Test Drive review: Spunky little Kia Forte is as fun as you like
There's a lot to recommend the 2010 Kia Forte sedan. The EX midlevel test car was lively, even though powered by the base, 2-liter engine. Tuned to deliver a lot of scoot with only a little pedal. The brakes likewise did a lot for not much pedal push. And the steering. Straight ahead without twitching and tugging the wheel.
The leather seats. Sweet. No six-ways-from-Sunday lumbar supports, magic massage devices or other gadgets some automakers use to justify high prices. Credit the lack of furbelows for adding to Kia's comfort. Straightforward, nicely shaped, sufficiently supportive seats.
Overall, Forte didn't match the classy feel of the Honda Civic nor the inviting agility of the Ford Focus, two of its main rivals. But it felt roomier than either, and the manufacturers' specifications show that in most ways, it is.
The test car's base engine was more powerful than in the Civic or Focus. And the bigger engine that comes in the SX model (2.4-liter, 173 hp) handily out-powers either competitor.
The extra power minimizes the bust-a-gut struggle you endure from less-potent engines. While you might not be a hard-throttle driver, the Kia's extra power nonetheless gives Forte an attractive, easygoing personality.
Let's be clear. It was no rocket. But its admirable scoot was delivered promptly.
Forte was graced with details that make a car a good daily companion, but don't make the list of marquee items.
For instance, the inside door grab-handles were big, fat and right where you naturally reach.
Instruments and controls were simple, sensible and handy. Even the lowly turn signal lever is placed just right.
Forte's extra bins and cubbies make a big difference. No need to hog a cup holder to stash your cellphone, sunglasses, iPod, checkbook, what have you.
The safety belts in the back seat were well-placed for easy latching by a youngster. (That's quite important when fetching the little rascal in the car-pool line after school, with all those Type-A parents behind you in their hulking SUVs or minivans. They are crazed with stress because they, too, had to play hooky from work for the grab-n-go or have so many things left to do that they'll never get them done, and they are just about that far from exploding if you tarry a moment. God forbid you should have to get out and belt the child yourself.)
If you think those are silly, inconsequential things, you're underestimating how much they make a car user-friendly.
Some expensive cars and trucks tested lately have lacked, for instance, extra storage to use if the cup holders are occupied, easy-to-use door handles and convenient safety belt placement. Hard to believe that after all this time the pricey guys don't get it right, but it's true.
All's not well in Forte, though.
The four-speed automatic transmission in the EX test car (SX gets a five-speed) was subpar. Not as bad as the General Motors Hydra-Matics excoriated here recently, but in that direction. It paused a moment, almost stumbled, before executing shifts, either up or down. Wide-open-throttle upshifts were OK; most others were flawed.
Doors and trunk lid didn't have quite the reassuring thunk of some others.
The 2-liter, four-cylinder in the test car sounded coarse at idle and during mild acceleration. But it offered a pleasant growl under hard acceleration.
And that brings up this point: Forte was satisfying to drive hard. No sports sedan, but agile and frisky. Thus, you tend to drive it in a brisker manner than you might drive some other, less interesting machine.
You pay to play, however. The tester managed only 18 miles per gallon in go-for-it suburban driving. It's rated 28 mpg in combined city/highway use, which is most like the 'burbs.
But don't get all het up. First, the tester was brand new, fewer than 100 miles on the odometer, and if it's like most cars, will do notably better as it rolls up a few more break-in miles.
Second, it was kicked harder than almost anybody else will drive it, just because it was fun to do that. Most drivers probably could get well into the 20s applying even a skosh of moderation.
If you're really serious about mileage, there's also a Forte fuel-economy version rated 30 mpg in combined city/highway. It's the EX, but with the five-speed automatic transmission from the SX and a few other changes.
But if you enjoy the Forte's eagerness, you'll not be getting economy-car mpg.
That aside, Forte - at least the $19,000 EX test car - was an endearing jump-and-run sedan. It could be as ordinary or as stimulating as the driver chooses it to be.
That's the happy result of a car company concentrating on making a good car instead of a fancy one filled with expensive annoyances.
• What? Compact, front-wheel-drive sedan replacing the Spectra; mechanically similar to Hyundai Elantra. Also available as two-door, called Koup.
• When? Forte sedan went on sale in June. Koup went on sale this month.
• Where? Made in South Korea.
• How much? $14,390 to $20,630, including $695 shipping.
• How potent? LX, EX have 2-liter four-cylinder rated 156 horsepower at 6,200 rpm, 144 pounds-feet of torque at 4,300 rpm. SX has 2.4-liter four rated 173 hp at 6,200 rpm, 168 lbs.-ft. at 4,000 rpm.
Five-speed manual is standard on LX, EX. Six-speed manual standard on SX. Automatic is $1,000 option on all.
• How big? Honda Civic-size. Forte is 178.3 inches long, 69.9 in. wide, 57.5 in. tall on a 104.3-in. wheelbase. Passenger space is 96.8 cubic feet, trunk 14.7 cu. ft. Weighs 2,707 to 2,868 lbs.
Turning circle diameter: 33.9 ft. (LX, EX), 35.4 ft. (SX - bigger tires).
• How thirsty? EX with special fuel-economy package rated 27 miles per gallon in town, 36 mpg highway, 30 (3.33 gallons per 100 miles) in combined city/highway driving.
Other EX and LX models: 25/34/28.
SX (bigger engine) is rated 22/32/26 (six-speed manual) or 23/31/26 (five-speed automatic).
EX automatic tester got 18 mpg (5.56 gal./100 mi.) in very brisk suburban driving. Tester had no break-in miles. Moderate driving, more break-in would boost mileage.
Burns regular, holds 13.7 gallons.
IRVINE, Calif., October 1, 2009 - Kia Motors America (KMA) today announced its best quarter of sales ever with a September monthly total of 21,623 units sold, a 24.4-percent increase from September 2008. Year to date sales totaled 238,570, a 4.6-percent increase over the same period last year. September sales were led by the Kia Optima midsize sedan and all-new Forte compact sedan, selling 5,986 and 4,449 units respectively. The all-new Soul urban passenger vehicle and Rio subcompact also sold well, with 2,459 and 2,811 units.
"Consumer confidence in the Kia brand is on the rise, and on the heels of an all-time record sales month in August we continue our momentum by achieving the best sales quarter in company history," said Alex Fedorak, director of public relations, KMA. "New designs, like the highly styled and personalized Soul, Forte compact sedan and Forte Koup, are appealing to a larger consumer audience while staying true to our brand's core pillars of value, safety and fuel efficiency."
Kia Motors is in the midst of a dramatic, design-led transformation, which has been delivering dynamically styled vehicles in several important segments at exactly the right time contributing to the brand's continued gains in U.S. market share. The upcoming launch of the all-new 2011 Sorento CUV, the first vehicle to be built at the company's first U.S.-based manufacturing facilities in West Point, Georgia, will further enhance the lineup.
About Kia Motors America
Kia Motors America (KMA) is the marketing and distribution arm of Kia Motors Corporation based in Seoul, South Korea. KMA offers a complete line of vehicles through more than 650 dealers throughout the United States. For 2008, KMA recorded its 14th consecutive year of increased U.S. market share. Kia Motors subscribes to a philosophy of building high value, high quality, safe and dynamic vehicles. Kia Motors prides itself on producing vehicles that are exciting and enabling and evoke the Kia tagline "The Power to Surprise."
Kia Motors America is the "Official Automotive Partner of the NBA." Information about Kia Motors America and its full vehicle line-up is available at its Web site - www.kia.com. For media information, including photography, visit www.kiamedia.com.