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2019 Kia Forte Sedan Review

I have to be honest, I never gave much consideration to the Kia Forte before. By which I mean, in a segment dominated by figures like the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Mazda3, not to mention the Hyundai Elantra, Kia had to scream pretty hard to draw attention to its Forte.

The look
When I got a first close-up look at the redesigned Forte, I found much to like about the new generation of the sedan (take note that the hatchback version is basically a carryover in 2019). In fact, the third-generation Forte compact car put forth by the Korean automaker has the look and feel of a midsize sedan. The redesign gives it a sleeker, frankly prettier silhouette than the outgoing edition. Its lines are more elegant, and I really loved the new front grille, heavily inspired by the one that sits on the nose of the Kia Stinger.

The new Kia Forte is built on the same platform as the Hyundai Elantra, though it looks nothing like that model – points to Kia for originality! Its chassis is solid and stiff, and adjustments were made to the suspension system that are unique to the Forte, in other words not found on the Elantra. I can’t say that I particularly liked the configuration, mind you, as it struck me that it gave the car a bit too much of a cowboy-type behaviour.  

Overall, I classify the look of the Forte as more sober than that of the Elantra; my guess is that its look will age better than its Hyundai counterpart’s. Worthy of mention is the car’s rear end, also inspired by the Stinger and sculpted with slick curves and angles for a spiffier appearance, which is very welcome.

Photo: V.Aubé

The interior
Among the changes brought to the Forte for its new incarnation is the boost in width and height overall, which of course translates into a more spacious interior space. Front passengers get a ton of space for legs, hips and shoulders, but a little less for the head. Taller people might find it a challenger to find a comfortable seating position. In the back row, legroom is a little tight, and that’s in part because Kia devoted a ton of space to help maximize cargo capacity. The Forte, in fact, now offers the most volume in the compact car segment.

The seats, for their part, have been redesigned to improve comfort. And they are definitely comfortable, although as mentioned if you’re particularly tall you might find your head brushing up against the roof, which we can agree can be a distraction when at the wheel. Otherwise, the interior gets better insulated against outside sounds – we can be thankful for that! – but there’s still room for improvement.

The three-spoke steering wheel is also borrowed from – you guessed it – the Stinger, and helps give the interior a cooler look. The overall presentation and choice of materials is fine, nothing much to fault there. Think back to a few years ago and it’s striking how much the Forte has been improved in this regard.

Photo: V.Aubé

The powertrain
The new 2019 Kia Forte is powered by a 2.0L 4-cylinder that has been made more fuel-efficient but delivers less torque. And to be honest, it shows. The base LX version comes with a CVT (rebaptised IVT, for Intelligent Variable Transmission). The difference, according to the manufacturer, is that the transmission belt has been switched out for a steel chain to reduce the elastic effect of the variable unit. Kia’s IVT also includes a manual mode and eight pre-programmed gears. The official fuel-consumption figures for the model with each transmission are:

-    6-speed manual: 8.6L/100 km/6.4L/100 km (city/highway)
-    New IVT: 7.7/100 km/5.7L/100 km (city/highway)

My tester was equipped with the latter transmission, and in my week of driving, most of which was on-highway, my total came in at 6.2L/100 km.

Photo: V.Aubé

The drive, noisy and jerky
The Forte comes with three drive modes. Normal mode is, well, the most normal setting, while Sport mode boosts the fun factor slightly, and Smart mode (replacing the Eco mode) sharpens the car’s reflexes when the driver wants to push it further. In all three cases, the engine is relatively noisy, although to be fair it’s less hoary than what you’d expect from a typical 4-cylinder working with a variable transmission.

I was surprised by the nimbleness with which the Forte handled the road. Steering is surprisingly tight and responsive; here again, it’s clear the new Forte is much improved in comparison with its predecessor of a few years ago. In this regard, the third-generation Forte holds its own well against any other in its segment.

On the other hand, I was a bit disappointed in the suspension system, which made for a jerkier ride than I’d like.

In daily use
For that and other reasons, the new Forte, as improved as it undisputedly is, has a hard time making a winning argument versus the Civic, Corolla, Mazda3 and Elantra that vie for the podium positions in compact car category. Questions linger about the long-term durability of this model, for example there were some squeeks and complaints from the chassis when I would drive the car on cold mornings. Even the engine hesitated once or twice on startup, when the temperature was only around -5 Celsius; I can only wonder what a -20 Celsius early morning in February would do to it!

Then factor in the driving position that is unkind to taller people, and the visibility that is somewhat reduced by the presence of two big pillars in front, and you have some factors that could get pretty annoying in the longer term.

Photo: V.Aubé

Technologies
All versions of the 2019 Kia Forte are relatively well-equipped. Standard stuff on the LX version with manual gearbox include an 8-screen audio screen, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility and Bluetooth connectivity, as well as heated seats and steering wheel. On the other hand no versions provide a memory function for the front seat positions.

Drive assist systems kick in with the LX trim with IVT, notably forward collision avoidance, lane keep assist and driver distraction alert. I had no complaints about any of the systems’ functioning, especially as they weren’t too invasive.

The EX trim comes with wireless phone charging via a pad placed just below the climate control commands. This version also adds blind spot monitoring and rear transversal traffic alert, as well as an LCD data screen for the dashboard and LED headlights.

The upper-range versions come with the following extras:

-    EX+: power sunroof, LED rear lights and LED ambient lighting

-    EX Premium: Intelligent cruise control, upgraded forward collision avoidance, UVO connected services, smart key with push-button start and synthetic leather upholstery  

-    EX Limited (my test version): Premium harmon/kardon audio system, integrated navigation, heated back seats and ventilated front seats

Add all of this up, and you find that Kia’s little compact car offers a big pile of equipment! Kia Canada, by the way, expects that the biggest-selling trim will be the EX; projections are it will make up 49% of sales.

Conclusion
I was impressed by the amount of standard equipment the new Forte offers for the price. The product offering is well-calibrated to meet the needs of mainstream car buyers. Assuming that in real-life use the 2019 Forte will deliver fuel economy that approaches the official 5.9L/100 km figure, buyers will certainly find that an attractive element as well.

Overall the design is eye-leasing, and the big trunk is another sure selling point. One thing I would like to revisit later on, is how well the car drives in wintertime once it has some mileage under its belt.

Pricing:
Forte LX MT: From $18,295
Forte LX: From $20,795
Forte EX: From $22,795
Forte EX+: From $24,295
Forte EX Premium: From $26,865
Forte EX Limited: From $29,865

Competition:
Honda Civic
Toyota Corolla
Mazda Mazda3
Hyundai Elantra
Chevrolet Cruze
Dodge Dart
Ford Focus
Nissan Sentra
Subaru Impreza
Volkswagen Jetta

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