2011 Kia Forte Expert Review:Autoblog
It's not that there was much wrong with the Forte's predecessor. In fact, the last time we drove a Kia Spectra, we walked away wondering if anything more might be overkill. The Spectra was good but tended to blend in with a crowd, and Kia's not into playing the role of wallflower anymore. In contrast, the Forte boldly saunters into the middle of the dance floor, comfortable in the hot glow of the pin spot, with the confidence of Tony Manero after a trip to the tailor.
Clearly, the Kia Forte looks remarkably better than the econobox it replaces and attracts the right kind of attention to the brand. Everywhere it goes, the Forte is a surprising conversation piece, though many aren't sure exactly what it is. With Kia's value pricing, you also get a lot for your dollar. So does it have the hat trick of style, value and performance? When the key to this black Forte SX tester was pressed into the palm of our hand, we were ready to find out.
Photos copyright ©2009 Dan Roth / Weblogs, Inc.
The biggest annoyance with the powertrain is its overly-aggressive throttle tip in. A very gentle foot is required to avoid blasting away from stops like a teenager with a newly laminated license. Manual transmission Fortes are even worse, with the wonky throttle programming leading to the binary options of peel out or stall that take time to adjust to. The four-speed auto that's paired with the 2.0-liter engine has come under some fire, but either auto trans is acceptable. The five-speed's extra ratio, however, adds more refinement and relaxes the demeanor.
Despite what some believe after only seeing photos, the Forte doesn't bear much resemblance to the Honda Civic. A thick swage along the top of the flanks gives the windows a chamfered, machined look. The Forte's face is bolder than its supposed Civic doppelganger with deeper shoulders formed by the fenders, and the rest of the sheetmetal is carefully creased to look pleasant and stylish, even a bit upscale. Since it doesn't aim to break new styling ground, the Forte has withstood accusations of being derivative, but its clean, precision-milled looks are more unique than that kind of critique might suggest. The lines will age well, and the bodywork grabs and bends light tastefully.
Our SX tester's dapper Ebony Black was set off by just the right amount of brightwork. Lesser trim levels get 15-inch steel wheels, but the SX gets 17s with creative fluting around the lugs, and, thankfully, no chrome. The Forte sits just right on its wheels, and the SX package dresses up the exterior with foglamps in the lower front fascia. This is not a body that carries extra strakes or adornments – there's not even rub strips along the doors. And while the looks are the better for it, we'd take to parking in the far spots, especially with a dark finish that will prominently display blemishes.
Interior styling is clean and simple, but not without flair. Just like the outside, tasteful is the order of the day, and the Forte's cabin isn't overly swooped-up. Dash-strokers will find that the Forte has its share of hard plastics, some may even find the sheen objectionable. But despite any nattering about materials quality, the Forte is right in there with its class contemporaries. The Focus is chintzier, the Civic is plain weird, and the Forte's interior is on par with the Mazda3 and Toyota Corolla. The SX leather package fits perforated leather seats that look upscale and add an air of luxe inside, tacking on $1,000 to the $18,195 MSRP.
The seats could benefit from more support and adjustments, particularly with the lumbar. The seat bottom, too, was impossible to get positioned and tilted how we wanted. Although overall comfort and bolstering was good, without much adjustment, drivers might feel that the Forte was designed for some kind of mutant body type. Rear seat passengers don't have to duck and squeeze to enter and exit, with ample space for four full-sized humans, and the trunk is surprisingly large, too. If three people are comfortable with each other's company and personal grooming habits, they'll find the back seat pleasant enough for short jaunts around town, and if things get stuffy, the $600 power moonroof is worth the extra couple months of payments.
Functionally, the Forte's ergonomics are above complaint. Big, clear knobs operate the climate system, and the radio has genuine knobs for tuning and volume; two areas that can be troublesome for manufacturers to get right. Bluetooth is standard on the Forte, and the steering wheel carries controls for operating the telephone, as well as the audio system and cruise control. During its time with us, the Forte never annoyed us with hidden buttons or incongruous menus – it's a pleasantly simple car to operate – and the gauges follow the same pattern, providing clear, legible information for the driver.
