When the keys were handed over this past week to the sassy compact sedan parked out front I did a double take. A Kia? No way. Their slogan, “the power to surprise,” did just that.
When Kia debuted in the United States, it was with the reputation of offering a cheap car and nothing more. First came the Sephia then Spectra but the Forte comes as a whole new replacement to two previous cars that just were so-so. Unlike most auto makers, there was no rebadging or smoothing out the surfaces; a whole new car was in order down to the chassis when it came to the design. The Forte was launched around the same time Kia itself launched a complete overhaul on their line and company. With recalls and slumping numbers from most manufactures, sales are on the up for Kia with an entire lineup that offers high safety ratings, great fuel economy and a 10-year/100,000 mile warranty to match others manufactures.
The Forte comes in three trim levels, the base LX, EX both of which share a 2.0L 156-hp with a 5-speed manual and an optional 4-speed automatic with a starting MSRP $13,695. We were lucky enough to score the SX model which came equipped with a 2.4L 173-hp with a standard 6-speed manual (an optional 5-speed automatic is available, too) MSRP of $17,495. Standard features with this trim level include heated power mirrors, a AM/FM/CD/MP3/SIRUS 6 speaker audio system, Bluetooth wireless, cruise control, remote entry, air conditioning, dual front and side impact airbags and abs. The optional SX leather package ($1000) includes heated seats and a windshield de-icer and power sunroof ($700) and topped the Forte out at $19,890. The only factory option that is not included at the moment is a navigation system, but a deal is in the works with Garmin.
The Forte’s front facade provides headlights that appear to squint, with a sleek wrap around front that continues down the sides to where the smooth wrapping finishes off the rear of the car. The SX comes with 17-inch alloy wheels that give it an slightly aggressive stance. It sits just a little lower to the ground thanks to its independent front with MacPherson struts, a stabilizer bar, and a torsion beam rear with struts and coil springs. There was little to no roll in the curves and loopty-loos I searched for all over town. The Forte hugged the road no matter what the speed. The 2.4-liter engine coupled with the 6-speed manual transmission was a complete blast to drive. There is a slight hesitation starting from a dead stop while quickly launching the car from first to second gear but was soon not an issue while easily moving into the higher gears. Kia offers 0-60 times in the mid 7-seconds for the SX. The Forte comes with standard four-wheel disc brakes along with ABS, ESC (stability control), BAS (brake assist), EBD (electronic brake force distribution), and TCS (traction control) that ensure stopping to be just as effective as mashing the gas. While zipping down brick roads or cutting through traffic on the interstate the car held its own. The SX offers more power and better fuel economy, 23/31 mpg, then other leaders in this class.
Offering more interior space than three of the main sellers in this group, the interior of the Forte was just as thought out as the exterior redesign. The moment I first sat in the drivers seat I immediately loved that the dash did not seem so far away. Add one smaller sized leather wrapped steering wheel with both audio and Bluetooth controls that were incredibly easy to navigate that also happened to fall exactly where I rest my thumbs when driving. I was in lust. I programmed the Bluetooth quickly and went through the radio as if it were second nature. Everything from the air conditioning to the heated seats to the sunroof controls were as if they were positioned in a reflex mode instead of actually having to reach for any of them.
The overall design and quality of the materials were, in my opinion, above average. Flat black dash with satin nickle-like detailing broke up what would be an excess of black plastic. A cubby large enough for your phone and mp3 player sat below with charging ports and auxiliary plug-in sat under the air controls in the center cubby leaving two cup holders in the center as well as the typical console and one slot above for your sunglasses. In the rear seat, my the drivers seat all the way back there was still plenty of leg room and I did not feel cramped. There was more than enough room for two adults to comfortably ride in back.The part I enjoyed the most about the interior was how quiet it was inside. Even with the sunroof open there was minimal wind drag, reducing the cabin noise one normally gets with such a feature open. The trunk provided massive cargo space that was able to extend into the interior space with the rear sat laid flat.
Overall, I’m sold. The Kia Forte is everything a car this price should be; it’s sporty, has spunk (making it a fun car to drive), and handles surprisingly well. It is also aggressively priced with a ton of standard options and not-so-pricey upgrades. And it just looks good! The Kia Forte could be considered the underdog, but with these shining qualities in such a full class of contenders it won’t be like that for much longer. When it came time to hand the keys over, I was willing to give my own car up as collateral to keep the Forte longer. But no such luck.
For the seven days of pure driving pleasure, Kia made a point to show that they are ready to take a firm hold on the market with something other than a minivan. I truly enjoyed driving the Forte and would recommend it highly for anyone who thinks the only options in the sporty compact category belong to the norm.
Think outside the box. You just might be surprised, too.
Photos by Joanna Cifrian