2010 Kia Forte Koup SX Review

A stroke of Korean genius to fill a sport compact niche

2010 Kia Forte Koup SX Review

Kia’s new Forte Koup isn’t just a step in the right direction for the Korean automaker; it’s a stroke of genius. Created to get young men in the door of a Kia dealership, it’s also designed to have them boasting about their new Kia – something which most certainly has never happened in the automaker’s brief history in North America. It’s also going to help re-brand the automaker, a move that will be assisted by the company’s decision to take the car racing in next year’s Koni Challenge series. But on top of all this, it’s a stroke of genius by the folks running Kia because in SX trim, with 173-hp and a base price of $17,695 it just doesn’t have much, if any, competition.

Don’t believe us? Let’s take a look.

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FAST FACTS

1. The Forte Koup SX comes with a 2.4L four-cylinder with 173-hp and 168 ft-lbs of torque.

2. Top-level SX models start at just $17,695 ($21,495 CAD).

3. SX models come with a standard 6-speed manual transmission of an optional 5-speed auto-box.

THE COMPETITION – OR LACK THEREOF

In the compact segment there aren’t a lot of coupes around. Essentially all you’ve got is the Cobalt Coupe, Civic Coupe, Focus Coupe and Scion tC. Now in base trim most of these cars all come with much less powerful engines, with the Focus and Civic at 140-hp, the Cobalt at 155-hp and the tC at 161. These, however, are more comparable to the base EX Koup, and even it edges out the Cobalt by one pony.

Sure there are high-performance versions of the Cobalt and Civic that would dust the Kia in any performance test, but at roughly $25,000, they’re over $7,000 more. In other words, not even in the same snack bracket.

The tC is a close competitor, but at a few hundred dollars more and with a few less ponies under the hood – not to mention a now-dated design – the Forte is the more attractive of the two. Although as much as Kia has improved, it’s hard to match Toyota’s reputation for reliability.

So there you have it, the Forte Koup is in a class of its own, delivering sporty fun at a budget price.

UNDER THE HOOD

Pop the stubby-nose hood of the Forte Koup SX and you’ll find a sizeable 2.4-liter 4-cylinder that makes the aforementioned 173-hp at 6000 rpm and a sizable 168 ft-lbs of torque at 4000 rpm. That’s about enough to scoot the edgy two-door to 60 mph in the mid to low 7 second range.

Fuel economy is reasonable, but not great, which is expected as a trade-off for the added performance. Manual transmission SX models are rated at 22/32 mpg (city/highway) with the auto-box getting 23/31 mpg.

Sadly out tester came with the optional 5-speed automatic (at a $1,000 premium), rather than the standard six-speed manual, which would likely have made the driving experience a bit more engaging. The auto-box isn’t bad, however, dropping gears eagerly and working nicely with the car’s healthy amounts of torque.

The complete driving experience is already quite engaging. Steering is heavy and precise, just like on the sedan, and the pedals are quick to react to inputs. We have to say that the rather high-strung feeling of the car is much better suited to the Koup than the sedan.

CARVING A CORNER

The way a car feels and the way a car drives can sometimes differ significantly. Thankfully this is not the case with the Forte Koup. It’s easy to toss around and will hold a corner reasonably well thanks to 17-inch wheels with wide, low profile 215/45/17 tires.

Push it though and the car will deliver plenty of understeer, typical of a front driver. It’s not really a true performance machine, like, say, a Civic Si or Mazdaspeed3, but again, it doesn’t cost like those two either.

The rear suspension, a semi-independent torsion-beam setup isn’t really designed for handling either, but the Koup makes it work reasonably well. We lamented this setup in the sedan, particularly in SX trim as it seemed to accentuate the shock through the chassis generated by the stiff suspension and low profile tires. Perhaps it’s just that a stiffer ride is more acceptable in a two-door, but we didn’t find this problem as distracting.

We decided to look into the nitty gritty specs to see if there was an answer there, but no luck. The wheelbase and track dimensions are the exact same as the sedan. For the record, the car is a little shorter in length and a little less wide, plus it’s 2.5-inches lower – which brings up another issue, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

The lower overall height and reduced ground clearance do make for a better center of gravity, so the Koup is a bit more tossable than the sedan.

STYLE TO SPARE

Along with its plentiful amount of horsepower, the Forte Koup delivers equally as strongly in the style department. We particularly like the gloss black accents that come on the top-level SX model.

The black areas make the air intake openings even larger and accentuate the face of the car, giving it a serious look. Out back the Koup ends abruptly with a nicely designed trunk area that is styled to look like an integrated trunk spoiler. And down low there’s an aggressive racecar-like diffuser.

Chunky flared fenders further accentuate the car’s masculine approach, although we’re torn on the design of the wheels. They do match the black accenting on the rest of the car, but we can’t help but be reminded of an old set of MOMO wheels with paintable rim spoke inserts.

NOTHING NEW INSIDE, BUT IT IS WELL-EQUIPPED

The interior of the car is essentially identical to the sedan model, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but we were hoping for a bit of originality. It is far nicer than you’d expect from a Kia and we particularly like the simple yet sporty gauges, which are slightly different from the base model.

As the top trim level, the list of standard equipment on the SX is extensive; there’s air conditioning, power windows and locks with remote entry, power mirrors, a leather coated tilt and telescopic steering wheel with cruise control and redundant audio controls, a leather shift knob, trip computer, sport seats, metal pedals, a six-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system and Bluetooth. On top of this, other SX trim standard highlights include the sport-tuned suspension, 17-inch wheels and tires, fog lights and the gloss black accenting. Onboard safety equipment is also extensive with six airbags, ABS and EBD, stability and traction control as well as a tire pressure monitor system.

We’re not overly fond of the monotone interior and we do have to complain about the leather-coated steering wheel, that you wouldn’t know is actual leather to look at or touch. The red stitching is nice, but it feels like a hard lump of plastic.

Our tester also had the optional $1,000 leather package with full leather seats and heated front seats. Tack on an extra $700 if you want the sunroof – which we’ll warn you about if you’re much over six feet.

Headroom in the Koup is limited already, with Kia admitting that, compared to the sedan, there is 1.3-inches less space for your nicely gelled hair. We noticed this immediately as we had plenty of room up top in the sedan.

All said and done, the total for our tester is a very reasonable $21,090. If you’re like us, however, skip the sunroof, leather and auto-box and you’ll only have to fork over $18,930 to put this stylish new model in your driveway.

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT – OR CUSTOMIZATION?

The new Forte Koup is very much a performance vehicle for the budget minded and it’s likely to strike a chord with a lot of young males. Sure it could be improved with slightly higher-grade materials inside (although most of it is quite good, as is the build quality). In a perfect world it would also get mild upgrades in many performance areas, but then it would end up costing like a Civic Si.

What we really would have liked from such a sporty car is a more aggressive exhaust sound – or (better yet) a louder air intake sound when you get on the throttle. That, however, may be coming down the pipe as Kia is considering a line of performance parts that could be purchased at the dealership.

THE VERDICT

In Koup form and SX trim, Kia’s new Forte stands out in the marketplace with its great looks, a sporty drive, low price, a long list of features and a powerful engine. It has no real competitors, save maybe the long-in-the-tooth Scion tC, with far more of everything than base model rivals, but without the premium demanded by some of the high-performance sport compact coupes. Value has never been so cool.

Related Reading:

2009 Scion tC
2010 Kia Forte SX Review

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