It might seem silly for a car company to introduce a new sedan when everyone wants a crossover, but Kia isn’t a company that follows convention. On the heels of its Stinger sports sedan, the company has brought a new Forte to market. It’s a good car.
Engine: 2.0L 4-cyl
Output: 147 hp, 132 lb-ft of torque
Transmission: 6-speed manual or CVT
US Fuel Economy (MPG): 30 city, 40 highway, 34 combined (CVT)
US Price: $17,690 + $895 destination/$26,290 as tested
CAN Price/Fuel Economy not yet available
A decade ago, compact sedans were merely a means to an end. They got you from the proverbial point A to point B well enough, but they were the automotive equivalent of the cheap seats at a rock concert. Now, they have the tech and build quality once reserved for premium automobiles.
The new Forte epitomizes this. The new 2019 Forte has standard safety technology, including autonomous emergency braking and active lane keeping. It has dual zone automatic climate control. It has an 8-inch touchscreen with support for both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. It’s all standard.
For $18,585 U.S., which includes destination, (Canadian pricing isn’t yet announced, but the 2018 Forte started at $17,169) you can get a Kia Forte with all of that tech and still get an honest-to-goodness 6-speed manual transmission. Other OEMs make you pay more for upgraded trims to get the technology you want, and when you do, you lose the manual transmission option – if they offer it at all. For this, Kia should be commended.
Powering all versions of the new Forte is a 2.0L naturally aspirated 4-cylinder making 147 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque. Entry level FE trim models can be had with either the 6-speed manual transmissions or the company’s new CVT automatic. Higher trim models are automatic only.
Fuel economy is estimated at 27 mpg in the city, 37 mpg on the highway, or 31 mpg combined with the manual transmission. The automatic does better with 30 mpg city, 40 mpg highway or 34 mpg combined. The FE version of the automatic is 1 mpg better across the board.
For the launch in Pittsburgh, Kia brought out a bunch of Launch Edition trim EX models, which are the fully loaded cars. Even so, they are priced competitively at $26,095 U.S.
Some of the features of the Launch Edition include a sunroof, adaptive smart cruise control, ventilated seats and a wireless phone charging pad.
The new CVT features some upgrades and changes to make it more refined. It uses a chain-type belt for selecting ratios and extra work was put into making sure noise and vibration were kept to a minimum.
Out on the street, what you’ll notice is that you don’t hate the transmission. It’s the best CVT I have driven and it’s one you could live with every day even if you’re someone who has had bad CVT experiences in the past.
ALSO SEE: CVT Transmission Pros and Cons
Under extreme load, such as climbing one of the many hills around the ‘Burgh, you notice it’s a CVT and it’ll drone on a bit. But from a start or low speed, when you need to exploit a gap in traffic, the “rubber band” effect is minimized. The car just accelerates normally, like you’d expect from a normal automatic transmission.
On paper, the car’s 147 horsepower doesn’t seem like a lot. Competitors like the Honda Civic make more starting at 158. The Forte has enough power to get out of its own way, exploit open gaps in traffic and keep up on the freeway.
Would I like more power? Sure, a bit more wouldn’t hurt. I would not call it underpowered, though.
The Forte is also quiet on the highway. Road noise is kept to a minimum and the refinements to the transmission make it feel like you’re in a more expensive car than you are. The optional 320-watt Harman Kardon stereo sounds good, but I prefer the Bose Personal Plus setup in the new Nissan Kicks.
The Forte utilizes a McPherson front suspension and a torsion beam setup in the back. That’s normal compact car stuff designed to maximize cabin and trunk space. But the ride quality was better than most of the competition.
The roads in western Pennsylvania are not great. They freeze in the winter, and the thawing and re-freezing causes them to buckle and break. There are two seasons in this part of the country; winter and construction.
The ride was excellent, with the car handling most bumps without worry. It’s quiet in the cabin, and the suspension doesn’t crash when hitting the biggest potholes. It bounces around more than a Rolls-Royce would, but there are no shakes and rattles. It feels like a solid automobile.
Rear seat space is typical for this class, and headroom for adults in the back is good. Some cars adopt a coupe-like rear roofline which cuts into the headroom. Four adults can fit comfortably for short trips in the Forte, though I wouldn’t want to do a cross-country jaunt in the back.
Demerits are few. The adaptive cruise control isn’t a stop-and-go system and deactivates at 20 mph or slower. The LED headlights aren’t adaptive around corners, which is a feature the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) looks for. Wireless phone charging is great, but the car doesn’t support wireless CarPlay or Android Auto, meaning you still have to plug in.
The Verdict: 2019 Kia Forte Review
While not a fault of the Forte, I do prefer a hatchback body style in this class of car. A new Forte5 is surely in the works, providing even more rear seat room and a much larger storage area. If Kia delivers on the value of the sedan, it will have a winner on its hands.
Compared to the others in the class, the Jetta has a better bumper-to-bumper warranty but commands a significant price premium for similar features and performance. Ford is killing the Focus, and the Chevy Cruze feels dated compared to the others. The Hyundai Elantra – also a great value – is being refreshed next year and will be the most likely to upset the Forte’s value dominance.
But until then, the Kia Forte is arguably the best compact sedan in the class and should be on your short list if you want exceptional value combined with technology and avoid the crossover craze.
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