2011 Kia Forte EX Review

Forte’s strong points include fuel economy and style

2011 Kia Forte EX Review

We had our doubts about making it to the rink. While there were only three of us, we also needed room for three large hockey bags, plus six sticks. Using every inch of the trunk space (and our honed Tetris skills) we managed to get all three bags in the sizable 14.7 cu-ft trunk. The sticks were the issue, but thanks to the Forte’s 60/40 folding rear seat, we were able to drop one side (with levers from the trunk) and pass the five and a half foot sticks through into the cabin.

FAST FACTS

1. The Kia Forte comes standard with a 156-hp 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that gets 26/36-mpg thanks to a new 6-speed automatic transmission.

2. Pricing starts at $14,995 with EX models like our test car at $17,395.

3. The SX trim level adds a 2.4-liter engine with 173-hp.

The drive came with mixed emotions. Ample headroom, combined with comfortable seats, made the enjoyable and didn’t leave us dreading a cramped return trip. The driver’s seat does lack adjustability though.

FUEL ECONOMY VERSUS POWER

Where the Forte is particularly impressive is when it comes to fuel economy. With a glance at the fuel gauge, it seems as though the little peg might not have moved at all. Perhaps that shouldn’t be surprising with our test model’s fuel economy rating of 26-mpg in town and 36-mpg on the highway. Fuel bills decrease, smiles increase.

These numbers get a boost thanks to Kia’s EcoMinder fuel efficiency monitor. This system monitors throttle input and vehicle speed to determine when you are driving most efficiently. A small green indicator light marked “Eco” illuminates on the instrument cluster when the vehicle is travelling at its most efficient.

Powered by a modestly torquey 156-hp 2.0-liter 4-cylinder the Forte has adequate power under most conditions, but when you really punch it, it’s hard not to groan in disappointment. But let’s put on our practical thinking caps for a moment though; did we expect F1 style performance out of a compact sedan with a base price of $14,995? No. It would have been nice, but no.

Some buyers (younger males in particular) will appreciate the six-speed automatic transmission’s Sportmatic feature, allowing manual operation of the gears to eek out a bit more fun. Formerly a four-speed with an optional 5-speed, this new 6-speed auto-box is now standard on the EX trim.

STYLISH EXTERIOR, DRAB INTERIOR

Handling is nimble and somewhat zippy, and yet the Forte remains comfortable for longer drives as well. Aiding in this department are some modestly low profile tires with 15-inchers on the $17,395 EX model, while 16s are available as an option.

Rather stylish rollers, the Forte has a body to match with a flat-fronted fascia, wrap-around headlights and a blunt yet stylish tail end with an upturned trunk, giving the look of an integrated spoiler.

Our EX model test car came equipped with a six-speaker audio system complete with AM/FM, CD, MP3, and Sirius satellite radio. The choice of USB or auxiliary inputs gives the ability to plug in an MP3 player as well – great for those times when the radio didn’t quite have the song you’re looking for.

Selecting your music and volume level is easy enough with the audio controls on the steering wheel, which also houses controls for the car’s Bluetooth wireless system. Most buttons populate the center of the steering wheel but some have been placed on the pillars. In the case of the voice command button, its placement close to the edge of the wheel means it often gets pressed when making normal steering maneuvers. Not a huge issue, but annoying as it interrupts the audio and navigation systems to operate.

That steering wheel is just the starting point however for an overall dull interior. There’s lots of black plastic with few interruptions and it’s sure to leave you less than thrilled. Along with the monotone use of materials, the dashboard and center console design is rigid and unimaginative. Aside from the leather wrapped and chromed gear selector the overall cabin design feels cheap.

Once again we came back to our earlier thought; what did we expect from this affordable compact sedan? Comparable vehicles in the same category do have nicer interiors though, so we really left with the impression that Kia could step up its cabin design game.

If you’re looking to add leather, it’s a $1,000 option, but only on the top-trim SX model, which starts at $18,895. Options that are available for include the EX Technology Package ($1,800) that includes navigation, a back-up camera, push-button ignition, fog lights and automatic headlights. Adding 16-inch wheels and a sunroof will cost you $950, while greenies can opt for a $600 Fuel Economy Package with aerodynamic improvements and low rolling resistance tires to help get the most out of every drop of fuel.

THE VERDICT

The 2011 Kia Forte EX is an adequate compact car in relation to its price. It’s cheap, good on fuel, comfortable for multiple passengers, plus it has plenty of space to accommodate nearly any activity you can dream up. Just don’t expect this vehicle to “wow” you once inside.

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