Lesser Fortes get a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that puts out an energetic 156 horsepower, but SX models get an uprated 2.4-liter engine. The bigger mill is borrowed from the Optima, much as Toyota Corollas can be had with a Camry powertrain. The 2.4's 173 horsepower and 168 pound-feet of torque will slake the thirst of the power hungry, but it's overkill here, and the extra 400cc of displacement brings with it an increased appetite for fuel. However, the bigger engine comes mated to an unflappable five-speed automatic that delivers smooth shifts and jumps for higher gears quickly, making the most of the engine's torquey nature. It can be a little reluctant to come out of high gear and extinguish the green "eco" light in the gauge cluster that indicates earth-friendly driving, but the manual gate is helpful – even satisfyingly responsive – when called upon.
With the big four's beefy torque, the Forte is happy to loaf along, and variable valve timing provides a noticeable dollop of extra urge as RPMs rise. We put the Forte through commuter hell and it coughed up 28 MPG after plenty of traffic-sitting and on ramp pedal flattening, which lands in the middle of its 22 city/32 highway EPA numbers. While the fuel economy is acceptable, regular commuters could make an argument for the smaller engine, which can be had with a special fuel economy package and five-speed auto 'box to deliver 27/36 city/highway.
Enter the freeway aggressively for the first time and you'll be looking to do it again, just to make sure you're not crazy. There are signs of life from underneath. Where other vehicles in this class are merely drone pods, the Forte SX has a sport tuned suspension, and it delivers. The chassis is simple stuff with struts up front, a torsion beam rear axle, some swaybars and gas dampers – nothing fancy. Those specifications may fail to impress in modern times, but there's a long list of impressive performers sporting the same details. Nobody would accuse a first generation Volksagen GTI of being a sloppy-handling little knockwurst. When this type of chassis is sorted, it's very good, and the Forte SX is well fettled.
The steering could use a smidge more feedback and less aggressive boost; it's fast off-center. The Forte feels light on its feet, though, like a boxer that dances around his opponents. This is a spirited, fun car to drive, which bodes well for the upcoming Koup model and its more overt suggestion of sportiness. The downside is a busy ride on the taut side of comfortable. Some might find it objectionably stiff, and there are occasions where the Forte feels like it's ricocheting off expansion gaps instead of just smothering them with a more pliant suspension. But It's a tradeoff we'd make, because it's an entertaining steer that doesn't dive, squat and slobber all over the road.
The drivetrain is well polished, the uprated engine doesn't leave you wanting for acceleration, and the four-wheel disc brakes felt firm, easily modulated and effective. We would've liked a little less cabin noise at speed, but that's akin to dinging Kia because the Forte's interior doesn't have Zebrano wood trim. For its place in the vehicular hierarchy, it delivers an experience that's among the top contenders in its class.
Just like the Spectra we tried back in 2007, the Kia Forte leaves us impressed. It really only has to compete with the Honda Civic and Mazda3 in its peer group as it betters everything else in SX trim. The $20,000 price is certainly attractive, as is the list of features and one of the industry's best warranties. Redact the brand and model names from the window sticker, and this could have easily passed as an Acura or Infiniti not too long ago. While it's not likely to keep pace with any of those brands' current offerings, the Forte is a heck of a value. The fuel economy of the SX could be better and a stiffer body shell might be the key to supple-izing the suspension. Until that happens, the Sport-averse would be advised to try the normal suspension first. But overall, the Forte is a stylish, comfortable, frisky automotive companion for surprisingly short dollars – the automotive equivalent of two buck Chuck.
Photos copyright ©2009 Dan Roth / Weblogs, Inc.
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.
New Car Test Drive
New stylish and affordable sedan.
The Kia Forte is a new entry into the compact car field with contenders like Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Nissan Sentra, Mazda 3, Mitsubishi Lancer, Ford Focus, and Chevrolet Cobalt. By comparison, including exterior, interior, performance, and price, the Forte looks awfully good.
The Forte boasts class-leading interior space, and, in our opinion, class-leading looks. The interior is classy and intelligently designed, which is to say everything is there where you need it. The seats are comfortable and supportive.
The Forte uses modern four-cylinder engines, notably a 2.4-liter in the upscale SX, which also has an available five-speed automatic transmission with Sportmatic manual shifting.
