The perennial small-car sales leaders have never faced stiffer competition, and the 2017 Kia Forte is the latest shot over the bow. Although it falls short of a full redesign, the 2017 Forte offers freshened styling, a new standard engine for the sedan, a sport-themed S sedan trim level, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity, and optional safety technologies such as automatic emergency braking that are still rare in this class. With fuel economy as high as 38 mpg highway and just about every available feature one could ask for in this price range, the 2017 Forte makes a strong case for itself against its more established foes.
The sedan's base 2.0-liter engine is perhaps the biggest news, as it's not often that a car swaps out its primary powerplant in the middle of its production cycle. Although it's slightly larger, the new 2.0-liter is more efficient than the smaller engine it replaces. Paired with the revised six-speed automatic transmission, the new engine increases combined fuel economy to 32 mpg (up one from 31 mpg), but the city rating gets a big boost from 26 mpg to 29 mpg. Notably, the top-of-the-line EX trim level gets a different, carryover 2.0-liter engine that makes a bit more power (though less than last year) but gives up an eye-opening 4 mpg in combined driving.
If you're shopping for a small car like the Forte, you probably already have two names in mind: Civic and Corolla. In terms of resale value, you can't beat 'em, and the current Civic also happens to be an unusually rewarding car to drive, especially with the optional turbocharged engine. The Corolla doesn't fare nearly as well on the merits, however, and the Forte undoubtedly offers more bang for the buck than both. We also recommend the sharp-handling Mazda 3 and Ford Focus, but their backseat space pales by comparison.
Every 2017 Kia Forte comes standard with antilock disc brakes, traction and stability control, front side airbags and side curtain airbags. A rearview camera is optional on the LX and standard on the other trims. The optional Uvo eServices telematics bundle includes roadside assistance, emergency crash notification and secondary driver (i.e., teenage) monitoring features that include notifications when curfew, vehicle speed and vehicle location limits are exceeded.
As noted above, the sedan offers automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning and prevention, and blind-spot monitoring, although the Forte5 only offers the latter. Kia doesn't offer these features on the Koup.
In Edmunds brake testing, a Forte EX sedan came to a stop from 60 mph in 120 feet, while a Forte5 SX turned in a 114-foot effort. Both results are slightly shorter than average for this segment.
Government crash tests of the 2017 Forte sedan saw it earn a five-star rating (out of five), with four stars for overall front-impact protection and five stars for overall side-impact protection.
trim levels & features
The 2017 Kia Forte is available as a sedan in LX, S and EX trim levels, while the hatchback Forte5 model is offered in LX, EX and SX trims. The two-door Forte Koup has been discontinued for 2017.
Standard features on the LX sedan include 15-inch steel wheels, heated mirrors, air-conditioning, full power accessories, a trip computer, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a height-adjustable driver seat, a 60/40-split folding rear seat, Bluetooth, and a four-speaker sound system with a CD player, satellite radio, USB connectivity and an auxiliary audio jack.
Optional for the LX (but only with the automatic transmission) is the Popular package, which includes automatic headlights, cruise control, upgraded interior upholstery and trim, a sliding front armrest, a rear-seat armrest, a rearview camera, a 4.3-inch touchscreen and six speakers.
The S sedan starts with most of those items and upgrades to a sport-tuned suspension, 16-inch alloy wheels, LED running lights, a rear spoiler, a chrome exhaust outlet, adjustable drive modes (including steering effort), unique black cloth upholstery with white contrast stitching, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and a 7-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto (late availability) and Kia's Uvo eServices telematics.
The S sedan's Technology package adds foglights, LED taillights and keyless entry and ignition plus a few safety technologies (lane departure warning and prevention, blind-spot monitoring and automatic emergency braking). There's also a Premium package that builds on the Technology package with a sunroof, heated front seats, a power driver seat, driver memory settings, a sliding front armrest and a navigation system with voice controls.
The EX sedan drops the sport-themed extras but adds the more powerful 2.0-liter engine, foglights, 17-inch alloy wheels, LED turn signal indicators on the mirror housings (and puddle lamps underneath), LED taillights, keyless entry and ignition, ambient interior lighting, leather upholstery, heated front seats and dual-zone automatic temperature control with rear vents.
