When Kia replaced the Spectra with the Forte model in North America back in 2009, it was a major step forward for the automaker in the compact segment. No longer would people look at the Kia option as a cheap last resort, the Forte was good enough to win customers on its own merits.
|1. Two engines are offered, a 148 hp 1.8L and a direct-injection 2.0L 4-cylinder with 173 hp.
2. Fuel economy numbers aren’t yet available though Kia will offer an Eco Package with it’s stop-start ISG (Idle Stop & Go) feature.
3. An optional Flex Steer system lets you choose between three steering settings: Comfort, Normal and Sport.
4. An available Premium Package includes luxury features like leather, heated front and rear seats with an air-cooled vented 10-way power driver’s seat, 17-inch wheels, a heated steering wheel and keyless access with a push button ignition.
It seems to have worked, since Kia’s population around the world has been growing year after year. In 2012, Kia’s global sales rose by 9.3% and managed to move 635,000-units in North America alone.
However, in today’s tough automotive sector, you can be up one minute and down the next. To keep the sales momentum on the upswing, Kia is going to launch an all-new 2014 Forte compact sedan towards the end of the first quarter of this year. But is it any good?
Kia is so proud of their latest Forte sedan that it invited us down to Scottsdale, AZ two months before the model’s launch and tell us all that this car has to offer and let us experience it for ourselves.
HARD NOT TO LIKE A PRETTY FACE
Sharing a platform with the Hyundai Elantra, many technical details are shared between the two corporate cousins. To stand apart, the Forte is lower and wider than both its predecessor and the Elantra being not only much more attractive than the car it replaces, but also better than most in the segment.
Kia’s design guru and new president, Peter Schreyer, wanted to make the first luxury compact car, and while that’s not exactly true here, the design certainly plays the part. From HID headlights to its beautiful new LED tail lights (which look absolutely stunning when illuminated, you have to see it to believe how nice these are) and everything else in between, the Forte is a stunner in its segment. The days of feeling embarrassed about driving a Korean compact are far behind us.
SOLID STANDARD EQUIPMENT, LOTS OF EXTRAS
It’s the same story inside. The new interior is a step forward in design and quality. All the ergonomic controls seem to be in the right position and there are soft touch materials where you would like them to be. Standard equipment is impressive with auxiliary input jacks, Bluetooth, power windows and locks and a tilt and telescopic wheel.
The 2014 Forte is also the first car in its class to offer a heated and ventilated driver’s seat (passenger only gets a heated seat), and a heated steering wheel.
A well thought out interior for the most part (our only complaint was that the center arm-rest is a bit too low to be comfortable, despite this one being of the sliding variety), with decent space for both front and rear seat passengers, and the trunk is quite commodious as well. Should make most people quite happy.
Those who like gadgets will also be quite happy with the new (optional) UVO entertainment system, which now consists of eService. This new system allows for you to use apps like Google Maps, 911 Auto Connect, Interactive Roadside Assistance, Parental Controls, Twitter, Pandora and a whole host of other apps. In short, the new UVO system is more like a tablet than an infotainment system.
However, while gadgets certainly attract car buyers these days, one should not buy a car just based on its electronic content. What makes one car better than the other should be based on how it drives. So how does the new Forte drive?
NEW ENGINES, BUT HOW EFFICIENT ARE THEY?
The short answer is, quite well. But let’s get into the details. There are two engines on offer, a 1.8-liter, four-cylinder, with Multi-Port Injection (MPI), and a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder, with Gasoline Direct Injection (GDI). These new engines replace the former model’s 2.0-liter and 2.4-liter engines.
The base motor, which is found in the LX trim, produces 148-hp and 131 lb-ft of torque and can be had with either a six-speed manual gearbox (with hill-start assist) or a six-speed automatic. The GDI motor, which is found in the EX and SX trims, produces an impressive 173-hp and 154 lb-ft of torque, but sadly will only be offered with the six-speed automatic, though you do get steering-wheel mounted pedal shifters in SX trim.
CHOOSE YOUR OWN STEERING FEEL
There’s even more stuff to play with on the steering wheel, in fact we counted no less than 15-buttons on the wheel (and that is not counting the shift paddles). One we found of interest is for what Kia calls “Flex Steer.” What this button allows you to do is to choose between three stiffness settings for the steering input. In “Comfort”, it is very light and agile (similar in feel to a 1980s Chevrolet Caprice). In “Normal” it is, umm… normal, and in “Sport” mode, the steering stiffens up.
While the steering weight changes at the press of a button, the steering ratio doesn’t. Couple that with its almost feel-less electric power steering system, and it does become quite tricky to judge how much steering input is needed, especially when hustling through some twisty mountain roads.
Compound the issue with econo-car all-season rubber and a torsion beam rear suspension and the end result is a car doesn’t encourage sporty driving – though it handles well enough for a compact sedan.
As for wheels and tires, the base LX gets 15-inch steelies, with optional 16-inch alloys. The EX gets 16-inch alloys with 17-inch alloys as an option, while the SX gets the 17-inch alloys as standard.
Our tester was an EX trim with the optional 17-inch alloys, wearing some sport-sized 215/45R17 rubber all around. While the handling is not this Forte’s, umm… forte, ride comfort certainly is. This is a comfortable compact car. You can drive over ruts and potholes on the road, and while you can tell that you went over something, you won’t feel it. It is quiet also, thanks to excellent sound deadening from wind and road noise, the new Forte is one of the quietest compact cars we have ever come across.
It is also one of the quickest to come to a stop, thanks to standard fitment of four-wheel disc brakes. Along with the usual safety measures, there’s a Brake Assist System (BAS), which will recognize when you are braking under a panic situation and apply maximum braking force. In case there is a crash, its dual front advanced airbags, together with front-seat mounted side airbags and side curtain airbags will do their best to keep your organs in their rightful place.
For a car designed to handle the daily chores, Kia has covered many of the desired traits and wrapped them in attractive packaging. Sure it’s not the most fun car to drive in its segment, but it is smooth driving and quiet.
Two big questions remain, however: pricing and fuel economy. Kia hasn’t put a dollar figure on its new car but has said it will be more than the outgoing model, meaning it should start above $15,000 and at the high end should retail for closer to $20,000.
Then there’s the contentious issue of fuel economy. Kia and sister brand Hyundai recently fessed-up to publishing incorrect numbers and while the previous generation Forte wasn’t a part of that debacle, the best it could muster was 36 mpg and it’s unclear if these new engines can make a 4 mpg bump to hit the coveted 40 mpg in a market where that number is the benchmark. In our testing, the majority of which was on the highway, we managed 30 mpg.
A solid machine so far, we’ll reserve judgment for when more facts are available. We suggest you do the same.