Least expensive is the Forte EX, which comes with a 2.0-liter engine that gets an EPA-estimated 25/34 mpg City/Highway with either the manual transmission or four-speed automatic. Most fuel-efficient, however, is the EX with the Fuel Economy Package, which yields an EPA-estimated 27/36 mpg.
Most fun to drive is the Forte SX equipped with a larger 2.4-liter engine and five-speed automatic. We found the handling in the SX with its sport-tuned suspension taut. The ride is firm but never harsh. It gets 23/31 mpg.
A five-door hatchback version is going on sale for the 2011 model year.
The 2010 Kia Forte is available as the bare-bones LX, the well-equipped EX, and the fully equipped SX.
Forte LX ($13,695) uses Kia's trusty 2.0-liter inline-four-cylinder engine with double overhead cams, and a 5-speed manual transmission, with a four-speed automatic optional ($1000). Upholstery is cloth. Air conditioning and a 60/40 split rear seat are optional ($1500), while power windows, door locks and cruise control are not available. Standard equipment includes a four-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3 satellite sound system with USB and aux input jacks, and Bluetooth connectivity.
Forte EX ($15,795) comes with air conditioning, a six-speaker sound system, power windows, power doors, power mirrors, keyless entry, 60/40 split rear seat. The manual transmission comes standard, but there are two optional automatic transmissions, a four-speed and a five-speed. Wheels are the same 15-inch steel, but five-spoke 16-inch alloy wheels are optional. Options include leather upholstery with heated front seats and a power moonroof.
Forte SX ($17,195) uses a 2.4-liter engine with a six-speed manual transmission or five-speed automatic ($1000). A sport-tuned suspension is standard, along with larger front brake rotors, and 17-inch 10-spoke alloy wheels. The upholstery is a sporty cloth, with metal-finish interior trim and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob. Full leather is optional. Fog lamps are standard.
Safety features that come standard on all Kia Forte models include frontal and front side airbags, airbag curtains, anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, traction control, and a tire pressure monitor.
The new Kia Forte is a looker. It's an excellent example of clean styling, nothing really fancy but with all the right lines. It's not a big car, and it doesn't look big.
It's shaped like a wedge, or appears to be, from the swept-back grille and headlamps carrying through climbing shoulders on the sides of the car, back to the short rear deck. From some angles it looks aggressive, from others subtle. Even the rear door seams carry this wedge line. The Coefficient of Drag is a low 0.29, reflecting the clean wind-cutting shape.
Refreshingly, there are no squared flares over the rear wheelwells. The large taillights have nice angles, and wrap horizontally around the corners of the car and into the trunk lid. The roofline is coupe-like. The 10-spoke alloy wheels on our SX were especially terrific looking. Body-colored mirrors and door handles, hooray.
The front fenders are subtly boxed, but there are no trendy flares there, either. The front valance between the grille and low air intakes is not bulky, as with too many cars, and the three black screened intakes that run the full width of the chin are tidy and businesslike.
The hood, too, is short, accenting the wedge. The short hood and deck mean efficient construction with no excess in overhangs, because the overall length is correct for the compact sedan class. It's got a long wheelbase and wide track for its size, which is the key to all the good proportioning.
Our Forte was parked next to a $100,000 BMW 750Li we were also testing, and frankly, from the rear, the Forte was cleaner and displayed more distinction.
The short hood and rear deck pay off in interior space. The Kia Forte has one of the roomiest interiors in the compact sedan class, with a total of 96.8 cubic feet of passenger volume. That's 3.3 cubic feet more than the 2009 Subaru Legacy. And the Forte's trunk space of 14.7 cubic feet is best in class, matching the redesigned and enlarged midsize 2010 Legacy.
Headroom is good front and rear, while front legroom is ample and rear legroom is 35.0 inches, good for a compact sedan.
The thing that Kia does exceptionally well is execute. The Korean manufacturer copies carefully, and perfects. There's no pretension about being original or unique with the Forte interior, no attempt to re-invent anything. This is excellent, the intelligent antithesis of so many others especially German namely BMW and Audi. The result here is no flaws, no quirks, nothing of debatable taste, just satisfaction, simplicity and convenience.
