Impressive handling, provocative styling, confident at high speeds, plentiful standard features, industry-leading warranty.
Stiff ride, mediocre acceleration given handling and ride quality, lackluster dashboard design.
The 2010 Kia Forte Koup SX is a rare mixed bag from Kia, a slick fashion statement that handles better than it needs to and doesn't go as fast as it should. Like fellow Korean giant Hyundai, Kia has churned out a series of remarkably competitive products as of late, not least the Forte SX sedan on which the Koup is based. Indeed, that sedan took down a similarly priced Mazda 3 i in one of our most lopsided comparison tests ever. The Koup, however, could use some fine-tuning.
For years now, the Honda Civic and Scion tC have been the only names worth mentioning among reasonably priced sedan-based two-doors. Enter the Forte Koup, which comes with a choice of two engines, just like its rivals (if you count the tC's dealer-installed supercharger option), but offers more head-turning style than both Japanese entrants put together.
But the stakes are higher for coupes than for sedans, whose buyers often want extra flair in return for surrendering practicality. The 2010 Kia Forte Koup SX has a nice body, but its 173-horsepower four is unchanged from the sedan, whereas the high-revving Civic Si and supercharged tC boast 200 hp apiece and consequently much friskier acceleration.
And while the Koup SX's suspension tuning is sportier than the already capable sedan's — yielding a marginally quicker slalom run — the everyday result is a significantly harsher ride. In the transition from sedan to coupe, what the Forte needed, if anything, was more power — not better handling.
Consumers cross-shopping the comfort-oriented Civic EX coupe and base tC likely will find the Koup SX's ride stiff, and those interested in the Civic Si or supercharged tC will be disappointed with the Kia's lackluster engine. If only those 173 horses could be transformed into 200, or that suspension tuning could be dialed back to the SX sedan's level. One or the other might help the 2010 Kia Forte Koup SX join Kia's ongoing hit parade.
The front-wheel-drive 2010 Kia Forte Koup SX is powered by a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 173 hp and 168 pound-feet of torque. Our test car had the optional five-speed automatic transmission; a six-speed manual is standard (for 2011, a six-speed automatic transmission is available). At the test track, the Forte Koup SX hit 60 mph in 8.4 seconds en route to a 16.3-second quarter-mile at 85.8 mph.
That's more than a second slower to 60 than the Civic Si and supercharged Scion tC, though these models come only with manual transmissions. The base Civic trails the Koup SX by a few ticks, while the base tC is comparable. Remarkably, the Forte Koup SX zipped through our slalom cones at 68.5 mph, which is 1.2 mph faster than the Forte SX sedan and just 0.3 mph behind the last Civic Si we tested. The tC, for the record, doesn't handle nearly as well.
In the real world, the 2.4-liter four supplies a forgettable soundtrack, but it feels capable, with a broad power band that belies its middling acceleration numbers. The transmission, moreover, is smooth and responsive, and its extraordinarily tall gearing (2,400 rpm at 80 mph) helps produce decent EPA fuel economy ratings of 23 mpg city/31 mpg highway and 26 mpg combined, according to the EPA.
On winding roads, the sport-tuned Koup SX feels cool and composed, with good body control and responsive steering. But the only place you'll really notice its handling edge over the Forte SX sedan is at the track — on public roads the difference is barely discernible.
And that slight handling edge comes at the expense of ride quality, as the sport-tuned Koup SX isn't just stiffer than the sedan; it's as taut as a Civic Si. Some are willing to put up with this kind of ride, but they're likely looking for more juice under the hood to go with it. In short, the Koup SX has an identity crisis — it can't decide whether it wants to be a sport compact or a sporty-looking commuter car. Hey, Kia: Crank up the horsepower or tune the ride; then we'll talk.
On the highway, the 2010 Kia Forte Koup SX remains laudably quiet, and its almost Germanic high-speed composure lends peace of mind — until you hit a rough patch, that is, at which point sharp impacts are heard and felt. Be sure to drive the Koup SX over some broken pavement before signing on the dotted line. The leather-wrapped steering wheel isn't the nicest of its ilk, but at this price point we applaud Kia for trying. Like the sedan, the Koup lacks anything in the way of door armrest padding.
On the bright side, the supportive Koup-exclusive sport seats deserve credit for being fairly convincing riffs on the Civic Si's front chairs. The backseat, on the other hand, is about what we expect from a compact coupe. There's space back there for children and small adults, but legroom and especially headroom are at a premium. Overall, we'd deem the Forte Koup SX a supple ride away from satisfactory in the comfort department.
The Forte Koup SX's gauges are always clear, and their red perimeter lighting adds visual flair without compromising functionality. The radio controls and three-knob climate-control system are idiot-proof, with the standard iPod connection drawing particular praise for its ease of use. The base stereo (there is no optional system as of this writing) is surprisingly pleasant, providing respectable clarity and full bass.
The standard Bluetooth system is greatly appreciated at this price point and even downloads your contacts list automatically, which is not a universal feature of these systems. However, it does so every time you start the car — and interrupts your song or radio program with an annoying beep and a loud "transfer complete!" announcement from a robotic female voice. Hopefully Kia will iron out this kink as the Forte's model cycle progresses.
In our real-world usability tests, the 2010 Kia Forte Koup's 12.6-cubic-foot trunk accommodated our standard golf bag and suitcase with room to spare. A rear-facing child safety seat can be wedged into the backseat, but front passengers will have to pull their seats forward to make it work.
Design/Fit and Finish
The Forte Koup SX's styling provoked much discussion among our staffers, with some comparing it to the sexy Audi A5 and others panning questionable design elements like the silver-and-black 17-inch wheels. Our overall impression was positive, and we suspect the driving public will agree.
Inside, however, the Forte Koup is afflicted by the same boring styling as the sedan. Some aspects are slightly different, including a new rubbery dash surfacing, but the overall look is far less interesting than what you'll find in a Civic Si or Scion tC. Materials quality is adequate, but we noticed a handful of rattles and buzzes in our test car, unlike the solidly constructed Forte SX sedan we tested recently.
Who should consider this vehicle
The 2010 Kia Forte Koup SX should appeal to drivers who value style over speed — and don't mind that a stiff ride comes standard. Make sure you drive the competition before deciding.