The rise of the Kia Optima has been one of the auto industry’s true success stories this year. It has seen its sales figures more than double year over year, and become a major player in the coveted midsize sedan market.

Next year, the Korean automaker is positioned to continue its roll with the Kia Forte. I drove the coupe version of this vehicle last week – the Koup is its official name – and there are many reasons to think this car can follow in its bigger sibling’s footsteps, gaining traction with consumers and ground on its compact-car competitors.

The Forte Koup’s sporty styling and firm feel for the road make it an attractive option and its fuel economy is nearly in line with its more mainstream (and more expensive) competitors. For car shoppers, its pricing provides terrific value.

Here are my thoughts on the 2013 Kia Forte Koup:

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MSRP: $17,400 - $18,000
Invoice: $16,570 - $17,900

As Tested: $17,900

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Engine: The EX model has a 2.0-liter inline-4 engine capable of producing 156-hp at 6,200 RPM. The SX has a little more power, containing a 2.4-liter I-4 that gives drivers 173-hp at 6,000 RPM.

Transmission: Six-speed manual or optional six-speed automatic.

Fuel economy: The EX: 24 mpg City, 33 mpg Highway. The SX: 22 mpg City, 32 mpg Highway.

Cargo space: 12.6 cubic feet

Seating: The Forte Koup can seat up to 5 people.

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Most people compare the Kia Forte with the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla. Given the Koup's sporty exterior and similar performance, the Forte Koup also reminded me of the Hyundai Elantra Coupe (pictured) and certain Ford Focus models.

The base level pricing on all models is similar – all in the $16,000 range -- but it’s important to note that some of the Forte’s competitors quickly get more expensive as options add up.

One of the Forte’s big strengths is that lots of features are included in the base-level trim, such as voice-activated navigation, buyers would be wise to carefully compare what features come standard in the Koup that they may pay extra for elsewhere.

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Pete: The Koup’s feel for the road matched its sleek, sporty exterior. It was crisp throughout turns and gripped the road well. Others have lamented that it may be underpowered with 173 horses, but I didn’t find that to be the case.  It accelerated well in a variety of highway driving conditions and the transmission felt seamless.

Lots of equipment comes standard, including traction control, stability control and overhead curtain airbags. In the SX, the leather seats were a nice touch on a stylish, sleek interior. Red stitching on the seats carried the color throughout the car. The dashboard was a little simplistic – I like it that way – but the connectivity was easy to use.

My fuel economy was smack-dab in between its 24/33 city and highway numbers, at 29 miles per gallon. This rates slightly behind competitors like the Civic (28/36) and the Focus SE (26/36), but they’re very much in the same ballpark.

The standard warranty of 60,000 miles or 60 months looks better than key competitors like Civic and Focus (36 months, 36,000 miles).

Autoblog: Why choose the Koup over competitors? The answer comes down to style and features. The Forte Koup would wipe the floor with its competition in a runway show, and standard features like satellite radio, Bluetooth, cruise control and disc brakes all around mean you're not paying extra for items that are optional or unavailable on other cars. That powerful four-cylinder could be a plus to some, though back-of-the-pack fuel economy may neutralize its positive sales effect.

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Pete: At 6-foot-1, I’m of average height. I had just enough space to provide breathing room between my head and the ceiling. There should be more headroom or the seat should be able to go lower. Likewise, there was ample room for my legs, but passengers sitting in the rear seats may disagree.

On a more philosophical note, Kia execs should call a coupe a coupe and dispense with the K-styled moniker. Kia Koup? Sounds like the automotive version of those couples that start the names of their children with the same letter, and it comes across as a flimsy way to appeal to a young demographic.

Autoblog: There's just no easy way to apply power, as the go pedal is more like a light switch – it's either on or off. Hopefully Kia will correct this in future models, as the illusion of quickness gets tiring after four or five stop lights. To the contrary, the brakes on our tester weren't sensitive enough, with a long-travel pedal that doesn't grab until your foot nears the floor. The SX model does, however, have larger 11.8-inch front rotors than the EX and disc brakes are standard in the back for both.

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Funny that, as Toyota recovered from its catastrophe-caused production woes, pundits predicted that Korean automakers Hyundai and Kia would have the most difficult time maintaining their bump in market share. Instead, Kia has gained market share and sales are up 18.4 percent so far this year.

In 2012, buyers can attribute that performance to the Optima and Soul. In 2013, it may be the Forte that takes center stage for Kia. 

The Koup is a solid offering, one that should be a contender for any customers shopping for a sporty car in the compact segment. Its exterior and interior styling might make it an ideal ride for a first-time buyer and twenty-somethings who want an attractive, affordable vehicle.

Yes, Kia would be wise to squeeze out a few more MPGs, but the fuel economy is only a notch below the average of its peers. And overall, its pricing makes it one of the better deals on the market today.

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