Here's the list of stuff that's right: brushed aluminum-look trim, good armrests and grab handles, deep door pockets with bottle holder, standard sporty black cloth seats with red stitching, or sharp optional perforated leather upholstery especially handsome in dark gray, nice shift knob in leather and aluminum, deep center console, two easy-to-reach cupholders, good cubby with nearby USB port, lovely center stack, big climate control knobs that are easy to read and operate, eave over the instruments making them easy to read in the sun, sporty aluminum pedals with a great dead pedal, pleasant and efficient cabin lighting.
The front bucket seats are excellent, in classy leather out of its league for a compact sedan. Great firm but not tight bolstering. Nice 60/40 split rear seat with fold-down armrest with two cupholders.
Only criticisms are that we found the air conditioning fan a bit loud, and the roofline's C pillar created a small blind spot when looking over your shoulder.
We drove the 173-horsepower 2.4-liter Forte SX with five-speed automatic and the 156-horsepower 2.0-liter Forte EX with five-speed manual.
The Forte EX gets an EPA-estimated 25/34 mpg City/Highway with either the manual transmission or four-speed automatic, compared to the 23/31 mpg of the 2.4-liter Forte SX with the five-speed automatic. Given the performance difference, fuel mileage and lower base price by $1400 would be the only reason to choose the EX. And, considering there are many other worthwhile SX features, the loss of meat is not worth the savings. In other words, we'd spring for the SX.
However there might be an exception. There is a Fuel Economy Package with the EX, including five-speed automatic, electric power steering, a smart alternator, silica tires for low rolling resistance, and an aerodynamic kit that costs $1600, making an Eco EX about the same price as a sporty SX, but it raises the fuel mileage to 27/36 mpg. So if fuel economy is your priority, this is the best choice.
Kia's 2.4-liter engine can't match the reputation of the Mitsubishi 2.4-liter that powers not only the Lancer, but also many Chrysler products, from Jeep Patriot to PT Cruiser. The SX makes a fine 173 horsepower, and its 168 pound-feet peaks at 4000 rpm. It's fun to work the transmission to use the power; the Sportmatic manual mode in the five-speed automatic makes shifting easy.
Forte is a brand-new car and it uses a new ground-up chassis, caging 63 percent of the cabin with high-strength steel, plus ultra high-strength steel in the side sills. This increases rigidity and improves handling. The Forte replaces the Kia Spectra and there's like no comparison in the chassis feel, if not overall quality.
Front suspension is your basic MacPherson strut with coil springs, while in the rear there's nothing fancy, a torsion beam axle again with coil springs. The SX front brakes use 11.8-inch vented discs, and the rears 10.3-inch solid discs, employing an anti-lock brake system with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist. Plenty big and responsive for a car of this weight, we can say after using them hard through a twisty section. EX brakes are the same, but with 11.0-inch front discs.
The Forte is quite nimble and fun to drive, with power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering and a very tight turning circle. It displays no bad habits as long as you don't ask it to do outlandish cornering things. Among the compact sedans we named in the opening Overview, we'd say the Forte feels most like the Mitsubishi Lancer. The long wheelbase and wide stance are felt in the ride and cornering. Maybe especially the ride, satisfactory on every surface we drove the SX. Firm but not harsh. The SX comes with firmer springs and shocks and a larger front anti-roll bar, which is another reason it's a great value for just $1400 more than the EX.
For real sport-driving excitement, watch for the Forte Koup (as in coupe), coming soon.
We tested the Forte right after the all-new Subaru Legacy, and it might not be fair to compare the two because they're in a different class, but we can say that the Forte did not feel as solid as the Legacy. It felt lighter, if not tinnier. And it is lighter, by about 500 pounds, tipping the scales at a lithe 2868 pounds. And that's our SX; the EX is 150 pounds lighter than that.
The Kia Forte is a new model, and Kia has nailed it, in the compact sedan class. It's a stylish, pretty car, with no flaws in the execution. Plenty of safety, class-leading cabin space, intelligent and handsome interior, and good handling on a wide stance. There's a choice of engines and transmissions yielding comparable performance, and finally the price of a strong contender.
Sam Moses filed his report to NewCarTestDrive.com after his test drive of Kia Forte models near Seattle.
Kia Forte LX ($13,695), EX ($15,795), SX ($17,195).
Options As Tested
leather upholstery ($1000), power sunroof ($600).
Kia Forte SX automatic ($18,195).