Kia built its reputation in America on price, but as the brand's quality has risen through the years, the cutthroat pricing has become an even greater threat to the established automakers. This philosophy can be found all over the company's Forte compact sedan, where value reigns supreme.
When it was introduced in 2009, the Forte was a big step forward for Kia. It was the first model to feature the brand's new styling, which has grown to become even more modern and edgy since and has actually left the Forte behind. At the same time, the sedan spawned two variants, the sporty two-door Koup and the five-door hatchback, giving customers even more options for their dollars.
That's the secret ingredient in the Kia recipe: options. To catch the customer's eye, Kia packs as many standard features into their cars as possible and offers numerous options, including some not normally found in their price range. Our EX model test car, for example, came with an in-dash navigation system, Bluetooth phone connection, satellite radio, keyless entry and a back-up camera. All of those goodies in a car that costs just $21,175 out the door make for an incredible value.
Value, though, was never a problem. To get it, though, the Forte trades some other key qualities. Base model Fortes come equipped with a 156-horsepower four-cylinder engine and most, like our tester, come with a six-speed automatic transmission. We found the Forte's engine to be rather coarse and despite all the noise, not especially quick when merging onto the freeway. The automatic transmission does a good job of keeping the engine in its power band, though the manual shifting feature is rather clunky.
We were also disappointed with its fuel economy, which fell well below its EPA ratings of 26 mpg city and 36 mpg highway. If we'd known, we would've asked for the Forte SX, which receives a larger, more powerful engine and is rated at 23 mpg city and 32 mpg highway with an automatic transmission. The EX's saving grace is the optional Eco package, which offers fuel economy of 27 mpg city and 37 mpg highway.
The drivetrain wasn't the only aspect of the Forte that left us cold. We felt the front seats were rather flimsy and unsupportive and the general design of the interior was rather boring. We were also disappointed that a telescoping steering wheel wasn't among the myriad options. And while the Forte isn't a sports car, we felt the stability control system was overly aggressive when the car was pushed and the tires gave up grip very easily, which is a shame because the Forte is actually very fun to drive.
It's also a good way to get through your daily commute. The car's inherent nimbleness and superb outward visibility make it very easy to slip through traffic. The Forte also rides fairly well over rough pavement, but it's rather noisy inside the cabin. Kia's touchscreen navigation and entertainment system, if you choose that option, is one of the best in the business. The user interface is clean, simple and easy to use and even allows you to enter a destination into the navigation system while the car is in motion.
When you decide where you're going, you won't have to worry about getting all your stuff there. The Forte offers a surprisingly large 14.7 cubic-foot trunk that will have no trouble swallowing several suitcases for an extended stay. In fact, we might even give up a little bit of that trunk space if it would make just a smidge more space in the rear seat, which is a little cramped even by compact car standards.
We come away from the Forte with mixed emotions. The frugal shoppers in us see the Forte's laundry list of standard features and options and bargain-basement pricing as huge assets. On the other hand, the weak engine, low real-world fuel economy and frumpy interior fail to stir the soul. The Forte, then, is a great commuter car and a great starter car. With a bit more work, it could be a great all-around car. We'd recommend the Forte to money conscious shoppers looking for a bit more style and a lot more features than the average commuter.