The Forte was Kia’s first shot at redemption. Replacing the simple Spectra with something more dramatic wouldn’t be difficult, especially since it would be then-new head designer Peter Schreyer’s first kick at establishing the company’s new styling direction. Although it borrowed many cues from its Honda Civic rival, the Forte sedan and two-door Koup were distinctive enough to quiet most of the complainers. Looking to add some utility to the model range, a five-door Forte was quickly added, making it one of the few hatchbacks in the segment.
|1. Cargo room behind the rear seat is rated at 19.4 cu-ft.
2. Just two trims are offered, an EX with a 156 hp 2.0L 4-cylinder and the SX with a 173 hp 2.4L.
3. EX models start at $18,100 with the SX at $19,600.
Besides the obvious addition behind the C-pillar, the Forte5 gets some unique detailing to differentiate itself from the more sedate sedan. It’s slightly more aggressive and sits lower on its wheels thanks to more athletically oriented suspension tuning on every model. There’s more than a hint of Mazda3 Sport in the side-view, while the rear end isn’t terribly unique; features like the ubiquitous faux air diffuser, sharp taillights and a five-sided rear window are seen on plenty of its rivals. Overall, it’s a pleasant package and those cues blend well with the aggressive ‘dip’ in the front window line.
NO SUCH THING AS A BASE MODEL
Since the five-door isn’t available in entry-level LX trim, our no-option EX tester is as ‘base’ as they come… And it certainly doesn’t feel like a penalty box thanks to a six-speaker audio system with USB input, Bluetooth hands-free, air conditioning, plus power locks, windows and mirrors. Although a few years old now, the design still looks clean and inviting.
The Forte 5-door offers nearly 20 cu-ft of cargo space with the seats up; not a huge amount more than the sedan. But of course, dropping the rear 60/40-split bench expands that amount dramatically. And the utility of a hatch is being able to stuff tall and awkwardly shaped items in without too much stress. It also has the increased benefit of making child-seats easier to install too since the top-strap can loop over the folding seat-back rather than being jammed up on a rear-parcel shelf in the sedan.
TWO ENGINE OPTIONS
Our tester was easy to get around town thanks to the 156-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, which worked quite well with the standard six-speed automatic transmission since there are only 2,840 lbs to move around. Kia estimates the Forte 5-door consumes 26 mpg in town and 36 mpg on the highway, which seems a tad optimistic, but we didn’t notice anything outrageous in our week with one.
Upgrading to the top-end SX model brings a 173-horse 2.4-litre four, but neither engine inspires any sense of passion. Don’t forget that these are the ‘old’ Kia engines, not the direct-injection units found in the Soul and Rio that produce more grunt and consume less gas in the process.
As mentioned earlier, Kia’s five-doors are aimed at a more enthusiastic driver, although the 16-inch wheels and 205/55R16 all-season tires are shared with the sedan. The Forte hatch does have a slightly firmer ride, a hint of more responsive steering, and more roll control in the corners.
KIA PRICING, BUT WITH SOME TRICKS
At $18,100, the EX isn’t a bad deal at all… only two real options are available: a technology package with navigation, a rear-view camera, push-button start, automatic climate control and some chromed niceties outside for $1,800 plus there’s a power sunroof for $750. For comparison sake, the SX is $19,600 with 17-inch wheels, the bigger 2.4-litre engine and not much else. Its option packages mimic the EX, although you can also order leather-covered seats for an extra grand.
Here Kia should be raked over the coals a little: If you order the SX Tech package, you are required to order the leather seats and sunroof for a total hit of $2,500. Not nice. You can, however, order the leather or sunroof alone without triggering the trap…
The Kia’s biggest rival, the Mazda3 i Touring, runs about $20K with its new Skyactiv engine and automatic transmission, while the Ford Focus SE is $19,500, but still comes with plastic wheel-covers and costs over $20,000 to get close to the Forte 5-door. Ditto the Volkswagen Golf.
Until then, the Forte 5-door certainly warrants a test drive. Even in its most basic form, it’s a fun, good-looking hauler that should be popular with younger buyers. Perhaps a little less engaging that its rivals, this hatchback is strong on value.