Kia Forte — Compact sedan perfection

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

The all-new Kia Forte makes a big statement — the sedan is not dead yet. With the compact Forte and its good looks, pleasing driving demeanor, and more available features than some entry level luxury cars, we see hope for a sedan revival. Kia appears to be a car company that has not relegated its sedans to second-rate status in favor of crossovers.

The Forte isn't at the top of its class in any one category — with perhaps the exception of styling — but the overall package may be the best in the mainstream compact segment. As for the exterior treatment, the Forte's front end is Stinger-like in appearance. Muscular lines in the hood and in other spots complement luxury car touches such as the taillights that appear to wrap ar
ound the entire rear width of the car.

The Forte’s interior features horizontal lines and an uncluttered center stack making for a handsome look. We drove the top-level EX that has the atmosphere of an entry-level luxury class car. There’s still some plastic around, but the important bits are all soft to the touch.

There is only one engine choice and therein lies the Forte's weak point. That being said, we found we could live with the car's 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine making 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque mated to Kia's first continuously variable transmission (CVT). The annoying CVT engine drone found on many cars is mostly eliminated through the use of a set of simulated gears to mimic a conventional automatic. Three driving modes are offered — Comfort, Sport, and Smart — which adapts to driving conditions. The best way to go is in Sport mode for more immediate response, which helps make the most of the meager horsepower.

In the handling department, the Forte exhibited good manners on our favorite twisting back-road blacktops.  The best part of this engine-transmission combination is its gas mileage, EPA rated at 30 mpg city, 40 highway and 34 combined.

Bottom line — we found no problem merging into fast Interstate traffic and passing on a two-lane road using a small measure of patience. For comparison purposes, the Forte has been clocked at 8.1 seconds from 0-to-60, about average for the segment.

If the car's performance is of a concern, just hang on for a few months. Coming next year is the 2020 Forte GT with the company's energetic turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder, making 201 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. It will be mated to a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic or a 6-speed manual transmission.

The interior has been expanded in several key areas. Overall length has increased by 3.2 inches to 182.7 inches, allowing for more rear legroom and additional cargo in the trunk. With 15.3 cubic feet, cargo room is among the largest in the segment. Additional rear headroom results from increasing the overall height to 56.5 inches, while the overall width has grown to 70.9 inches. We found the driver's seat to be comfortable, and reaching a just-right driving position using the 10-way power seat was easy.

t marring the overall pleasing atmosphere of the living quarters is what we consider excessive wind and tire noise. We wished for a bit more solitude.

Standard features and desirable amenities in the Forte continue to be available across four trims — FE, LXS, S and EX — including an 8-inch color touchscreen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth wireless technology, remote keyless entry, dual-zone automatic climate control, hill start assist, tire-pressure monitoring, forward collision-avoidance assist and forward collision warning, lane keep assist, and lane departure warning.

More advanced driver assistance systems came as standard equipment on our EX test model including smart Cruise Control and Blind-spot warning with cross traffic alert. Also standard on EX models are leatherette seating surfaces, heated and ventilated front seats, a 10-way power driver’s seat, and push-button start. One option we think is worth the cost is the rich-sounding 320-watt premium sound system developed with Harman/Kardon that pumps out music through an eight-speaker sound system with Clari-Fi, a patented music restoration technology that rebuilds audio signals that are lost during digital compression.

The Forte starts at $18,585 including destination charge for the FE trim with a 6-speed manual transmission and $19,485 with the automatic. Prices rise through the four trim levels to $22,885 for the EX.

The new Forte is a stylish, spacious, comfortable, and well-equipped small car at a great price — and an excellent five-year, 60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty. It's a total package that makes it one of the most appealing compact sedans on the market.

Base price: $18,585; as driven, $22,885
Engine: 2.0-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 147 @ 6,200 rpm
Torque: 132 foot-pounds @ 4,500 rpm
Transmission: continuously variable
Drive: front wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 106.3 inches
Length: 182.7 inches
Curb weight: 2,762 pounds
Turning circle: 34.8 feet
Luggage capacity: 15.3 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 14 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 30 city, 40 highway, 34 combined
0-60: 8.1 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Nissan Sentra

The Good
• Big features list for the money
• Beautifully styled
• Excellent gas mileage

The Bad
• Elevated road, wind noise

The Ugly
• Only one engine option