The Kia Forte is a front-wheel drive compact that comes in four-door sedan and five-door hatchback versions. The Forte sedan offers an appealing design with a dramatically curved roofline.
The latest-generation Forte was launched as a 2014 model, and little has changed for 2016. Keyless entry is standard on 2016 Forte models, and Popular Plus and Premium Plus option packages are available. (The previously offered Eco model has been dropped.)
Forte fares well in value, but it faces competition from the Ford Focus and Mazda 3. Compared with the Ford and Mazda, the Kia’s levels of refinement seem reminiscent of the best compacts from the 1990s. The Forte is noisier and less refined than the best compacts, and interior comfort isn’t the best. Forte lacks active-safety features now expected in the compact class, and its crash-test scores are below par.
Two engines are offered. Forte LX models use a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 145 horsepower. A 2.0-liter, 173-horsepower four-cylinder goes into the Forte EX model.
Best fuel economy is from a Forte LX automatic with an EPA estimate of 26/39 mpg City/Highway, or 31 mpg Combined, from its 1.8-liter engine. Forte EX with the larger engine rates only 24/35 mpg City/Highway.
Exterior styling adds to the Forte’s appeal. Overall, the hatchback conveys a bit more character; but the four-door sedan comes close.
Interior styling is simple and tasteful but subtly sporty. Sharp detailing, including hooded analog instruments, suggests more costly sports sedans, and the cockpit has an almost upscale feel, helped by a bit of metallic trim.
In its crash-test program, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave Forte a four-star overall rating: up from just three stars, but many cars now get five-star scores. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety raised its score in its small overlap rating from Poor to Marginal, which is better but not great.
Without question, exterior styling is the Forte’s strongest merit, helping to broaden its appeal to a wide audience. In fact, we consider Forte to be almost ideally proportioned, ranking among the most attractive models in its class.
With its surprisingly swoopy shape, below a gracefully arced roofline, the Forte manages to look both contemporary and rather sporty. In fact, the rake angle of the sedan’s front end almost suggests that of a sports car. Few competitors could make such a claim. The rear end narrows, but the trunk lid is cut wide to permit easier loading of luggage into the sizable space, which totals 14.9 cubic feet.
A clean, simple layout helps give the cockpit an appearance that approaches upscale, with a sporty component. A split design keeps the console from acquiring a bulky appearance. Sensibly large climate-control knobs are round and sturdy, and finishes within the cabin are pleasing to the eye.
Headroom is snug in both front and back; more so with a sunroof, which is available for the EX sedan. A power driver’s seat with ventilation, available for EX, may be tempting. But we’d be more impressed if those seat cushions held additional bolstering, to provide more support and yield greater long-distance support. Visibility isn’t the best, due largely to the Forte’s shapely body.
The rear doors are shaped to open wide, yet entry/exit for the back seat is impaired by the low, curvaceous roofline. That roof profile also shrinks useful headroom.
The rear seats fold almost flat for cargo space. Cubby storage space is sufficient, including a bin beneath a sliding screen, ahead of the gearshift lever. Both the glovebox and the console bin are adequate in size.
The Kia Forte’s appearance hints at sportiness but actual performance is average. Although the powertrain can be sufficiently spirited, gas mileage is generally good, and handling is acceptable.
No one would call the Forte quick, but both engines perform decently enough. The direct-injected 2.0-liter provides better fuel economy in urban, traffic-heavy driving, and seems better matched to the 6-speed automatic transmission.
You should expect a ride that’s firmer, even occasionally harsh, compared to some sportier compacts, such as the Ford Focus or Mazda 3. The suspension is reasonably good at absorbing choppy pavement roughness, yet surface flaws don’t go unnoticed. An EX feels firm during light maneuvers, yet permits excessive body motion at other times.
Some models offer selectable steering boost with three modes. Power steering is similar to the one used by the Hyundai Elantra GT, with sport, normal, and comfort assist levels. Responsiveness does not change, but picking a different mode does add a bit of heft to the steering. Normal and comfort feel more appropriate, but the sport setting can help the Forte remain reliably on course in highway driving.
Kia has a long-held reputation for value, and the 2016 Forte continues that tradition, being well-equipped for the price. We prefer the larger, direct-injected engine, because it provides a more relaxed road experience with greater performance confidence. Each engine revs freely, with little vibration; but noise can be an issue at times. Forte fails to lead its class in any category but styling. A redesigned Forte is expected soon.
Driving impressions by Bengt Halvorson, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.