese," if you have to say it, it's probably not true.

The Forte Koup gets by with a MacPherson strut in front and a torsion-beam rear, both of which have been "sport tuned," although with such a basic suspension, that moniker is often like a packaged food item that touts "real cheese" – if you have to say it, it's probably not true.

The handling character of the Forte Koup is thus uninspired. It rolls too freely in the bends, although that sensation does develop progressively, and this car feels too substantial to ever boast the degree of agility expected of a true pocket rocket. It feels almost nose heavy, which contributes to its lack of grace when pushed hard. I'll place a lot of the blame for that on its 3,000-pound curb weight. Hatchback format or no, this sort of car is meant to feel darty, sharp and almost – but not quite – nervous, like an overexcited terrier. The Forte, though, is more middle-aged basset hound.

Despite these issues, the Forte does feel pointier and is generally a better driving instrument than the Accent-based Veloster Turbo, a vehicle whose handling and refinement woes we struggled with during our year behind the wheel. The Kia feels more surefooted, particularly when presented with a mid-corner imperfection, or really any imperfection at all.

The suspension isn't the sole limiting factor in the Forte's lack of verve through the bends. No, plenty of blame should be reserved for the steering. Like the Elantra sedan I tested back in June, the Forte has been fitted with an electric power-assisted steering system, complete with Kia's version of the Driver Selectable Steering Mode, called FlexSteer.

2014 Kia Forte Koup SX2014 Kia Forte Koup SX2014 Kia Forte Koup SX2014 Kia Forte Koup SX

The steering is wholly unsuited to a car that aims to be fun and entertaining – wooden and uninspiring, lacking in any substantial degree of feedback.

It's wholly unsuited to a car that aims to be fun and entertaining. The steering is wooden and uninspiring, lacking in any substantial degree of feedback. Like the Elantra, there are three modes – Sport, Normal and Comfort – that adjust the weighting of the rack. None of them are particularly inspiring, though. Sport, which touts itself as the heaviest setting, still feels overly light for a sporty car. I could get over this were there some degree of feedback, but you're simply left guessing as to what the front tires are doing in corners.

The Forte Koup does eke out some points for a decent ride – when the road gets bumpier, this Kia responds reasonably well. It is pretty nicely damped, handling undulating sections of road without much trouble, while bigger bumps and potholes are shrugged off without bothering cabin occupants unduly.

That smoother ride is also reasonably quiet. Road noise and tire roar are certainly noticeable, although neither is disruptive. Kia could stand to do better in the area of wind noise, and, as I said above, the exhaust note isn't particularly sporty, but the turbocharger noises are enough to overshadow this minor shortcoming.

Thanks to the boost in output when moving from the naturally aspirated EX to the turbocharged SX, Kia has seen fit to upgrade the brakes slightly. The front of my tester sports 11.8-inch rotors in place of the EX's 11-inch pans. Out back, 10.3-inchers are carryovers from the slower model. Braking ability is decent but not exceptional. The stoppers allowed me to halt confidently with a brake pedal that was reasonably easy to modulate. Feedback being what it is in this car, the sensations delivered through the middle pedal proved pretty darn satisfying. I was able to effectively interpret how much braking power I had at my disposal by working the pedal.

2014 Kia Forte Koup SX

Until Kia can get around to sorting out its suspension and steering, the Forte Koup SX is going to remain a car I can't recommend to enthusiasts.

I'd love to tell you that I strove to match the turbocharged Forte's EPA estimates of 22 miles per gallon in the city and 29 on the highway, but that's simply not true. That turbocharged coupe makes fun whooshing noises, and that alone was enough to guarantee that I'd forget about maximizing fuel economy. Add a manual transmission to the equation and the results shouldn't be surprising... except that they are. Over my week, I managed to very nearly match the Forte Koup's 25-mpg combined rating despite my exuberance with the gas pedal.

The as-tested price for this Forte Koup, as mentioned earlier, was $25,285. For that sum, you'll get a Forte Koup SX, which starts at $20,590, a six-speed manual, the $1,900 SX Premium Pack (sunroof, heated leather seats, power lumbar adjustment and ventilation on the driver's seat, an auto-dimming mirror and a heated steering wheel) and the $1,900 SX Tech Package (nav, HD radio, HID headlights, dual-zone climate control and a 4.2-inch TFT display in the instrument cluster). The clutch-averse can also spend an extra $1,000 for a paddle-shifted automatic. My tester also added a trio of items from Kia's accessory catalog – a rear-bumper applique, a cargo mat and carpeted floor mats – to come to its as-tested sum.

The issue facing the Forte Koup SX is one of expectations, much like it is with the Veloster. You look at it on paper, see its 200 turbocharged horsepower in a sleek, stylish form factor and think you've got a real challenger. The reality, however, is that it lacks the verve and handling panache promised by its engine and bodywork. It's a more leisurely approach to a sporty front-drive coupe, a better foil for something like the Scion tC than a Honda Civic Si, let alone a proper hot hatch like a Focus ST.

That's no doubt a willful choice on the part of the automaker and a less-hardcore approach that some consumers will find attractive, but until Kia can get around to sorting out this car's suspension and steering, it's going to remain a car I can't recommend to enthusiasts.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 79 Comments
      Kurt
      • 4 Months Ago

      I waited all last year for the 2014 5-door since it looked great on paper, but it never arrived in time, so I purchased a 5-door Mazda 3 w/paddles/sunroof. Apparently, I made the right choice as the Mazda has really great suspension/steering/economy...as fun, if not more, than my '06 300hp 350Z Roadster that blew through quarts of oil. The Mazda is only lacking cooled seats.

        scooters2
        • 3 Months Ago
        @Kurt

        Just got the speed3. Great looking car, quite a little beast on the road. I always wondered if KIA would make a suitable hot hatch. Although I'm not a fan of the true performance of any Kia/Hyundai engine, it would've been nice to see one. Imo Forte has always been the C student.

