2019 Kia Forte First Drive

Neither Penalty Nor Box

A good deal is paramount if you're in the market for a new compact sedan. But that doesn't merely mean a low price. It entails getting the most for your money. After spending some time with the new 2019 Kia Forte, we can say that this is the deal you've been looking for.

The Forte starts paying off before you even get in it. The exterior pulls styling cues from the larger and more expensive Kia Stinger. It features a similarly long hood, grille, front fascia and fastback-like rear roofline. As far as appearances go, this is a mini Stinger, much like how the Audi TT is a smaller and more accessible version of the R8.

Once inside, the Forte keeps paying out with a pleasing design and materials, as well as standard features that outpace that of rivals such as the Honda Civic and the Mazda 3. Start the Forte up, and it delivers better-than-average driving dynamics and comfort. Overall, the 2019 Kia Forte does a bit more than check all the boxes for what you demand from a compact sedan.

2019 Kia Forte

What Do You Get for Your Money?
Each Forte sedan comes with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque. Prices start at $18,585 (destination included) for the base FE trim, which comes with a six-speed manual transmission.

With the manual, the Forte returns 31 mpg combined. For an additional $900, you can get a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) that increases fuel economy to 35 mpg combined. The CVT automatic is standard on all other trim levels, though with a 34 mpg combined rating.

Versus other compact sedans, the Forte's standard features outpace its price. Standard FE features include 15-inch steel wheels, dual-zone automatic climate control, an 8-inch touchscreen, support for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and frontal collision warning/mitigation and lane keeping assist. The LXS ($19,985) adds 16-inch alloy wheels, exterior and interior trim upgrades, selectable drive modes, and 60/40-split folding rear seats. The S trim ($21,085) comes with 17-inch wheels, foglights, LED exterior lighting, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, a rear center armrest, Uvo eServices connectivity and emergency telematics, satellite radio, and more speakers.

The top EX trim ($22,885) adds keyless entry and ignition, a hands-free trunk opener, heated mirrors, some more exterior and interior trim upgrades, a 10-way power-adjustable driver's seat, simulated-leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, an additional USB port, and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert.

2019 Kia Forte

How Does It Drive?
From the driver's point of view, the 2019 Kia Forte is more enjoyable than the Honda Civic and almost as engaging as the Mazda 3 sedan. At a standstill, the engine idles so smoothly and quietly that it's easy to think it isn't running. And when you're underway, the CVT automatic doesn't have the lazy response and rubber-band feel that some rivals suffer. In many ways, it behaves like a traditional automatic.

Acceleration isn't what we'd consider impressive, but it is more than adequate at getting up to highway speeds. It will match free-flowing traffic without stress on you or the engine. Passing slower traffic spotlights how much more responsive the transmission is than some rivals, as it's quicker in reaching the right gear ratio for optimal power. When you need to slow down, the brake pedal has an appropriate firmness that is reassuring and easy to modulate to a smooth stop.

When the road begins to bend, the Forte feels confident and capable. The motions are well-managed, without much body roll or bouncing once the car settles into a turn. Unlike most vehicles in its class, it has a torsion-beam rear suspension, which typically means a less sophisticated ride over bumps. In this new Forte, that skittishness has been greatly reduced, and the suspension does a fine job of keeping the rear tires in contact with the pavement.

The ride quality is a bit stiffer as a result of the improved handling characteristics, but it's in no way harsh. We logged many miles over the course of a day on some flawed roads and never felt fatigue. There was a noticeable amount of road noise, but it's usual for the class and simply turning on the radio overcomes it.

2019 Kia Forte

What's the Interior Like?
Much like the exterior, the Forte's interior has echoes of the upmarket Stinger, such as the spoked round air vents and climate controls. The dash is predominantly horizontal with a large touchscreen mounted on top. With the LXS trim and above, soft-touch dash and door panels replace the harder plastics in the base trim. It looks and feels better than what you'd expect for an economical compact sedan.

With the EX, you get convincing simulated-leather upholstery as well as ventilated seats, which kept us feeling fresh on a humid afternoon. The cushioning is soft in the right spots for comfort and firm on the sides for lateral support. There is an abundance of adjustment travel with the telescoping steering wheel, which will be particularly good news for taller drivers. The rear seats are spacious enough for the average-size adult, with just enough headroom and more than enough legroom.

Spaciousness also applies to the trunk, which can hold 15.3 cubic feet. The Forte's trunk capacity barely edges out the Honda Civic's 15.1 cubic feet and handily beats the Mazda 3 and Toyota Corolla by at least 2 cubic feet. Adding to the cargo area's usefulness is its hands-free opening on the EX trim. Rather than having to swipe your foot under the bumper, which could be tricky if you are heavily burdened, you only have to stand by the trunk for a few seconds, and it pops wide-open on its own.

2019 Kia Forte

Should I Buy a Forte?
For the majority of shoppers seeking a compact and affordable sedan, the 2019 Kia Forte should be near the top of your list. We still give the Mazda 3 accolades for its sporty and gratifying performance capabilities, but realize that in this class of cars, value is key. This new Forte exceeds expectations for the price, by delivering the features you want and an attractive interior and exterior design. Add in Kia's very generous 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, and the value is undeniable.