Kia Forte is all-new for 2014. The 2014 Kia Forte was launched as a four-door sedan, while the 2014 Forte 5-Door hatchback joins the lineup late in the model year (late summer 2013).
As the compact car segment expands to dominate the US market, manufacturers are increasingly recalibrating their offerings to provide style, luxury and safety at a level undreamt of just a few years ago in small cars. While the size of vehicles (and their impact on the environment) shrinks in response to consumers' changing needs, the expectation now is of elevated levels of equipment, sophistication and elegance. This explains Kia's accelerated development cycle on its Forte model. This new fifth generation, 2014 Forte has come out just three-and-a-half years after the appearance of its predecessor. When that car emerged, the marketplace was not as thronged with comprehensively equipped, stylish offerings as it is now, so the new Forte's timing could not be better. Kia says its new Forte was designed to satisfy both sides of the brain: the creative and the practical.
All-new, the 2014 Kia Forte sedan features swoopy and contemporary styling, while the Forte 5-door offers European style and hatchback practicality.
There's a choice of engines, a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine with variable inlet-valve timing that produces 148-horsepower at 6500 rpm, a direct-injected 2.0-liter four-cylinder with variable valve timing that produces 173 horsepower at 6500 rpm, and a turbocharged 1.6-liter engine rated at 201 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 195 pound-feet of toque between 1750-4500 rpm.
The $16,000 Forte LX sedan comes with the 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine. Stepping up to the Forte EX sedan or 5-door grants an owner the benefit of the 2.0-liter, direct-injected four-cylinder engine good for 173 horsepower. The turbocharged 1.6-liter engine is exclusively available on the Forte SX 5-door.
Forte 5-door also features a sport-tuned suspension.
Many of the essential items like ABS, air conditioning, Bluetooth, satellite radio and Kia's comprehensive safety equipment are standard on all models. Yet the options list offers items not usually found on cars of this class, like a ventilated driver's seat, leather upholstery, dual-zone climate control, and puddle lamps at the doorhandles.
Add rigorous noise and vibration-reducing measures, as well as careful suspension upgrades, and you're left with an impression of more refinement and elegance than one might expect from a car as affordable as the Forte.
Kia Forte LX ($16,000); EX ($18,000)
The new 2014 Kia Forte has a crisply chiseled shape sitting on a wheelbase some two inches longer than the previous car. Kia describes the front end as having a winged bumper shape between the distinctive Kia grille and the underbumper intake, which shares the grille's mesh pattern. Headlamp enclosures are flared into the bodywork like streamliner canopies, and they showcase projector low-beam lamps on all models.
The windshield and A-pillars are set at a sporty rake, calling for small front quarterlites that match, in turn, rear versions necessitated by the car's fast roofline. Body color is used on doorhandles and mirrors, while a chrome beltline garnish emphasizes the glasshouse's wedge profile, lending the Forte's profile a strong cab-forward visual sense.
An extreme rear window rake and generous deck height provide a distinctly European flavor to the rear aspect of the sedan. Any chunkiness is relieved by the asymmetrical tail-light shapes and underbumper diffuser, and the lights themselves have 81 LEDs for a conspicuous night-time presence. The trunk opening is two inches wider for easier use.
While one might see the design as Euro-derived, it is nonetheless attractive, tidy and balanced. We have yet to see the 15-inch wheels on the Forte, but the aggressively patterned 16-inch alloys fill their apertures in a pleasing fashion.
Less obvious are the underbody tweaks that company officials say have helped the Forte achieve a slippery drag coefficient of 0.27.
As on the sedan, the Forte 5-door's swept headlights stretch deep into the front fenders and the raked windshield and broad shoulders give the front end a sleek, sporty appearance. LED positioning lights add a premium look to the front fascia. Large 18-inch wheels fill the wheel wells on the SX, and the hatchback profile affords a performance-oriented European personality. Around back, the rear hatch glass opens to reveal 23.2 cubic feet of usable cargo space. LED tail lights complete the premium feel of the exterior and a sporty rear valance with twin chrome exhaust tips maintains the Forte 5-door's edgy demeanor.
Interior ambiance is one of the big challenges facing compact cars. Consumers can easily adapt to smaller exterior dimensions, but they will notice cheesy interior details for the life of the car. Kia's designers know this, and they've worked hard to provide an upscale experience.
The dash surface features a ripple effect on the passenger side (echoed in the door panel) to provide character, while the instrument binnacle and center console feature seams and contours designed to break up any monotonous surface expanse. Angled 10-degrees toward the driver for a more-intimate interface, the center console is clean and uncluttered.
The instruments themselves are large and bright, and the various control buttons have a pleasing sense to their operation. Much of the molded surface is coated in a nano paint treatment which is slightly rubbery to the touch, mitigating the usual criticisms about hard moldings.
Considerable detail abounds in the door panels, where distinct concavities house the armrests and window controls. As you'd expect from a car with sporty pretensions, the steering wheel is a three-spoke design with contrasting colors, and it's leather wrapped in the EX model.
Our Forte EX test car featured leather upholstered seats, and these proved supportive and comfortable throughout the trip.
The Kia Forte provides a well-isolated ride, benefitting from its longer wheelbase, revised suspension, and stiff body. Torsional rigidity is up by 37 percent, according to Kia. Careful control of noise and vibration has produced a car with refinement that seems well above its spot on the pricelist. Ride motions, too, were well controlled on the mainly smooth roads around Phoenix, Arizona, where we sampled the car's delights.
We have only driven Forte EX models to date, and the more powerful 2.0-liter engine certainly helped impress journalists at the press introduction with its flexible nature and lusty performance.
The 6-speed automatic also made a good impression with its fast responses and smooth shifts. Shift-shock is all but absent in the Forte, and it's difficult even to confuse the transmission with sudden throttle movements. There's a manual override shift system in the new Forte, and it surprised us by holding the gear selected even when the throttle was quickly floored. While we prefer manumatics that will resist upshifting on their own, even at the redline, a rapidly deployed wide-open throttle suggests that maximum acceleration is being called for, and a downshift is in order.
The Forte EX model features Flexsteer (perhaps not the best name for something related to car control), which offers comfort, normal and sport levels of steering assist, and this duly altered the steering's weighting, though it did little to improve the so-called motor-driven power steering's inert character.
In truth, this is not that unusual among the proliferating electric power-steering systems hitting the market, and it is offset in the Forte in large part by the car's accurate responses to the wheel. You simply abandon tactile feedback in favor of visual confirmation of path control. You soon get used to it, particularly when the wheel is also pretty well isolated from kickback shock.
Anyway, the Forte is not a fine-honed sport sedan. It is a competent, comfortable, roomy and well-equipped compact sedan. If it has been tuned to a sweet spot in the marketplace that prefers a composed and convenient car rather than a taut, close-focused attack tool, more power to Kia. This is exactly the kind of car more people should drive.
Redesigned for 2014, the Kia Forte is good looking, completely up to date with contemporary technologies, and more than adequate in the performance and creature comfort arenas. Add Kia's generous warranty program and its escalating residual values.
Barry Winfield filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report after his test drive of the Kia Forte EX near Phoenix.