Kia has been fielding strong entries in virtually every segment it competes in recently. And now, in the compact class, the 2014 Kia Forte joins the roster. Previously, we had considered the Forte a decent pick thanks to its low price, respectable performance and generous standard features but 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.
One of the biggest draws to the car will likely be 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. Furthermore, the redesigned Forte is longer, lower and wider than its predecessor. As a result, Kia claims that the upsized Forte is big enough inside to be classified as a midsize sedan.
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. In keeping with Kia's value proposition, even the base LX trim level offers standard niceties such as Bluetooth and an iPod interface, while high-end luxury car features such as xenon headlights, keyless ignition/entry and even heated rear seats are available. There are three different engines for the 2014 Kia Forte and all make more than competitive power.
Still, there are many good choices in this class. The Ford Focus and Mazda 3 both offer driving enthusiasts a little more fun around turns, while the Honda Civic provides a well-rounded package of performance and comfort. And, of course, one might also consider the Kia's cousin, the Hyundai Elantra. But considering its roomy interior, upscale features, strong engines and sharp looks, the 2014 Kia Forte should be an excellent choice for an affordable sedan, coupe or hatchback.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 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 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, 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.
Powertrains and Performance
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 direct-injected 2.0-liter four-cylinder generating 173 hp and 154 lb-ft of torque and the six-speed automatic.
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.
Kia estimates that the LX sedan with the manual transmission will get 25 mpg city and 37 mpg highway. With the automatic, highway mpg drops just a bit to 36. The EX, with its bigger engine, should get 24/36.
Every 2014 Kia Forte comes standard with antilock disc brakes, traction and stability control, front side airbags and side curtain airbags.
Interior Design and Special Features
Far from being an economy car stuffed with gadgets, the new Forte boasts a handsome cabin trimmed in quality materials that, in the upper trim, would give premium compacts a run for their money. As far as the Forte's high-tech features, they're 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 segment.
Seat comfort front and rear is very good thanks to thick, well-bolstered seats and, with this year's growth spurt, plenty of room in back. Even adults taller than 6 feet 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, there's more than enough poke on tap and the engine is usually smooth and quiet enough. The automatic provides seamless gearchanges and is surprisingly responsive for downshifts, a quality increasingly rare in an age where automatics are programmed for max fuel efficiency and thus reluctant to step down.
Driven through turns, the Forte provides precise steering and fairly flat cornering when pushed. On upper trims, one may even adjust the steering effort via a three-mode (Comfort/Normal/Sport) button on the wheel. The first two are similar with a rather light effort, while Sport puts a little heft in the wheel. Most shoppers in this segment will likely enjoy the Forte's competent driving dynamics, though enthusiasts may be better served by the Ford Focus.
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