The Kia Forte is the Korean brand’s compact car that competes with vehicles like the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla. Offered in both sedan and hatchback forms, it’s been completely redesigned for 2019. Now in its third generation, the Forte gains more technology, interior space, refinement and even a dramatic new look inspired by the brand’s Stinger fastback. After a week in the saddle, here are a few pros and cons of this fresh-faced Kia.
Engine: 2.0-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder
Output: 147 horsepower, 132 pound-feet of torque
Transmission: continuously variable automatic
U.S. Fuel Economy (MPG): 30 city, 40 highway, 34 combined
CAN Fuel Economy (L/100 km): 7.7 city, 5.9 highway, 6.9 combined
U.S. As-Tested Price: $23,305 including $895 for delivery
CAN Estimated Price: $30,148 including $1,635 for delivery
Feels Like a Premium Car
From the first pull of an exterior door handle, the Kia Forte exudes a quality not many small cars can match. It feels much more expensive than you’d probably ever expect and will likely have you asking yourself, “How is this a Kia?”
Slide behind the driver’s seat and this impression is immediately reinforced by the elegantly styled dashboard, high-quality materials, and standard eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system. The icing on the technological cake, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are included at no extra charge.
Upscale, Spacious Interior
Soft plastics, contrast-colored stitching, available leather seats, dual-zone climate control as well as ample backseat and trunk space underscore the Forte’s premium feel. The 2019 model is new from the ground up, having grown in several key dimensions compared to its predecessor. The body is 3.2 inches longer plus wider and a skosh taller than before.
These increases result in more backseat head and legroom, meaning the Forte can comfortably seat six-footers without too much complaining. Luggage space has grown as well, topping out at 15.3 cubic feet (433 liters), that’s more than in a Toyota Camry, which is a midsize sedan!
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The latest Forte is undeniably handsome, wearing its Stinger-inspired design with pride. Compared to rival offerings from Honda and Toyota, this Kia is more tastefully styled and sure to age better than the robotic-looking Civic and in-your-face Corolla.
Helping provide that more dramatic stance, designers moved the Forte’s cowl rearward by five inches (12.7 cm). A gently arcing roofline, tidy rear end and the brand’s trademark tiger-nose grille complete the elegant look.
Better Performance Than You’d Think
The only engine offered in the 2019 Forte is a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter four-cylinder. According to Kia, it delivers 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque, uninspired figures, on paper at least. Fortunately, in real-world driving, the car is quicker and more responsive than those numbers suggest.
This is likely thanks to the available continuously variable automatic transmission, or IVT in Kia lingo. Unlike some companies, the automaker developed this transmission in house, prioritizing refinement and smoothness. Indeed, it helps the Forte accelerate briskly with very little engine moaning or droning thanks to the simulated gearchanges it can provide.
For motorists that can manage three pedals, a six-speed manual transmission is also available. Providing a little more driver involvement, it’s offered in the base FE version of the car.
For model-year 2020 a new 1.6-liter turbocharged engine joins the lineup. In GT-trim Fortes, it should deliver 201 horses with 195 pound-feet, a significant upgrade over to the base powerplant.
Safe and Efficient
The 2019 Kia Forte rides on a new vehicle architecture that’s 16 percent stiffer than its predecessor’s. Thanks, in part, to the extensive use of high-strength steel and, of course, sound engineering, this platform helps the car earn a Top Safety Pick+ crash-test rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, with a “Good” score in all major categories. This is best score you can get. Forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking are standard, together lessening the likelihood of crashes.
Keeping operating costs low, the Forte is extremely efficient. Standard models with the CVT deliver 30 miles per gallon in city driving (7.7 L/100 km), 40 on the highway (5.9 L/100 km) and 34 mpg combined (6.9 L/100 km). The fuel-sipping FE model is rated at one mile per gallon more on each cycle. Opt for the six-speed manual gearbox and expect 27 in the city, 37 on highway drives and 31 combined.
The 2019 Forte is an all-around solid small car, with plenty of tech, a premium interior, and excellent fuel economy, though it does have a handful of weaknesses. While quiet during steady-state driving, the engine is quite thrashy under load. Nail the accelerator and you’re treated to a sickly grumble that’s as unpleasant as someone chewing with their mouth wide open. This can make driving the Forte quite unpleasant.
Flat and Hard Front Seats
Another downside to this Kia is comfort. The front buckets seats may be fetching, especially when trimmed in red and black leather, but they’re too flat, hard and close to the floor. Long-haul drives in the Forte would likely result in lots of front-seat squirming, not to mention plenty of stops to get out and stretch the legs.
Taller drivers will also be disappointed in this car’s pedal placement. If you’re in the six-foot range, you’ll likely find the brake and accelerator too close to the seat. This makes your legs splay awkwardly out to the sides while driving.
Perhaps Not as Good as a Honda Civic
There’s so much to like about the 2019 Kia Forte, especially the pricing. If you grab a range-topping EX model and check every options box, you’ll only be spending about $28k. The model tested here went for a very affordable $23,305 including $895 in delivery fees.
Despite its overall excellence, the Forte probably still isn’t quite as nice as a Honda Civic, which offers an even better cabin and a broader range of powertrains. Still, second to the best is still a happy place to be.
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