By Lary Coppola
In the past few years, Kia has changed my mind in terms of both its quality and dependability. It began when the company introduced its 100,000-mile warranty, but what really turned my attitude around was the full-size Borrego SUV, and then the new Soul. Kia has solidified me with the all-new Forte, which replaced the Spectra.
The Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic rule this market segment, boasting huge sales numbers, long lists of standard features, and bulletproof reliability. Other competitors include the Nissan Sentra, Mazda 3, Ford Focus, and Hyundai Elantra — a Kia sibling (Hyundai owns Kia).
With the Forte — offered as both a 4-door sedan and a coupe, Kia has scored large against all of them — but especially against the Corolla and Civic. The Forte blends style, power, and technology better than either Honda or Toyota — since neither are considered styling innovators.
Walkaround: Designed in the company’s California studio, its bold look offers crisp, definitive lines, with a wide, aggressive stance, swept-back headlamps, and a sleek profile. Personally, I think the Forte is the most stylish car in this class. Available in three trim levels — LX, EX and SX — it sports an athletic profile, while a tasteful new corporate grille adds to the Forte’s good looks.
Pricing starts at $13,695 for the LX, while the EX begins at $15,795, and SX pricing begins at $17,195.
Interior: The Forte offers one of the roomiest interiors in this segment, and does an excellent job of incorporating technology and function with style. The full-cloth seats are comfortable, with a six-way adjustable driver’s seat, tilt steering wheel, rear defroster and dual 12-volt power outlets in the center console, all standard. Instrumentation is a driver-oriented three-gauge cluster illuminated in red.
The EX and SX models offer numerous additional standard features such as power windows and door locks; remote keyless entry; air conditioning; map lamps; steering wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls; tweeter speakers; dual front and rear cup holders; and floor mats. Also offered on the EX is a Premium Package that includes a power moonroof and 16-inch alloy wheels, or a Leather Package with leather-trimmed seats with front seat warmers, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob and metal-finish trim.
The SX has additional standard features, including a unique black interior with sport cloth fabric stitched in red, a leather-wrapped telescoping steering wheel, Supervision™ gauge cluster, and metal-finish shift knob and pedals. The SX also offers the optional power moonroof and leather-trimmed seats with front seat warmers.
Forte’s trunk is a best-in-class 14.7 cubic feet of cargo space.
One place the Forte excels is technology. Standard are Bluetooth phone connectivity with steering-wheel controls, Sirius/XM satellite radio, a USB port and auxiliary input jacks. The Civic requires buying its navigation system to get satellite radio.
Under The Hood: There are two four-cylinder powerplants — a 156-horse, 2.0, and a 2.4-liter that delivers 173 horses. The LX and EX are powered by the peppy 2.0-liter, while the SX uses the 2.4. There are four transmissions, depending on trim and option package.
Standard are five-speed manuals on the LX and EX, or a six-speed manual on the SX. The LX and EX feature a four-speed automatic unless you opt for the EX Fuel-Economy package, which has the same five-speed automatic offered on the SX. Both have a manual shift feature as well.
The 2.0-liter is EPA rated at 27/city and 36/highway with the five-speed auto in the Fuel-Economy package and 25/34 when paired with either of the two other transmissions. The 2.4-liter four rates 22/32 with the six-speed manual and 23/31 with the five-speed auto — basically in line with the Corolla and Civic — although the Forte powerplants offer more horses.
Behind The Wheel: I’ve had two opportunities to put the Forte through it paces over all kinds of terrain and conditions.
The ride is generally comfortable and surprisingly quiet. Besides the larger engine and additional equipment, the SX boasts firmer springs, bigger front brakes, retuned shocks, and a larger front anti-roll bar. It felt slightly tighter than an EX, however, the steering in both required slight corrections to hold a line in tight corners at speed.
Whines: Torque steer — which is routine for this entire segment, and front seats that don’t go far enough back.
Bottom Line: This segment isn’t about handling or horsepower, but economy, comfort, price, and quickly becoming about politically correct, roomy and increasingly stylish cars — exactly the Forte’s strengths. The Forte won’t dislodge Honda or Toyota, but will definitely gain credible market share against all competitors, except perhaps the Mazda 3. The Forte is a contender — not the pretender the Spectra was — offering the most standard technology, tremendous style, comfort, and most of all, value.