Monday, February 8, 2010

Reviewed: Kia Forte SX A strong new competitor in the compact class

2010 Kia Forte SX - Subcompact Culture
Kia first appeared in the U.S. in the early-to-mid 1990s (Portland, Oregon's Ron Tonkin Kia was the first Kia dealer in the U.S.), and was mostly thought of as an entry-level automaker offering inexpensive, and, well, basic transportation. Hey—we all have to start somewhere. However, Kia has kept its nose to the automotive grindstone, offering more refinement, more quality, and more models from year to year. The company is quickly making its way up through the ranks to become a brand people want to buy, and not just a low-cost option.

The all-new 2010 Kia Forte sedan (and two-door “Koupe”) are prime examples of Kia's latest and greatest efforts to date. The Forte goes to battle in the highly populated C-segment, which includes behemoths such as the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, not to mention Mazda3, Ford Focus, or Volkswagen Jetta. Will Kia be able to woo buyers from more established brands? With its great pricing, expansive list of features, and great warranty, the Forte should definitely be on the the compact car shopper's list.

2010 Kia Forte SX - Subcompact CultureSophisticated Sheet Metal
It's hard to deny Forte's attractive exterior, especially in the SX trim. Clean, handsome lines, minimal front and rear overhangs, and attractive 17” wheels make this car look upscale (I think the Titanium paint looks great, too). I had several people tell me they thought it looked like an Acura or Honda, and it does sort of resemble the last-generation TSX, as well as the current Honda Civic.

Kia Forte SX - Subcompact CultureInterior Attractiveness
Looks aren't skin deep on the Forte SX. The leather-clad interior is very nice. The comfortable seats offer decent bolstering to hold you place and the headrest actually allows you to rest your head. The driving position has that just-right distance to grasp the chunky leather-wrapped steering wheel (which has both cruise- and audio controls). Ergonomics are also good: Everything feels like it's where it should be. If fact, this actually feels like a driver's car.

Impressively, all Forte trim levels get standard features, such as a USB and port, three months of satellite radio, and Bluetooth integration—all standard. Speaking of, Kia's Bluetooth has to be one of the easiest, most straight-forward systems to use. A couple of callers said the clarity wasn't the best, though. It could be my archaic phone, too.

Stepping up to the SX model nets you a nice-sounding six-speaker sound system, and the easy-to-read “Supervision” gauge cluster with multi-function trip computer that displays engine temperature, trip/odometer, fuel economy, range, and more. One thing that drew mixed criticism was the red illuminated ring surrounding the speedometer. Some thought it was annoying. I thought it looked cool.

Back seat room is adequate for two adults, and the rear seats fold down revealing a pass-through into an ample-sized trunk. Speaking of trunks, one thing that was a bit awkward: There was no way to open the trunk without using the keyless entry system or pulling the interior release. No exterior keyhole, no button to push.

Powerful engine, stiff ride, fun to drive
Make no mistake about it: The Forte is a lot of fun to drive. In fact, it's probably one of the more fun-to-drive vehicles I've piloted in a while. Under the hood lies a powerful 173 horsepower 2.4-liter DOHC four cylinder with continuously variable valve timing making a respectable 168 ft. lbs. of torque. My review vehicle came with the five-speed automatic transmission with manual shifting capability; a six-speed manual transmission is also offered. EPA rating on the automatic SX is 23 city, 31 highway; I got almost exactly 23 mpg in mostly city driving. This is slightly better than the Toyota Corolla XRS, Honda Civic Si, and Mazda3 S Sport.

Forte has an independent front suspension and a torsion beam rear (the Civic and Mazda3 have a fully independent suspension; Corolla also uses the torsion rear). Suspension tuning is on the stiff side, which I like, although, it might be a bit stiff for some. The car handled very well and cornering was nice and flat. The meaty 215/45/17 tires had little problem putting the power to the ground. Braking is handled by front and rear disc brakes with ABS, brake assist, and EBD. The Forte also has traction control and stability control.

Kia Forte SX - Subcompact Culture
A truly competitive compact
There's a lot to like about Kia's Forte SX: Great driving characteristics, long list of available features, and attractive styling. This car offers similar performance to the Toyota Corolla XRS and Mazda3, but for thousands less. It's still slower than the Civic Si sedan, but costs less and doesn't require premium fuel. Plus there's that warranty: 5 year/60,000 mile basic, 10 year/100,000 mile powertrain. You can't get that standard on the Toyota, Mazda, or Honda.

Then there's the Forte SX's price $18,195; $20,490 as tested (which included $1,000 leather, and $600 heated seats, $695 destination).

That's a lot of car for the money. Refinement is still not quite as high as the Japanese, but it's getting better and better. And although Kia still has a ways to go to bring long-time Honda and Toyota buyers to its side, with cars like the Forte SX, consumers should take note: this is a very viable competitor for your hard-earned dollars.


Anonymous said...

How does this feel compared to a Scion TC? I know its not the 2 door version but the power specs and suspension design are similar on the 2 doors.

I really like the look of the new Forte.

Andy Lilienthal said...

Tell you the truth, I've never driven a tC.

I can tell you there was a good amount of power on tap, and handling was very good.

nlpnt said...

The lack of a hatchback model when its' predecessor had one bothers me, but I guess the Soul is the replacement for the Spectra 5.

Andy Lilienthal said...

Well they get a coupe ... er Koupe instead. And yes, the Soul does sort of fill the five-door hatch gap.

AccentPlanetDotOrg said...

Soul kind of fits fit, but since its a B Segment we're going to need a true C-segment hatch. That's why a Forte hatch is coming.

Becuase Korean Small Cars Rule