Ann Arbor, MI –
Kia’s popular Forte compact-car lineup was expanded for 2011 with the addition of the Forte5 five-door hatchback, joining the Forte sedan and two-door Koup, which made their debut a year ago.
The hatchback adds another level of function and practicality, with a generous rear cargo area to complement the already roomy cabin area. With 60/40-split rear seats that fold flat, there are up to 550 litres of space for cargo, compared to 415 litres in the four-door sedan.
It should be noted, however, that you have to remove the headrests to fold the seatbacks flat and there’s a drop-off from the folded seats to the cargo area floor, so one can’t simply slide bulky items onto a flat deck.
On the plus side, though, the space is certainly useable as the torsion beam rear suspension eliminates protrusions in the cargo area to accommodate components such as struts, shocks or springs.
The Forte5 is offered in three trim levels – LX, EX and SX – with further variations within those groupings for a total of 11 different iterations ranging in price from the base LX at $16,695 to the fully loaded SX Luxury, which tops out at $26,195.
The engine choices are shared with the Koup and sedan – either the 2.0-litre four-cylinder, with 156 hp and 144 lb-ft of torque, which is standard in the LX and EX, or a 2.4-litre four that kicks out 173 hp and 168 lb-ft of torque, which is limited to the SX models.
All Fortes for 2011, including the new hatchback, benefit from six-speed transmissions across the lineup. The Koup and sedan step up from a five-cog manual gearbox, while the automatic adds two speeds.
The improvements in the automatic tranny are particularly noticeable, with far smoother gear changes that are also crisp in their execution. The additional speeds also have a positive impact on performance, with both engines demonstrating decent pep off the line, yet impressively quiet in highway cruise mode.
During an afternoon spent driving all three trim levels of the new Forte5 around the scenic secondary roads in the Ann Arbor and Finger Lakes regions of Michigan, as well as some stretches on interstates, both the 2.0- and 2.4- litre four-bangers proved to be more than capable of delivering response and performance that should be at least adequate for most drivers.
The larger four did have more jump in its step – as one would expect with 17 more hp and additional torque available – but it also seemed to be a tad noisier, especially under hard acceleration.
What was unexpected, however, was the difference in ride quality when one moved from the base LX or mid-range EX to the sportier SX. While the ride was smooth and quiet in the first two models, one quickly learned there’s a price to be paid in comfort and cabin noise with the higher-end SX.
The shift to 17-inch alloy wheels with lower profile (P215/45R17) tires from the base LX’s 15-inch steel rims and P195/65R15 rubber, or even the 16-inch alloy wheels and P205/55R16 tires on the EX, resulted in a noticeable increase in ride harshness and the transfer of road noise on rougher surfaces.
The shorter, stiffer sidewalls of the sporty 17-inch tires don’t absorb the shock of impacting with road seams, for example, as well as the taller, higher-profile sizes. Adding to the situation is the fact the suspension settings have been tweaked on the SX to add a slightly sportier flavour.
Folks who enjoy flinging their Forte5 around on a wonderfully twisty country road probably won’t mind the change in ride quality, but for most consumers, I’d suggest they opt for the smoother ride of the other two models – and they’ll still get surprisingly solid handling, too.
Kia has made huge advancements in the styling of its products since European design guru Peter Schreyer joined the brand four years ago, following stints with Audi and Volkswagen. The Forte5 is the latest to show the impact of Schreyer’s design expertise – a very pleasing look that draws attention in a segment not typically recognized as a styling leader.
The Forte5’s nimble appearance is largely due to the shorter rear overhang, which has been trimmed 190 mm compared to the Forte sedan. While the wheelbase is identical at 2,650 mm, the overall length has been reduced from the sedan’s 4,530 mm to 4,340 – and the difference has call come off its butt.
For comparison, while the Forte5’s wheelbase is 50 mm longer than a Toyota Matrix, its overall length is 26 mm shorter.
Interior room has not been compromised, with the Forte5 providing the same front and rear leg room as the sedan, which even with the front seat well back on its track still had decent space behind for an adult’s lower limbs.
Shoulder room, too is identical, while the Forte5 does provide 20 mm more headroom, thanks to its higher rear roofline.
The 2.0-litre engine, with the six-speed automatic, has a fuel consumption rating of 8.0 litres/100 km in city driving and 5.5 on the highway, while the 2.4-litre four is rated at 9.0 in the city and 6.2 on the highway.
The Forte5 broadens the already popular appeal of Kia’s compact lineup with a model that delivers attractive styling, good dynamics and decent performance – attributes that should make it a winner with consumers.