2017 Kia Forte

PHOENIX — When it comes to shopping for compact sedans, most buyers immediately think about small-car stalwarts like the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, with good reason. They have an excellent reputation for quality construction, reliability, and bang for the buck — and those manufacturers spend a lot of money on advertising.

But after stepping up their game following best-ever sales in 2016, Kia is poised for even more success with its refreshed family of Forte offerings for 2017.

With fresh exterior styling, several refinements and advanced driver assistance systems, along with a new base engine and an updated six-speed automatic transmission, Kia is giving Civic and Corolla shoppers a run for their money.

Thankfully much of what was already right with the 2016 Forte has been left untouched or improved upon for 2017.

For starters, Forte dons a new front bumper and “tiger nose” grille, taking on the corporate look we’ve come to like in siblings like the Optima, Cadenza, and K900. And Forte carries the same general proportions of those vehicles. It’s also much more visually appealing than competitors like Corolla, Nissan Sentra, and Chevy Cruze. Completing the exterior refresh are newly designed taillights with optional LEDs.

It is offered as a five-door hatchback or a two-door Koup, in addition to the four-door sedan tested here. The sedan is offered in three trim levels: LX, EX and a sporty S trim with exclusive interior features like black cloth seats with white contrasting stitching, as well as a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob. The S also gets a sport-tuned suspension, 16-inch alloy wheels, rear spoiler, LED lights and a chrome exhaust tip.

The Forte5 hatchback comes in LX, EX and the upgraded SX trim level. Forte Koup is offered in a choice of EX or SX trims.

Inside, the Forte EX has a pleasingly simple layout that looks more expensive and upscale than competitors. Controls are simple to use, and the large speedometer and tachometer with an information screen between them is straightforward and simple. At the center is a seven-inch touchscreen display that includes the navigation, a suite of core smartphone functions via Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. The UVO3-5 telematics connectivity allows drivers to use the touchscreen for smartphone functions like sending text messages, streaming music, and accessing driving directions.

Our EX trim level test also came standard with LED taillights, keyless start with approach lighting, heated leather seats, and 17-inch alloy wheels.

The seats are quite comfortable with decent support and even power lumbar support, which is unusual for the class.

The new base engine in the Forte is a 2.0-liter, 147-horsepower four cylinder that can be paired with either a six-speed automatic or a six-speed manual transmission. There’s also a direct injection 2.0-liter four cylinder that puts out 164 horsepower.

We found that the 164 horsepower in our Forte provided ample power and performance with drama-free passing at highway speeds, and satisfying overall fuel economy of 29 miles per gallon.

The basic suspension architecture is mostly a rerun from the 2016 model. The ride is comfortable but not as refined as Nissan Sentra or Subaru Impreza. We noticed that the suspension seemed to crash and bottom out when hitting potholes, allowing the body dip and roll too much.

Handling didn’t feel as sharp and predictable as top performers in this class like the Mazda3, but overall most owners will be pleased with the driving ease of the Forte in their daily commutes.

Available safety gear on our EX included autonomous emergency braking, lane-departure warning, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, and forward-collision warning as part of the $4490 Premium Plus Package.

The 2017 Forte sedan received the highest possible 5-star crash test rating from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration and “superior” front crash prevention rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

We think the 2017 Kia Forte is an excellent competitor in this segment and certainly worthy of a test drive. With stylish good looks, a roomy interior, excellent safety features and crash test scores plus the class-best 10-year/100,000 mile limited powertrain warranty.

Vital Stats

Price: $16,600 - $19,980
Price as Tested: $26,980
Engine: 2.0-Liter direct injection 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 164
Fuel Economy: 25-MPG City – 33-MPG Highway
Seats: 5

Competes With:

Chevrolet Cruze
Ford Focus
Honda Civic
Hyundai Elantra
Nissan Sentra
Toyota Corolla

Fab Features:

Excellent safety and technology features
Stylish, upscale looks inside and out
We were impressed

— Jim Prueter