Quality and value are high points on the 2014 Kia Forte, and its sharp new look pushes it toward the head of the compact-car class.
Spacious interior; many upscale features available; strong engine on EX trim level; easy-to-use controls; lengthy warranty coverage.
Fuel economy isn't as high as some other top rivals; unrefined ride quality at times; middling frontal-impact safety scores.
For 2014, the Kia Forte is fully redesigned.
Lately, Kia has been fielding strong entries in virtually every segment it enters. Now the 2014 Kia Forte has joined the roster in the compact car class. Previously, we had considered the Forte a decent pick thanks to its low price, respectable performance and generous standard features, but ultimately relegated it to mid-pack status for its lackluster cabin materials and elevated road noise. With this year's redesign, Kia has addressed those gripes in a big way.
Once again, the Forte will come in three body styles. Coming out first is the sedan, followed later by the four-door hatchback and two-door coupe. No matter the body style, one of the biggest draws to the new car is the way it looks. We usually don't talk about styling, given its subjective nature. But we doubt we'll find much argument when we say the Forte is one of the sharpest-looking cars in its segment.
Pleasingly, the redesigned Forte isn't an example of form over function. It's longer, lower and wider than its predecessor, and you'll notice this on the inside, as the car is quite roomy. Rear seat legroom is especially good. You'll find plenty of features here, too, as even the base LX trim level offers Bluetooth and an iPod interface as standard, while high-end amenities like xenon headlights, keyless ignition/entry, a voice command system (for the audio system and your smartphone) and even heated rear seats are available. Overall interior quality is much better this time around as well.
There are three different engines for the 2014 Kia Forte, and all make more than competitive power. So far we've only tested the Forte EX sedan and its upgraded 2.0-liter four-cylinder, but we've found it to be one of the quickest cars in the segment. The forthcoming Kia Forte coupe will be available with an even stronger turbocharged 1.6-liter engine. The downside, though, is that none of these engines excels in the fuel economy department.
As you likely know, there are many good choices in this class. The Ford Focus and Mazda 3 both offer a little more fun around turns plus better potential fuel economy, while the Honda Civic and Volkswagen Jetta are well-rounded sedans with lots of refinement and comfort. And of course you might also consider the Kia's cousin, the Hyundai Elantra. But with its roomy interior, upscale features, strong engines and sharp looks, the 2014 Kia Forte is an excellent choice for an affordable sedan, coupe or hatchback.
The 2014 Kia Forte is currently available as a sedan in LX and EX trim levels. The four-door hatchback (available in EX and SX trims) and two-door coupe ("Koup") will debut later in the model year.
Standard features on the LX sedan include 15-inch steel wheels, air-conditioning, full power accessories, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a height-adjustable driver seat, a 60/40 split-folding rear seat, Bluetooth phone connectivity and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player, satellite radio and USB/iPod/auxiliary input jacks.
Optional for the LX is the Popular package that includes 16-inch alloy wheels, mirror-mounted turn signal repeaters, keyless entry, upgraded interior trim, two additional audio speakers, cruise control, a sliding console armrest, a fold-down rear center armrest and dual lighted vanity mirrors.
Spring for the EX and you get all the above plus a more powerful engine, adjustable steering effort, foglights, LED running lights, chrome accents, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, Kia's Uvo voice-activated infotainment system with Bluetooth audio connectivity, a rearview camera, a sliding console armrest and a fold-down rear center armrest.
Options for the EX include 17-inch wheels and two option packages. The Premium package features a sunroof, keyless ignition/entry, leather upholstery, heated front and rear seats, a heated steering wheel, a ventilated eight-way power driver seat and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. The Technology package includes xenon headlights, LED taillights, dual-zone air-conditioning with rear seat vents and a navigation system.
The EX hatchback echoes the sedan, while the SX version includes those features but takes a sportier tack, with a turbocharged engine, 17-inch wheels, unique front and rear fascia styling, chrome exhaust tips and metal sport pedals. Option packages for the EX and SX hatchback essentially mirror those for the EX sedan.
The LX is powered by a 1.8-liter four-cylinder making 148 horsepower and 131 pound-feet of torque. Power runs to the front wheels through a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. The EX gets a 2.0-liter four-cylinder generating 173 hp and 154 lb-ft of torque and the six-speed automatic.
EPA fuel economy estimates stand at 29 mpg combined (25 mpg city/36 mpg highway) for the 1.8 with the automatic. The manual transmission is also rated at 29 mpg combined. The EX's 2.0-liter engine rates 28 mpg combined (24/36).
In Edmunds testing, a Kia EX sedan accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 8.1 seconds, making it one of the quickest cars in its segment.
The forthcoming Kia Forte coupe will be available with a turbocharged 1.6-liter engine good for 201 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque.
Every 2014 Kia Forte comes standard with antilock disc brakes, traction and stability control, front side airbags and side curtain airbags.
In Edmunds brake testing, a Forte EX came to a stop from 60 mph in 121 feet, slightly shorter than average for this segment.
In government crash tests, the Forte sedan and hatchback both earned an overall score of four stars (out of five), with three stars for overall frontal impact protection and five stars for overall side impact protection. Within that three-star frontal rating, the Forte earned five stars for driver protection, but just two stars for the front passenger.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the Forte its highest score of "Good" in its moderate-overlap frontal offset, side-impact and roof-strength tests. In that agency's relatively new small-overlap frontal offset test, however, the Forte scored the lowest rating of "Poor." In fairness, of the relatively few vehicles that have been subjected to this new test, most have posted similarly low ratings.
Far from being an economy car stuffed with gadgets, the new Kia Forte boasts a handsome cabin furnished with quality materials that, in the higher trim levels, would give premium-brand compacts a run for their money. What's more, the Forte's high-tech features are well designed and easy to use. The touchscreen interface, with its large, logically positioned "buttons," is one of the best examples of this technology, regardless of market segment or price range.
Seat comfort front and rear is very good thanks to thick, well-bolstered seats. With this year's growth spurt, there's plenty of room in back, too. Even 6-foot adults should be comfortable seated in the rear. The Forte sedan is also very generous when it comes to cargo capacity, boasting a trunk capacity of 14.9 cubic feet.
As there are three flavors of 2014 Kia Forte, we can only comment on the one we've driven so far, the EX sedan. With 173 hp, this is one of the stronger engines you'll find in this class. This output doesn't translate to blazing acceleration exactly, but in general the EX feels quicker than the norm. We also like the automatic transmission, as it provides seamless gearchanges. It's also surprisingly responsive with downshifts during typical passing and merging situations, a quality that's increasingly rare in an age when transmissions are programmed for max fuel efficiency. The only downside is that the engine sounds and feels a bit buzzy during hard acceleration.
The Forte has precise steering, and handling around turns is steady. On upper trim levels, you can even adjust the steering effort via a three-mode (Comfort/Normal/Sport) button on the wheel. Most shoppers in this segment will likely be satisfied with the Forte's overall ride quality. But the Forte's suspension can occasionally seem a bit unrefined. Rougher roads can produce subtle vibrations and undulations that aren't present in rivals like the Focus or Mazda 3, both of which have a more sophisticated ride.
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