For the EX, there's an optional Premium Plus package that adds a sunroof, power driver seat and the extra safety technologies plus adaptive xenon headlights, a navigation system, cooled front seats and driver memory settings.
From a features standpoint, the Forte5 LX and Forte5 EX largely mirror the LX and S sedan, with minor differences such as standard 16-inch steel wheels for the Forte5 LX and standard leather upholstery for the Forte5 EX, which gets 17-inch alloy wheels but lacks the S sedan's sport-tuned suspension (standard on the Forte5 SX) and other specific sport-themed flourishes. The Forte5 SX adds a turbocharged engine, 18-inch wheels, dual exhaust tips and unique front and rear styling, plus an Orange Color package (new for 2017) with orange leather seat inserts and contrast stitching. Forte5 options also largely mirror those of the sedan, although a couple of the sedan's advanced safety features (automatic emergency braking and lane departure warning and prevention) are not currently offered.
The SX trim ratchets up the sport quotient with a sport-tuned suspension, 18-inch wheels, larger front brakes and LED taillights. An auto-dimming rearview mirror and Uvo eServices are also standard.
Options for both trims include a sunroof, keyless ignition, dual-zone automatic air-conditioning, power-adjustable heated and ventilated front seats, leather upholstery, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, HD radio and a navigation system.
The Forte LX and S sedans are powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque. Power runs to the front wheels through a six-speed manual transmission (LX only) or a six-speed automatic. EPA fuel economy estimates are 32 mpg combined (29 city/38 highway) with the automatic and a rather disappointing 28 mpg combined (25 city/34 highway) with the manual.
The EX sedan gets a 2.0-liter four-cylinder generating 164 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque (or 160 and 149, respectively, in SULEV specification). This engine comes only with the six-speed automatic and returns an EPA-rated 28 mpg combined (25 city/33 highway), which is decidedly unimpressive given the relatively modest power output.The Forte5 LX and EX share this same powertrain, and the power and fuel economy are nearly identical. The hatchback in this configuration returns 1 mpg better (34) on the highway.
The SX version of the Forte5 has a turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder rated at 201 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque, paired with either a six-speed manual or a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Fuel economy on manual-equipped models is 26 mpg combined (23 city/30 highway) while the seven-speed dual-clutch models return 27 mpg combined (25 city/32 highway).
Based on our experience with the 2017 Hyundai Elantra that uses the same 2.0-liter engine as the base Forte, we're not expecting quick acceleration from the base Forte sedan. The new engine is fuel-efficient, however, at least with the automatic transmission, and should feel adequate in terms of power delivery to most drivers. The Forte5's available turbocharged 1.6-liter engine is the logical choice for those who want extra zest, as it transforms the Kia into a genuinely speedy little car. The EX sedan's 2.0-liter engine is caught in the middle, providing no more power than the standard engines in many rival sedans yet sucking down fuel at a relatively prodigious rate.
The six-speed automatic transmission provides smooth shifts, and it's surprisingly responsive during typical passing and merging situations. The slick-shifting six-speed manual in the Forte5 SX is pleasant to operate and makes the most of the turbocharged engine's power.
Most shoppers in this segment will likely be satisfied with the Forte's overall ride quality, but the Forte's suspension is occasionally a bit firm and unrefined. Rougher roads produce a somewhat busy ride; in comparison, rivals such as the Focus and Mazda 3 feel relatively cushy over broken pavement. The Forte is steady on winding roads, but it's not particularly engaging.
The 2017 Kia Forte is much more than just an economy car stuffed with gadgets. Boasting a handsome cabin furnished with quality materials, especially in the higher trim levels, the Forte gives other top compacts a run for their money. In addition, the Forte's high-tech features are well-designed and easy to use. The 7-inch touchscreen interface — with large, logically positioned virtual buttons — is one of the better examples of this technology.
Seat comfort front and rear in the sedan and Forte5 is very good, and even 6-foot adults should be comfortable sitting in back. The Forte sedan offers very generous cargo capacity, with a trunk capacity of 14.9 cubic feet, while the Forte5 hatchback boasts 23.2 cubic feet with the rear seat up and plenty more with the seatbacks folded down.
edmunds expert review process
This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.
We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.