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2020 Kia Forte First Drive: Still in Two Basic Flavours

Victoria, B.C. - The Kia Forte has always been and continues to be the neglected close cousin of the Hyundai Elantra. In a segment dominated by the Honda Civic, which sold more than 69,000 units in 2018 in Canada, the Elantra has staked a spot in the top 3, with 41,784 units sold (behind the Corolla at over 48,000). Meanwhile, Kia sold 14,399 Fortes in Canada in 2018, down 4.4% from 16,388 in 2017.

In other words, three Elantras sell for every one Forte. Yet the two cars have a lot in common, like the chassis and the mechanics that are common to both vehicles.

Sedan or 5-door
In Canada, buyers continue to have the choice of a sedan or a 5-door version of the Forte. The former is assembled in Mexico and will be available in a few weeks across the North American continent. The latter will also arrive soon and is built in South Korea, and it will be a Canadian exclusive. In the US of A, anything with a hatchback that’s not also an SUV if of no interest to most consumers.

2020 Kia Forte
Photo: B.Charette
2020 Kia Forte

Trims and pricing
Before getting into our driving impressions, a word about the prices and models available.

Starting with the sedan (still the most popular version), the base price is set at $17,695 for an LX version with a 6-speed manual gearbox. You’ll pay at least $19,295 for the same version with a CVT (continuously variable transmission).

Next up is the EX version (which will be the most popular trim) at $20,995. The EX+ adds a sunroof, 17-inch wheels (instead of 16-inch) and LED lighting for $22,595. The EX Premium and EX Limited versions are set at $24,995 and $26,995.

At the top of the hierarchy is the GT version, which starts at $28,995.

All sedans except for the GT come with a 2.0L 4-cylinder engine making 147 hp and 132 lb-ft of torque. The only manual gearbox comes with the LX base model, all other variants offering a CVT with gearshift simulator.

The GT version features a 1.6L turbo engine generating 201 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque. If these numbers seem familiar to you, that’s because it's the same engine that Hyundai has used in the past in the Tucson and Veloster.

Photo: B.Charette

A simpler product offering for the 5-door
The 5-door Forte does not come in LX trim, so we jump right into an EX that starts at $22,245 with CVT transmission. Then come two GT versions, a basic version and a Limited version for $27,395 and $29,995 respectively. The same two engines are available.

Fair amount of frills for the cost
It’s standard practice for the Korean automakers to include a generous offering of standard, Kia follows this rule with the Forte. Even in the base LX sedan, you’re entitled to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard stuff. You also have an 8-inch screen, Bluetooth, audio controls on the steering wheel, keyless entry, heated front seats, heated exterior mirrors, leather-wrapped shifter, climate control and more – a lot of it equipment that’s optional in many other models.

The overall interior style and look are the same across virtually the entire product range. The synthetic leather seats of the high-end models are dressed in red stitching in the GT version.

We liked the simple commands. There are buttons and dials for the climate control, and buttons to access menus on the intuitive central touchscreen. Everything is blessedly simple to use.

Photo: B.Charette

Trunk space is ample and the hatchback is even bigger, plus the seats fold down 60/40 for even more clearance. It's not complicated, it’s not sophisticated, it’s just really effective.

A healthy foundation
As mentioned, the Forte shares its fundamentals with the Hyundai Elantra in terms of the chassis and mechanics. Kia has gone a step further by giving the chassis more high-strength steel (lighter than ordinary steel) and more adhesive materials for better rigidity.

Kia retains the torsion beam at the rear for regular models and installs a multi-link suspension for GT models, for better drivability and handling.

The drive
Our day of testing on Vancouver Island began with a GT sedan. Many of you will be disappointed to learn that a “sport” version like this doesn’t have a manual transmission; you should know that the Forte is not really sporty. Its chassis is solid, and its reactions on the road are predictable and neutral due to the multi-link rear suspension and the rigid structure.

Photo: B.Charette

The 201 horses of turbo engine (which runs on regular gasoline) simply allow more power under the right foot for a more enjoyable ride, but use of the word “sport” here would be an exaggeration.

In the case of the Forte 5 EX we drove in the afternoon, we discovered in that version a vehicle that’s much more pleasant to drive around in than an SUV, but that’s just as practical. This 5-door offers as much space as, if not more than, a compact SUV, with an engine that delivers comparable power, better fuel economy, and a far superior drivability for $10,000 less than many comparable small utility models.

The CVT that works with a chain will be more durable and features simulated gear changes that spare your eardrums when the engine revs climb.

In normal driving, efficiency is better than a regular automatic transmission and gives an average of 6.5L/100 km. The dual-clutch transmission of the GT version is really impressive and average fuel consumption remains very good with an average of around 7.5L/100 km.

Photo: B.Charette

Conclusion
The question we can't help asking is this: Why is this Forte not more popular ? And the answer is actually simple: the Forte is a good vehicle in a segment filled with excellent ones, whose reputation has preceded them for a long time. The Honda Civic, the Toyota Corolla, Mazda 3 and the Elantra all have a lot of loyal customers. But the fact is the Forte, especially the 5-door, offers more equipment that the majority of its competitors with a better guarantee for less money. There is no reason not to go see if you the Forte if you are looking for a compact car.

We like

Excellent value
Good road handling
5 yr/100,000 km warranty
Lots of standard stuff

We like less

Lack of public recognition
Too much chassis for the engine
Manual transmission only on the base model

The competition

Hyundai Elantra
Toyota Corolla
Honda Civic
Volkswagen Jetta
Mazda 3