There’s one serious issue we have with the high-performance SX version of Kia’s cool new Forte that keeps us from recommending it. That flaw, by all accounts a tragic flaw, is the car’s suspension.
|1. The Forte SX comes with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with 173hp and 168 ft-lbs of torque.
2. Standard equipment includes a sporty suspension, 17-inch wheels, full power options, climate control and a six-speed manual transmission.
3. Fuel economy is rated at 22/32 mpg (city/hwy) with the manual or 23/32 for the automatic.
4. SX models are priced from to $17,195 ($20,995 CAD).
Several months back we tested the EX model and noted that the car has a rather obvious issue with soaking up road imperfections. The SX model amplifies this problem due to a nice set of 17-inch wheels and 215/45/17 tires. We have to lay the blame with the lower profile sidewall on the tires and the stiffer sports suspension.
As a result of this you feel every tiny crack in the road and more sizeable potholes will be giving you nightmares for weeks. The problem is compounded by the car’s rather archaic torsion beam rear end – although other cars like the Toyota Corolla and Nissan Sentra use this setup without such issues. If you’re unlucky enough (as we were) to come across a longer stretch of bad road, the two vehicle traits come together with brutal discomfort as the car’s rear end just can’t keep up with all the impacts and ends up getting twisted every which way.
173-HP 4-BANGER DELIVERS REAL COMPACT CAR PERFORMANCE
That issue aside, we thoroughly enjoyed our Kia. That’s right, we just used “Kia” and “enjoyed” in the same sentence.
Much of this has to do with the car’s powerful 2.4-liter engine. SX models get this larger engine, which musters 173hp and 168 ft-lbs of torque – up noticeably from the base car’s 156hp and 144 ft-lbs. It’s enough grunt to move the Forte SX into a significantly less populated strata in the compact car segment, with the Korean car’s rivals being the Toyota Corolla SRX, Nissan Sentra SE-R and the Mazda3 s. Surprisingly, the only one of the group with more power is the Nissan with a total of 177.
The car is rated at about a mid-7 second 0-60 mph run with the six-speed manual, although our 5-speed automatic tester is more like an 8 second car. It has good power down low and it continues on into a higher speed range than you’d expect for a compact.
It genuinely feels fast. We’re not talking Audi R8 fast here, but pretty quick nonetheless. No doubt the six-speed manual model is even more fun.
And when combined with those wider, low profile tires the car actually handles corners quite nicely – when the pavement is in good shape, that is. The base car’s already tight steering feel is carried over and really helps give this more powerful model the right feel. Body roll is quite abundant, although its no worse than the Sentra’s and better than the Corolla’s.
With the added engine size and horsepower output (not to mention the driving style of owners that would be attracted to this car) trips to the pump will be more frequent. And while fuel-economy isn’t that of the EX model, it’s excellent for its set with a listing of 22/32 mpg with the manual or 23/32 for the automatic. Only the Sentra SE-R outperforms it around town thanks to its CVT transmission.
In addition to the engine, transmission choices and the upgraded wheels and tires, SX models also get a bigger set of brake rotors up front.
IMPRESSIVELY WELL-EQUIPPED INTERIOR
With several small upgraded trim items and a unique sport cloth interior, the SX model is noticeably improved over the standard car. There’s still some hard plastic, but the added silver accenting helps give a nicer look – as do the metal pedals. Overall, these two changes help bring out the best in what is a nicely designed interior and the car’s red gauges help give a serious and sporty look.
Other SX model factory equipment includes a leather steering wheel and shifter, power windows and locks with remote keyless entry, automatic climate control, cruise control, a tilt and telescopic steering wheel with redundant audio controls and a six-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system with USB and auxiliary inputs. Automatic transmission models also get an ECO light that illuminates when the operator is driving in an efficient manor.
There isn’t much the car doesn’t have and with two option packs, that can easily be remedied. A leather package with heated seats retails for $1,000 and a sunroof will run you $700.
As for rear seat room and cargo room, they are both more than adequate with enough rear seat room for adults and the most trunk space in its class at 14.7 cubic feet.
ALL THE SAFETY YOU COULD ASK FOR
The younger target audience for the SX model isn’t likely to care as much about safety features as a minivan buyer, but that doesn’t mean safety isn’t important. Kia didn’t skimp either as the ddForte has six airbags, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, a tire pressure monitoring system and (importantly) both traction and stability control are standard.
When stacked up against its three main competitors it’s easy to see that Kia is targeting the youth market with this car. Younger owners will flock to the Forte SX for several reasons. It’s got power, looks and the right price. With a handsome design that’s reasonably sporty and a nice set of 17-inch wheels, it has the style to hang with the others. In the power department it definitely brings the goods, although more discerning buyers are likely to spend the extra cash on the Mazda3, which is a better driver’s car. While the 3 certainly has the best driving dynamics of the bunch, both the Sentra and the Corolla are also preferred choices because they won’t have you visiting both you dentist and your chiropractor on the same day.
More than a few lead footed young males are certain to sign up for this new Kia, however, because of one ultra-important factor: price. At $17,195 the Forte SX is $1,500 less than its nearest competitor, the Corolla, which, to be honest, doesn’t really have the horsepower to even be considered in this class. And with the Toyota out of the running, the 173-hp Forte is more than $2,000 less than its other rivals.
We have to hand it to Kia as the Forte looks great, is well equipped, has all the standard safety features we could ask for and is both powerful and fuel efficient. If you can live with the car’s uncomfortably harsh suspension (which we’re not sure how you could or why you’d want to), then the car is a great buy… for you. As attractive as this new Kia is, consider yourself warned.
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