2014 Kia Forte
4dr Sdn Man LX
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As the compact car segment expands to dominate the US market, manufacturers are increasingly recalibrating their offerings to provide style, luxury and safety at a level undreamt of just a few years ago in small cars. While the size of vehicles (and their impact on the environment) shrinks in response to consumers' changing needs, the expectation now is of elevated levels of equipment, sophistication and elegance. This explains Kia's accelerated development cycle on its Forte model. This new fifth generation, 2014 Forte has come out just three-and-a-half years after the appearance of its predecessor. When that car emerged, the marketplace was not as thronged with comprehensively equipped, stylish offerings as it is now, so the new Forte's timing could not be better. Kia says its new Forte was designed to satisfy both sides of the brain: the creative and the practical.
All-new, the 2014 Kia Forte sedan features swoopy and contemporary styling, while the Forte 5-door offers European style and hatchback practicality.
There's a choice of engines, a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine with variable inlet-valve timing that produces 148-horsepower at 6500 rpm, a direct-injected 2.0-liter four-cylinder with variable valve timing that produces 173 horsepower at 6500 rpm, and a turbocharged 1.6-liter engine rated at 201 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 195 pound-feet of toque between 1750-4500 rpm.
The $16,000 Forte LX sedan comes with the 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine. Stepping up to the Forte EX sedan or 5-door grants an owner the benefit of the 2.0-liter, direct-injected four-cylinder engine good for 173 horsepower. The turbocharged 1.6-liter engine is exclusively available on the Forte SX 5-door.
Forte 5-door also features a sport-tuned suspension.
Many of the essential items like ABS, air conditioning, Bluetooth, satellite radio and Kia's comprehensive safety equipment are standard on all models. Yet the options list offers items not usually found on cars of this class, like a ventilated driver's seat, leather upholstery, dual-zone climate control, and puddle lamps at the doorhandles.
Add rigorous noise and vibration-reducing measures, as well as careful suspension upgrades, and you're left with an impression of more refinement and elegance than one might expect from a car as affordable as the Forte.
Forte LX sedan comes equipped with the 1.8-liter engine. Forte LX ($16,000) comes standard with a 6-speed manual transmission (an automatic is optional), 15-inch steel wheels, satellite radio, Bluetooth technology, steering-wheel mounted audio controls, trip computer, air conditioning, power windows and locks.
Forte EX sedan and 5-door come with a direct-injected 2.0-liter four-cylinder with variable valve timing and this engine produces 173 horsepower at 6500 rpm. Forte EX sedan ($18,000) and 5-door come standard with 6-speed automatic transmission, 16-inch alloy wheels, body color mirrors with integrated turn signal indicators, fog- and LED positioning lights, six-speaker stereo, UVO telematics package, rear camera display, cruise control with wheel-mounted controls, keyless entry and Flexsteer variable steering assist.
Forte SX 5-door features a turbocharged 1.6-liter engine rated at 201 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 195 pound-feet of toque between 1750-4500 rpm and is offered with a choice of 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic with paddle shifters on the steering wheel.
An optional Premium Package includes heated front and rear seats, a 10-way power adjustable driver's seat with air-cooled ventilation, leather seat trim, power sunroof, 17-inch alloy wheels and push button start with Smart Key and a heated steering wheel. The Technology Package adds HID headlights, LED tail lights, a 4.2-inch color LCD cluster screen and dual-zone automatic temperature control with rear seat ventilation.
The windshield and A-pillars are set at a sporty rake, calling for small front quarterlites that match, in turn, rear versions necessitated by the car's fast roofline. Body color is used on doorhandles and mirrors, while a chrome beltline garnish emphasizes the glasshouse's wedge profile, lending the Forte's profile a strong cab-forward visual sense.
An extreme rear window rake and generous deck height provide a distinctly European flavor to the rear aspect of the sedan. Any chunkiness is relieved by the asymmetrical tail-light shapes and underbumper diffuser, and the lights themselves have 81 LEDs for a conspicuous night-time presence. The trunk opening is two inches wider for easier use.
While one might see the design as Euro-derived, it is nonetheless attractive, tidy and balanced. We have yet to see the 15-inch wheels on the Forte, but the aggressively patterned 16-inch alloys fill their apertures in a pleasing fashion.
Less obvious are the underbody tweaks that company officials say have helped the Forte achieve a slippery drag coefficient of 0.27.