          General No Name
          • 3 Months Ago
          @scooters2

          I love the speed3 its like a rocketship on a bungy cord all ways tugging and ready to go.  Except is gets shit MPG for not even 300 hp.  24mpg is just plain sad for 268hp!  The Corvette has 450hp and gets almost 30 mpg!

      David Lloyd
      • 4 Months Ago

      Hyundai/Kia engines are a couple generations behind everyone. 22/29 from a small turbo 4 is very sad. 

        19nomad56
        • 4 Months Ago
        @David Lloyd

        I was thinking the same thing. The 2.0T in our X1 is rated 23/34, at 240hp/255tq and in a heavier car. I'm guessing the 8 speed auto has something to do with the X1's range, as I can get 35-36 on a straight highway run easily.

        Jmaister
        • 4 Months Ago
        @David Lloyd

        not engine, weight and gearing.

        General No Name
        • 3 Months Ago
        @David Lloyd

        The funny thing is they had all DI engines before everyone else.  I think the problem is they left their engines alone for a few year while focusing on other stuff such as ships. hahaha  But seriously Hyundai was ahead of the curve on all their engines.  Now they look like Honda of late...

      Avinash Machado
      • 3 Months Ago

      All show and no go.

      bonehead
      • 4 Months Ago
      Gotta say the old Forte Coupe lookes more muscular to me.  It was well proportioned if a little boring but given better wheels and more power i could see enthusiasts likeing it.  This looks better to me than the red one above
      http://www.kia-world.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/2012-kia-forte-koup.jpg
      superchan7
      • 4 Months Ago

      This competes better against the Scion tC, another "sporty-look only" coupe.  Unfortunately, Toyota has let most of its Scion products languish with low-rent interiors and a dire lack of updates.  The tC has received several updates, but not really where it counts (better interior materials).

      In terms of fun this cannot compete with the Civic Si, which is still quite a decent drive on back roads.

      Poe
      • 4 Months Ago

      $25K for THAT?!?  No effing way.

        jphyundai
        • 3 Months Ago
        @Poe

        Just wait about 6 years and you could get it at any used car lot for less than 5k

        Larry Litmanen
        • 4 Months Ago
        @Poe

        I have to say lately prices on cars have increased. Base Civic with auto and destination cost 20K. Few years ago you could have had similar car for 15K.

      Matt
      • 4 Months Ago

      I've yet to see any evidence that South Korea can produce a "driver's car". Maybe they need to hire more engineers from Japan and Germany? 

        jonnybimmer
        • 4 Months Ago
        @Matt

        These brands are still very young though and they've been focusing on making mass-selling cars rather than those that appeal to enthusiasts (save for the occasional attempts like the Genesis Coupe or Veloster) and I don't blame them, means they now have the resources to stick around. It took Toyota 40 years before they came out with a sports car like the Sports 800 and 2000GT and Nissan 50 years before they made the GT-R. Give them some time.

        Larry Litmanen
        • 4 Months Ago
        @Matt
        Who says they want to make a true drivers car. If you are into driving seriously you probably into a Subaru or Civic SI or a Mazda or a GTI, those are drivers cars with a long history. I don't think Kia is aiming at those cars, Kia is aiming at a poseur if you will, basically the same guy who would get a V6 mustang instead of the real deal in V8.
        It's not directed at someone who buys a car based on driving alone.
          Brett Lombardo
          • 4 Months Ago
          @Larry Litmanen

          Because they went the turbo route with "sport tuned" suspension... thats their attempt.

          They should have just put in a 2.0 or 2.5L and cut costs with still good MPG like VW did with the jetta for non-turbo owners.

          Hoale
          • 3 Months Ago
          @Larry Litmanen

          V6 mustangs aren't that bad anymore...but yes i agree this is aimed at people that buy based on looks and non driving features

        General No Name
        • 3 Months Ago
        @Matt

        The already have employed Lotus on the new Genesis...

      Mobis21
      • 4 Months Ago

      Kia builds cars that are mostly a lot of smoke and mirrors.

        hokkaido76
        • 4 Months Ago
        @Mobis21

        "Kia.....Beauty that is only skin deep."

        That should be their new slogan.

      car-a-holic
      • 4 Months Ago
      Nope I don't think I can do this one.... Leave it at dealer......
      Dean Hammond
      • 4 Months Ago
      Once again, high on promise, great on paper, execution leaves a lot to be desired and short on substance. So close, yet they dont seem to be able to take that LAST step and check ALL the boxes.
      bonehead
      • 4 Months Ago

      They have a 274 hp* 2.0L turbo, why not use that?  

      *hp stands for hyundai power and is slightly lower than horse power.

        General No Name
        • 3 Months Ago *Edited*
        @bonehead

        The Optima is actually a really nice car designed by an Audi guy! They are some of the best out there in the class as you can see buy sales in California where people aren't completely dumb.  Only dumb people live where its not temperate year round.

      hokkaido76
      • 4 Months Ago

      Typical kia. Sloppy handling and numb steering. I would take an Si over this in a second.

        thequebecerinfrance
        • 4 Months Ago
        @hokkaido76

        No automatic, noisy as hell, crazy interior. The Si is not a car for the masses like this car. And if you buy a Civic, you are making a bad choice in a world of great hot hatches.

        carguy1701
        • 4 Months Ago
        @hokkaido76

        Then you'd have an Si, though...not really an upgrade.  Unless you're referring to the 8th gen Si, which was a good car.

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