With critically acclaimed, eye-catching new cars like the Optima, Sorento and Sportage, as well as surprising luxury vehicles like the Cadenza and forthcoming K900, Kia is a legitimate force in the auto industry. Despite maintaining, in many cases, lower prices than its competition, Kia's quality, driving dynamics, interiors and designs have all gotten exponentially better in recent years.
Not content with shaking things up in the midsize sedan, crossover, SUV and luxury segments, Kia is now looking to make compact cars a little sportier with two new Fortes: The Forte5 SX hatchback and Forte Koup SX, you guessed it, coupe. Employing a new 1.6L turbocharged I-4 engine, these cars are attempting to add athletic driving dynamics as a selling point alongside its sharp design, surprisingly premium interior and tantalizing value.
After spending a day in the two new turbo Fortes in the quick-changing terrain outside of Las Vegas, I feel confident that Kia made a great move in putting this new engine into its compact car. Read on for more about what I liked, and didn't, about this new peppy compact coupe and hatchback.
The BasicsSticker Price: Not yet announced. Kia says it will start under $21,000.
Invoice Price: NA
As Tested Price: Around $26,000 (est.)
Engine: 1.6L turbocharged I-4
Transmission: Six-speed manual or six-speed automatic
Performance: 201 horsepower, 195 lb-ft of torque
Fuel Economy: NA
Seating: Five people
Cargo Capacity: 23.2 cubic feet (Forte5), 13.3 cubic feet (Forte Koup)
Exterior DesignKia has completely reworked the look of the Forte hatch and coupe for the 2014 model year. Each comes with a brand new front fascia, which includes the headlights and grille. The vehicles both have sleek profiles, with design elements meant to convey speed and sportiness, such as the swooping lines along the sides, dual exhaust tips and larger wheels. LED lights on both the front and back of the car give it a more premium and modern look.
The Forte5 is the more attractive vehicle out of the two, as the overall design strategy works better on the hatchback. It's a much cleaner package. The Koup a has squared-off trunk that clashes with the rounded front end. When viewing the two-door from the side profile, it looks slightly awkward.
The previous generation Forte was a sharp little vehicle, but it looked far too much like the Honda Civic. With this reworked sheetmetal, the Forte has become much more unique, allowing its drivers to stand out -- in a good way -- on the road.
InteriorI was impressed with the interiors of both the Forte5 and Forte Koup (they're essentially the same). Kia has been doing a great job at paying attention to detail with its cabins, making riding in them an enjoyable experience. This interior is comfortable and nice to look at, with soft-touch and premium-looking materials in place where you'd expect to find hard, shoddy plastics, such as on the doors and the dashboard. It's also impressively quiet. Even traveling at 80 mph, I was subject to very little road and wind noise.
The Forte comes with a long list of standard and available features. The base EX trim comes well-equipped, with a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a rear backup camera, Bluetooth, power windows, LED headlights and more. Stepping up to the more expensive SX, which you have to do in order to get the turbo engine, gets you a nicer aesthetic, with carbon-fiber style accents. You can add creature comforts like a power driver's seat, heated front and rear seats, navigation and dual-zone automatic climate control as options.
I drove a fully-loaded SX in both coupe and hatchback form, and found it to be quite pleasant. Kia told me that these particular vehicles cost around $26,000 (pricing has yet to be officially released). If you're looking to keep the price down, the cabin will likely feel less refined sans the fancy options, but I sincerely doubt that opting to stick with your smartphone for directions will be anywhere close to uncomfortable.
Passenger And Cargo RoomPassenger and cargo space are both quite good in the Forte5. The hatchback design, with its higher roof and bigger cargo area, means that drivers shouldn't have too many complaints when it comes space for their passengers or their stuff.
The Forte Koup is a different story. The car employs a lower roofline, which gives it a more aggressive look. Unfortunately, it also gives the car less headroom inside. More than an inch less than the Forte5, to be exact. I'm about six feet tall and unless I leaned the seat back a good ways my head would hit the top of the car. It was a bit claustrophobic.
The Forte Koup also has 10 cubic feet less cargo capacity than the hatch. If you think you'll be hauling anything or anyone with any sort of regularity, get the Forte5.
Driving DynamicsUp in the surprisingly snowy mountains outside of Las Vegas, I put the Forte and its new turbocharged engine through its paces along remote stretches of pine tree-lined pavement that climbed up to around 9,000 feet. After a day of doing so, I can say that putting this engine in this car was a great move by Kia. But there is a piece of the puzzle missing that causes the car to fall short of a truly sporty driving experience.
Let's start with the good: the engine. The Forte5 and Forte Koup SX use a 1.6L inline four-cylinder engine that produces 201 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque. For a small car, that's a good amount of giddy-up. Turbo lag, which refers to the time it takes for the turbocharger to kick in, is surprisingly minimal, which means that even from a dead stop, both versions of the Forte SX are quick and a lot of fun.
If you are inclined, the Forte Koup and Forte5 SX can come with a six-speed manual transmission. It's a solid gearbox, with a nice short throw in between gears and a responsive clutch. If you prefer to let the car do the shifting, the SX is also available with a six-speed automatic transmission. Paddle shifters are available for when that urge to drive like Magnum P.I. bubbles up.
The biggest issue with this car lies in its steering. It's simply too numb -- that is, the car doesn't respond as much as it should when you input an adjustment or turn to the left or right. You can switch between Comfort, Sport and Normal settings, but only the weight of the steering wheel seems to change. I couldn't see much difference in the way the vehicle actually handled.
This is a common issue with cars that use electric steering in place of conventional rack and pinion or hydraulic steering. The electric system improves efficiency by about one mpg, but comes at the expense of a more responsive feel. If Kia could tune this system a little bit better, we'd have a really sporty car on our hands.
Tech And InfotainmentThe Forte5 and Forte Koup SX both use Kia's great UVO infotainment system. The touchscreen interface is well designed and responsive, which is more than can be said for a lot of other systems out there. Drivers will find it easy to use and not overly distracting. It comes with Bluetooth, a rear backup camera and satellite radio.
I was disappointed to learn that the Infinity sound system found as an option in several other Kia vehicles won't be available on any of the Forte variations. The base sound system isn't terrible, but it leaves something to be desired. The cabin of this car would be the total package if you could throw in a bass-thumping set of speakers.
Bottom LineThe 2014 Forte5 and Forte Koup are both great examples of Kia being Kia: Offering a great package full of premium features for a price that is way lower than you'd ever expect. The engine is great, exterior design is sharp and, if you opt for the hatchback, it's versatile enough to handle the daily grind of work, chores and play.
For comparison, a fully loaded Forte5 SX has roughly the same power, bigger interior dimensions, equally sharp looks and most of the same premium features as a 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class -- all for almost $4,000 less. Of course, that comparison is based solely on numbers and equipment. If you take into account driving dynamics, in which the Forte is a little lacking, and badge recognition, which the CLA-Class has in spades, the picture looks a little different.
Still, it should be enough to get you thinking. If you're not already on board with having a Kia as a legitimate contender for your car shopping consideration, you really should be now.