As on the sedan, the Forte 5-door's swept headlights stretch deep into the front fenders and the raked windshield and broad shoulders give the front end a sleek, sporty appearance. LED positioning lights add a premium look to the front fascia. Large 18-inch wheels fill the wheel wells on the SX, and the hatchback profile affords a performance-oriented European personality. Around back, the rear hatch glass opens to reveal 23.2 cubic feet of usable cargo space. LED tail lights complete the premium feel of the exterior and a sporty rear valance with twin chrome exhaust tips maintains the Forte 5-door's edgy demeanor.
The dash surface features a ripple effect on the passenger side (echoed in the door panel) to provide character, while the instrument binnacle and center console feature seams and contours designed to break up any monotonous surface expanse. Angled 10-degrees toward the driver for a more-intimate interface, the center console is clean and uncluttered.
The instruments themselves are large and bright, and the various control buttons have a pleasing sense to their operation. Much of the molded surface is coated in a nano paint treatment which is slightly rubbery to the touch, mitigating the usual criticisms about hard moldings.
Considerable detail abounds in the door panels, where distinct concavities house the armrests and window controls. As you'd expect from a car with sporty pretensions, the steering wheel is a three-spoke design with contrasting colors, and it's leather wrapped in the EX model.
Our Forte EX test car featured leather upholstered seats, and these proved supportive and comfortable throughout the trip.
We have only driven Forte EX models to date, and the more powerful 2.0-liter engine certainly helped impress journalists at the press introduction with its flexible nature and lusty performance.
The 6-speed automatic also made a good impression with its fast responses and smooth shifts. Shift-shock is all but absent in the Forte, and it's difficult even to confuse the transmission with sudden throttle movements. There's a manual override shift system in the new Forte, and it surprised us by holding the gear selected even when the throttle was quickly floored. While we prefer manumatics that will resist upshifting on their own, even at the redline, a rapidly deployed wide-open throttle suggests that maximum acceleration is being called for, and a downshift is in order.
The Forte EX model features Flexsteer (perhaps not the best name for something related to car control), which offers comfort, normal and sport levels of steering assist, and this duly altered the steering's weighting, though it did little to improve the so-called motor-driven power steering's inert character.
In truth, this is not that unusual among the proliferating electric power-steering systems hitting the market, and it is offset in the Forte in large part by the car's accurate responses to the wheel. You simply abandon tactile feedback in favor of visual confirmation of path control. You soon get used to it, particularly when the wheel is also pretty well isolated from kickback shock.
Anyway, the Forte is not a fine-honed sport sedan. It is a competent, comfortable, roomy and well-equipped compact sedan. If it has been tuned to a sweet spot in the marketplace that prefers a composed and convenient car rather than a taut, close-focused attack tool, more power to Kia. This is exactly the kind of car more people should drive.
Barry Winfield filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report after his test drive of the Kia Forte EX near Phoenix.
Model as tested
Kia Forte EX ($18,000)
100,000 miles/10 years
Gas guzzler tax:
Price as tested
Options as tested
Premium Package, which includes heated front and rear seats, a 10-way power adjustable driver's seat with air-cooled ventilation, leather seat trim, power sunroof, 17-inch alloy wheels and push button start with Smart Key and a heated steering wheel
Model Line Overview
Kia Forte LX ($16,000); EX ($18,000)
Safety equipment (standard)
dual front and side airbags, full-length side curtain airbag, front three-point seatbelts with pretensioners, rear three-point seatbelts, ABS, EBD, vehicle stability management, traction control, tire-pressure monitoring system
Safety equipment (optional)
2.0-liter 16-valve I4
Specifications as Tested
air conditioning, satellite radio with six speakers, Bluetooth technology, steering-wheel mounted audio controls, trip computer, power windows and locks, body color mirrors with integrated turn signal indicators, fog- and LED positioning lights, six-speaker stereo, UVO telematics package, rear camera display, cruise control with wheel-mounted controls, keyless entry and Flexsteer variable steering assist, 16-inch alloy wheels
Engine & Transmission
2.0-liter 16-valve I4
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
173 @ 6500
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)
torsion beam, coil springs, anti-rollbar
McPherson strut, coil springs, anti-rollbar
torsion beam, coil springs, anti-rollbar
Head/hip/leg room, middle
Head/hip/leg room, front
Head/hip/leg room, rear