2010 Kia Forte — Review
By Evan Griffey of MSN Autos
The all-new Forte is replacing Kia's best-seller, the Spectra, in the company's lineup for 2010. Can this smartly designed sedan grab more market share from the likes of the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Mazda3, Chevy Cobalt and Ford Focus than its highly popular predecessor? It's a tall order, but we believe the Forte has the tools to pull it off. Attributes like sleek body lines, an athletic powertrain, outstanding fuel economy and an attractive price tag all point to success.
The LX trim is the most wallet-friendly. It sports a 2.0-liter engine and sacrifices air conditioning and power windows and locks to keep the price under $14,000, a scant $145 more than a Spectra LX. The Forte LX rolls on bare-bones 15-inch steel wheels and features a base 4-speaker stereo. An optional Convenience Package adds AC and a 60/40 split-folding rear seat, but buyers need to weigh the advantages versus the cost of just jumping up to an EX.
The EX represents the middle ground of the Forte lineup and sports a base price of $15,795. It has all the power accessories, AC, a 6-speaker stereo and access to more option packages than the LX.
Kia has identified fuel mileage as one of the top three deciding factors shoppers use when making a new vehicle purchase, and developed the EX Fuel Economy Package to satisfy that demand. The EX is the only trim that can be ordered with the $600 package, which adds a 5-speed automatic; electric power steering; a smart alternator that operates only when needed; low-resistance, high silica content tires; and minor underbody aerodynamic changes. It bumps the 2.0-liter's mileage from 25 mpg city/34 mpg highway to 27/36 mpg.
The SX version has sportier intentions. Its $17,195 price tag includes the top-of-the-line 2.4-liter engine, a 6-speed manual, sport-tuned suspension, larger front brakes, 17-inch alloy wheels, 45-series performance tires, an electroluminescent gauge cluster, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, and metal-finish interior trim.
Buyers will appreciate that Kia has no package hierarchy. You do not have to order a premium package to "qualify" for a leather, technology or moonroof package, and the prices for most of the packages are the cheapest we've seen in the segment.
Under the Hood
LX and EX versions are delivered with 5-speed manuals as standard fare. Four-speed automatics are available as an option for those who prefer two pedals. EX-trimmed Fortes with the economy package feature a 5-speed automatic. The SX receives Kia's first-ever 6-speed manual or an optional 5-speed automatic with Sportmatic shifting.
We were also surprised by the standard EX/SX 6-speaker audio system. It delivered crisp sound separation and good bass at all volume levels. Unfortunately the base LX 4-speaker stereo punishes you for frugality with poor all-around sound quality. No matter the system, MP3 and USB inputs ensure your playlist makes it to the road, and all Fortes come with a 3-month SIRIUS Satellite Radio subscription. However, we were disappointed that such a "tech forward" product like Forte offers no navigation system.
On the Road
We found the EX's 5-speed automatic a bit annoying in its rush to get into fifth gear and sip the fuel. This made the car feel sluggish, especially in city driving situations where it resisted the need to downshift unless you really put your foot into it. The 2.0-liter engine seemed well matched to its miserly mission while providing sufficient acceleration in most circumstances. As expected, the ride was comfortable and compliant as the Forte soaked up rough roads with little drama. In faster turns, the EX was smooth but not overly inspiring. With the Fuel Economy Package factored in, our tester was priced at $17,395.
The SX's 2.4-liter engine offers a much more authoritative driving experience, delivering on the promise of the Forte's sculpted lines. The SX oozes confidence. We could feel the sport-tuned suspension and its grippy, low-profile 17-inch tires really dig in as we pushed the Forte through some undulating curves.
However, the soft-shifting automatic transmission in our tester limited the fun, leaving us to speculate how much more we could have coaxed out of a 6-speed manual version. The automatic in our tester pushed the base price up $1,000 to $18,195. Tack on $1,000 for the leather upgrade and $600 for a sunroof, and the bottom line of our tester jumped to $19,795. While zippy, the Forte is not as liberating as a Mazda3 s Sport or as refined as a Honda Civic, but it's close — real close. We are concerned that Kia has lost its cost-leader banner, but we also wonder if a car as well-rounded as Forte needs to play that card.
Right for You?
How will the Forte be perceived against the top offerings from Japan? Kia, as a brand, is on a roll with the introduction of the Soul urban passenger vehicle and its viral, hamster-powered commercials. The Forte builds on that momentum in all the right ways and, on paper, has the street cred to seal the deal against the big guns in the compact segment. The lineup will be further enhanced by the Forte Koup, which is slated for a 2010 late-summer release.
Evan Griffey served as an editor of Turbo & High Tech Performance, a pioneering publication about sport-compacttuning. Today Griffey freelances for Import Tuner, Sport Compact Car, Car Audio and Siphon.