Most manufacturers used to sell an affordable compact coupe, but only a handful remain. Winding the clock back by about 15 years, you could have picked from the Ford Escort, the Dodge Neon, the Toyota Paseo, the Chevrolet Cavalier and Honda’s ever-present Civic to name a few. Today, Honda is the only brand out of that list still offering a two-door compact.
Engine: 2.0L makes 173 hp, 154 lb-ft of torque. 1.6T makes 201 hp, 195 lb-ft.
Transmission: Six-speed manual or six-speed automatic.
Fuel economy: 25 MPG city, 34 MPG highway and 28 MPG combined.
Price: $19,400 to start or $24,500 for fully-loaded 2.0L automatic.
In fact, other than Honda, your choices come from Hyundai, Scion and – you guessed it – Kia.
The Forte Koup is new for 2014 with curvier styling, more power and enhanced equipment. As you can see, the hard lines of earlier models are gone in favor of the company’s current corporate design language. Honestly, I preferred how the 2014 model looked, but feel free to disagree.
Up until last year, the Forte Koup came with either a 2.0-liter or 2.4-liter four cylinder that offered enough power to make the car passable, but not a lot else. For this year, Kia is pulling both of those powerplants in favor of a new 2.0-liter as the base engine and a more powerful 1.6-liter turbo to act as a range-topper.
The smaller engine makes 173 hp (as much as the old 2.4) and 154 lb-ft of torque while the 1.6-liter turbo unit pushes out 201 hp and 195 lb-ft. Both models can come with either a six-speed manual or automatic transmission.
I spent a week driving the naturally aspirated model equipped with a slushbox and as is often the case with Kia vehicles, this car is a mixture of good and bad.
(Not As) Affordable
The starting price for a two-door Forte is $19,400 including delivery charges. For that you get 16-inch alloy wheels, the 2.0-liter engine and a six-speed manual. Tack on an extra grand for the luxury of not needing to change your own gears.
Paying that premium also gives you the privilege to specify other equipment upgrade packages. Specifically, there is the “Premium Package” for $2,100 that adds leather seat upholstery, 10-way power adjustability for the driver and heating for you and a sidekick. You also get a heated steering wheel, a cooled driver seat, push-button ignition and a few other items.
The test car Kia lent me was equipped with that, but there’s also the “tech package” if you’re willing to shell out another $2,000. The extra outlay gives you HID headlights, LED taillights and a 4.2-inch color display in the center console. It also tacks on navigation and dual-zone climate control.
All told, a loaded Forte Koup with the less exciting engine and an auto-box will run you $24,500. For the same equipment list with the 1.6-liter turbo, you’re going to pay $26,000.
That’s right. For 2014, the Forte Koup is suddenly sort of expensive. Kia ratcheted up its base pricing by $1,200 and understandably upped the tag for both the premium and tech packages because they both come with more content compared to the last time we went ‘round the sun.
Both of the aforementioned engines play a key role in justifying the increased cost. Remember: the base car is now almost as powerful as the high-end model was last year.
Base Engine Has Plenty of Power
I haven’t driven the turbocharged model and consequently can’t comment on what it feels like, but the naturally aspirated 2.0-liter is no slouch. It doesn’t sound very good at low RPM, but it has plenty of power.
Kia says it should average 25 MPG in the city, 34 on the highway and 28 MPG in general. Most of the miles I spent were driven hard and in heavy city traffic and that left me with an average of only 23 MPG.
Now, much as the engine won’t leave you wanting for power, there are also better-handling products out there; namely the Honda Civic. Then again, that car doesn’t make nearly as much power and costs virtually the same with a considerably less impressive options list.
Admittedly, the Civic Coupe handles with the all the precision of a dull pair of skates these days, but if Honda’s blades need sharpening then Kia’s “Koup” maneuvers like a sack of potatoes.
There are three selectable steering modes meant for normal, comfortable and sporty driving. Each impose a different weightiness to the wheels, but none offer improved handling. There also isn’t any feeling of progressively sharper turning as you move farther off center and that can be disconcerting if you need to react quickly to something mid-turn. You just don’t get a good sense of where the wheels are in relation what to your hands are doing.
For most people who would be buying a two-door compact, it will serve just fine. The trunk is reasonably spacious and the seats fold down to reveal a much bigger porthole than you get in the Honda Civic Coupe, which means this car is more capable of hauling occasional Ikea scores or rolled up mattresses taken from pullout couches.
Small Quality Flaws Are a Big Pain
Unfortunately, the split rear seats are a pain to lower because you need to pull two release cables in the trunk and either reach through or walk around to push or pull them down. Those cables are also poorly housed and prone to falling out; or so it seems based on my experience. It happened to me and I wound up needing to crawl into the trunk to fix it. You could chalk that up to chance and assume most other Kias are built better than the model I drove, but the point is that it shouldn’t be so easy for it to come loose in the first place.
And that’s probably the best way to describe the Forte Koup’s cabin in general: acceptable but less than impressive. The seats are reasonably comfortable; it’s hard to fault the cabin ergonomics although the interior design isn’t particularly exciting.
Scion’s tC is arguably the closest competitor also currently available in showrooms. It’s available with either a six-speed automatic or manual with as many gears and pricing starts at $19,965. It also offers comparable output to the Forte’s 2.0-liter engine. With optional equipment like the navigation system, bigger wheels and better brakes, the tC even stays relatively close to the Forte’s price after adding equipment packages, but the Scion does so by adding performance parts and skimping on equipment. You can forget about a cooled driver seat and most of the other options that lend credence to Kia’s “Koup.”
With so little to challenge it, the Kia Forte Koup almost sits at the top of its segment by default, even with its small quality flaws and mediocre maneuverability. There are more engaging options for the same price, but you’ll sacrifice comfort, or power, to get them.