With each new generation of their Forte compact, Kia has gotten increasingly serious about giving small car stalwarts Civic and Corolla a real run for buyer’s money. The first design was competent, while the second gen was another step in the right direction, albeit a small one. Now, Kia has stepped up their game again as a third generation Forte marches onto the scene. So let’s see if this step is another small one, or a leap?
At first glance it’s obvious that this 2014 Kia Forte sedan takes on the Euro-inspired design language of other recent Kia's…with its large multi-sided grille, and very sharp looking sheet metal when viewed against more vanilla rivals like the Honda Civic, and Nissan Sentra. Only the now quite stylish Toyota Corolla, and sister Hyundai Elantra, visually compare.
A 106.3-inch wheelbase and 179.5-inch length make Forte longer, lower, and wider than before, slotting between Civic and Sentra in size. As before, a 5-door hatchback and 2-door Koup will also be available, both featuring even more aggressive styling.
The nicely finished interior sees a much softer makeover, with a refreshingly simple layout that still appears more expensive than it is. Front seats, despite being thin and narrow, are comfortable enough for the daily commute, if not so much for long distance work. The same goes for the rear seats where room and shape of seats is also most suited for a pair of commuters.
Where Kia really seems to be standing out is with their UVO infotainment system, which works much better than all of their competition and even many high end luxury car systems. The touchscreen is incredibly intuitive, and all controls, including those for radio and navigation, are first class.
Speaking of class, our EX tester had the Premium and Technology Packages. They add, among other unexpected things, a heated steering wheel, heated seats, ventilated seat for the driver, push button start, dual zone climate, HID headlights, and LED tail lights.
Gauges are nice and clear, with the exception being the small digital block fuel gauge; but overall much like the rest of the interior; it’s simple, effective, and attractive. The trunk provides a good 14.9 cubic-ft. of space and the finish is surprisingly nice for a compact car. Folding rear seats make carrying long items a snap.
Two 4-cylinder engines are available, the LX’s 1.8-liter and the EX’s 2.0-liter. We suggest going with the latter and its 173-horsepower and 154 lb-ft. of torque. It feels plenty powerful for daily use, including for highway passing, which is slowed while the standard 6-speed automatic transmission hunts for a lower gear. A 6-speed manual is standard on the LX.
We took the 2.0-liter EX to the track, and despite the engine sounding like it was made my Fisher Price, all was good; though it would benefit greatly from a richer exhaust sound. Still, the 2-point-0 gets you to 60 in a class respectable 8.8-seconds, and through the ¼-mile in 16.8-seconds at 85 miles-per-hour. There is a manual shift mode for the auto, but it too is slow to respond, doesn’t help track times, and added nothing to our straight-line enjoyment.
The McPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension is designed more with an eye towards comfort than sporty performance. But, it equated itself well enough through our slalom course. It was surprisingly enjoyable, with only minor understeer, and an unobtrusive stability control. Steering response is agile, and Kia’s optional FlexSteer adjustable system is available to tailor the feel to your liking. Brakes were more ordinary, taking 132-feet to stop from 60 miles per hour.
Government Fuel Economy Ratings are important for any commuter car. The 2.0-liter auto rates 24-City, 36-Highway, and 28-Combined. We easily beat the combined number, averaging 30.8 miles-per-gallon of regular while driving a diverse set of roads. The Energy Impact Score is compact car worthy at 11.8-barrels of oil consumption per year with C02 emissions of 5.2 tons.
As with all Kia's, base price is a strong point. Indeed, at $16,700 the LX strikes a nice bargain. The EX, at $20,200 to start, a little less so.
So, to answer our query of whether this new Forte is another small step, or more of a leap, we’ll lean more to the step. Still, it’s a heck of a car, and while that may be one small step for the Forte, it’s part of the giant leap that the Kia brand has made in recent years. In just about every car segment, Kia now has a very viable model that competes on much more than just price alone.
Torque: 154 lb-ft.
0-60 mph: 8.8 seconds
1/4 mile: 16.8 seconds @ 85 mph
EPA: 24 mpg city/ 36 mpg highway
Energy Impact: 11.8 barrels of oil/yr
CO2 Emissions: 5.2 tons