Whoa, there. Kia's the budget Korean automaker, right? Hyundai's cut-rate cousin? The same people who brought us the Amanti and the Spectra? Forgive us for expecting more of the same mediocrity out of the 2010 Kia Forte SX. But this surprising compact sedan had us at its 67.3-mph slalom performance — less than 1 mph behind the benchmark Mazda 3 s. The Forte SX still packs plenty of Kia's trademark value, but more than that, it's one of the best-driving cars in its class.
Yeah, you heard right. The short list of entertaining economy cars has just grown by one Kia. The sportified SX is really something else — a driver's car with a Kia badge on its grille. It also boasts standard Bluetooth, a spacious backseat, a reasonably smooth ride and slick styling that's let down only by an uninspired dashboard design. Add it all up and you've got a satisfying compact sedan whose goodness needs no "?for a Kia" qualification.
Surveying the Forte SX's competitive set, we don't see much that compares. The aforementioned Mazda 3 s is the segment benchmark, but it costs considerably more, as does the capable Mitsubishi Lancer GTS. The Honda Civic EX and Toyota Corolla XRS are even pricier and lack the Kia's performance. The similarly priced Mazda 3 i doesn't have enough power or grip to keep up, and none of the above can touch Kia's 10-year/100,000-mile warranty. Think of the 2010 Kia Forte SX as an extraordinary compact sedan that also happens to be a great deal — that's how far this formerly marginal company has come in a few short years.
The front-wheel-drive 2010 Kia Forte SX is powered by a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine good for 173 horsepower and 168 pound-feet of torque. Our test car had the optional five-speed automatic transmission; a six-speed manual is standard. During instrumented testing, this Forte SX hit 60 mph in a solid 8.6 seconds en route to a 16.4-second quarter-mile at 84.9 mph. More impressively, the Forte snaked through our slalom cones at 67.3 mph, second only to the Mazda 3 s as of this writing, and stopped from 60 mph in 118 feet, a number that only the Lancer GTS has topped.
On the road, the 2.4-liter four won't get your heart racing, but it always feels adequate thanks to a broad power band. It's pretty smooth, too, even at higher rpm, which is noteworthy given that we've found the same basic engine coarse and unrefined in its various Chrysler applications. Fuel economy is about average for a large-displacement four-cylinder engine at 23 mpg city/31 mpg highway and 26 mpg combined, according to the EPA. The five-speed automatic shifts smoothly and promptly enough that we mostly ignored the manual-shift function.
In tight corners, the 2010 Kia Forte SX is — surprise! — in its element. The steering doesn't offer much feel, but it's quite responsive for this class. The standard 215/45 R17 Goodyear Eagle tires helped the Forte to a healthy 0.86g showing on our skid pad, and the real-world payoff comes in the form of quick turn-in and admirable midcorner grip. Hard-core enthusiasts will be happier with a Honda Civic Si, but they'll also be paying thousands more for the privilege — and foregoing the Forte's available automatic transmission. All told, the Forte SX has much to offer budget-minded sedan shoppers in search of extra spice.
On the highway, the 2010 Kia Forte SX's cabin is fairly quiet despite its aggressive tires. The sport-tuned suspension may be a bit firm for some tastes, but significant impact harshness was rare. The nicely shaped steering wheel was panned by some editors for its fake-feeling leather wrapping, though at this price point, Kia deserves kudos for using leather at all. As nice as the faux-leather trim looks on the door armrests, we'd like it a lot better if there were some elbow-cushioning foam underneath rather than hard plastic.
The comfortable front seats afford a commanding view of the road; lateral support, however, is conspicuously absent given the Forte SX's sporting intentions. The backseat is roomy by segment standards, easily outclassing the Mazda 3's cramped rear quarters, and the seat itself offers above-average thigh support. Overall, the Forte SX offers all the comfort that a shopper in this segment could reasonably expect. We'd skip our tester's leather upholstery, though — it adds $1,000 to the bottom line and isn't very soft or supple.
The 2010 Kia Forte SX's gauges are easily read at a glance, and red perimeter lighting adds a welcome bit of visual interest to the speedometer. The three-knob climate control system couldn't be simpler. Ditto the radio controls, though the red display has an aversion to polarized lenses. The stereo's bass response wasn't as consistent and accurate as we'd like, but some editors deemed the general sound quality surprisingly good for a base system.
Notably, a stereo upgrade — offered by many rivals — is currently unavailable. Also missing from the options list is a navigation system. However, Bluetooth is standard, and unlike some such systems, the Forte's will automatically download your phone's entire contact list for easy access.
In our real-world usability tests, the Forte's 14.7-cubic-foot trunk made quick work of our standard golf bag and suitcase. Indeed, that's almost as much trunk space as you'll find in the average midsize sedan. Fitting a rear-facing child safety seat in back is easy by economy-sedan standards, thanks to the spacious rear compartment and generous door openings, though the front passenger seat will likely have to be slid forward to make room.
Design/Fit and Finish
The 2010 Kia Forte is one of the most distinctively styled compact sedans currently in production, from its unique upswept A-pillar kink to its restrained, almost Germanic rear end. The SX takes it up a notch with attractive 17-inch alloy wheels. Inside, though, the Forte reveals a mundane dashboard that screams "generic economy car," unlike the Mazda 3's upscale cabin design, for example. Materials quality isn't anything to write home about either, though it's class-competitive. On the bright side, fit and finish on our test car elicited no complaints.
Who should consider this vehicle
The 2010 Kia Forte SX is an appealing compact sedan with few notable weaknesses and class-leading value. If you're willing to sacrifice a few miles per gallon in return for an engaging driving experience, the Forte SX belongs on your short list.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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