Strengths and weaknesses:
- lengthy standards list
- comfortable and roomy seating
- powerful engines
- plasticky interior
- bland looks
Excelling at fitting in
Muskoka, Ontario - Poor Kia; regardless of how well it competes against much more expensive or established vehicles, it is still often overlooked because of misconceptions about its quality and probably because it is relatively new to our market, although it has been building vehicles for others (most notably Ford) for several decades.
With its latest offering, the Forte sedan, the company is not just replacing Spectra (a product that never really attained the level of consumer awareness to allow it to successfully compete against the likes of the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Mazda3), but also elevating a core product to a level closer to established market heavyweights.
There is nothing spectacular about Forte – it’s marginally bigger than Spectra, as well as Civic, Corolla and Mazda3; its engines are as economical as competitors’ of the equal displacement; its power/weight combination allows it to perform in a manner similar to the market leaders; and, it looks very similar to others in the segment.
Forte is available in LX, EX and SX trim, with MSRP starting at $15,695, $17,995 and $20,995, respectively. The LX and EX are fitted with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine that puts out 156 hp and 144 lb.-ft. through a standard five-speed manual or optional four-speed automatic. Those figures are eight hp and nine lb.-ft. higher than outputs from the Mazda3 2.0L engine, but below the Civic Si’s 197 hp and 139 lb.-ft.
The SX uses a 2.4 “four”, putting 173 hp and 168 lb.-ft. to the road via a six-speed manual or optional five-speed auto. That tops the Corolla’s 2.4-litre four-cylinder’s 158 hp and 162 lb.-ft. and is only marginally better than the Mitsubishi Lancer’s 2.4 (168 hp and 167 lb.-ft.).
But the result is best measured on the road, than on paper, where the Kia Forte shows a definite improvement on refinement over Spectra, and very little to differentiate it from Civic, Corolla, Mazda3 and Lancer.
The front double wishbone and rear torsion beam suspension set-up endows Forte with decent handling manners but only acceptable ride quality. Like its competitors, Forte is firm without being harsh, but it does let a fair amount of road noise and thump into the cabin.
The seats are comfortable for longer trips and rear seat head and leg room is sufficient for two adults. There is the ability to fit in a small centre occupant, but don’t. The seat back goes down in a 60/40 split through pull levers in the large flat-floored trunk.
Taken as a whole, the interior is utilitarian but does present a bit too much plastic to dispel any buyer perceptions of cheapness. The top-of-the-line SX does add metal trim throughout the dash, but it seems the volume seller EX automatic is where the bulk of the material upgrades should really take place – as your volume seller, this is where most of the word-of-mouth advertising will come from.
Then again, it does offer up standard Bluetooth connectivity across the range, something unheard of in this market. Others include heated outside mirrors, central locking, six-way adjustable power seats and AUX and USB ports.
And those are probably the selling points in a car that really is very much like its competitors. Once you set aside all the “like” things, you start looking at the different things. Once you add up all the extras and factor in the lower price, that’s real value – definitely this newest Kia sedan’s forte.