Short Take Road Test: 2010 Kia Forte Koup SX
This 2010 review is representative of model years 2010 to 2013.
In transforming the handsome new Forte sedan into a positively stylish coupe — the company's first two-door — Kia seems to be now fully realizing the benefits of wooing away Audi designer Peter Schreyer in 2006 and making good on its "The Power to Surprise" slogan.
Some might question the difficulty of making a positive styling statement in the often overwrought compact segment — have you seen the new Mazda 3? — but impressively, the Forte's makeover goes deeper. For one, it hasn't squandered much of the sedan's back-seat space, a common coupe drawback. In fact, despite the marginal headroom that comes along with the appealingly squashed roofline, the Forte Koup has as much rear space as the vastly larger Honda Accord coupe. How's that for a packaging upset?
The interior isn't as fetching as the exterior, but it's ergonomically sound and rendered in agreeable, if hard, plastics. The only remaining chintzy pieces are the greasy-looking turn-signal and wiper stalks. And the standard steering-wheel-mounted buttons for the stereo, cruise control, and easy-to-use Bluetooth operate with a precision that wouldn't be out of place in a car costing two or three times as much. Drivers over six feet tall will want to say no to the sunroof option and thereby maximize the Koup's limited headroom; we also recommend sticking with the grippy base cloth seats and forgoing the slippery leather.
All Koups have lots of standard equipment, including six airbags, stability control, power locks and windows, iPod integration, and Sirius satellite radio. Stepping up from the base $17,290 EX to the $18,390 SX yields a larger, 173-hp 2.4-liter that's far smoother than the base 156-hp 2.0-liter (which gets pretty gritty near its redline) and an additional ratio in each of the available transmissions — a six-speed manual or a five-speed automatic.
With the manual, the SX has class-leading acceleration: 0 to 60 mph in 7.1 seconds. And despite the fact it's one of the last to retain a torsion-beam rear suspension — along with an extremely disproportionate weight distribution (64 percent of the Koup's 2933 pounds are on the front wheels) — the Koup is reasonably competent, and understeer at the limit is merely deliberate, not debilitating. Skidpad grip of 0.89 g on all-season Goodyear Eagle LS2s places the Koup solidly ahead of the compact pack, as does a firm brake pedal that produces stops from 70 mph in 171 feet. But after more than a decade of Kia floppiness, the Koup's ride is too stiff, as if firmness has been confused with sportiness. Similarly, the throttle is jumpy, making smooth starts laborious. The directness of the six-speed shifter is a big improvement over the Soul's sloppier five-speed, but its effort is a tad high. The steering has appropriate heft and a solid on-center feel, although it suffers from vicious kickback in bumpy corners and is not as fluid as a Mazda 3's, a complaint that pretty much applies to the entire driving experience.
While not quite as composed overall as the class mainstays, the Forte Koup's best-in-class looks, horsepower, and performance are justification for spelling Koup with a "c."