SCOTSDALE, AZ - Continuing to play the value card, Kia is bringing a new Forte sedan to the Canadian market this spring, loaded with equipment that is either not available or costs extra on most competitive vehicles.
Kia is so intent on increasing sales and market share, it is openly targeting sister company Hyundai in equipping the 2014 Forte.
Honda sold 65,000 Civics in 2012. Hyundai moved 51,000 Elantras and Toyota sold 41,000 Corollas. The Mazda3 was fourth at 39,000 and the Chevrolet Cruze rounded out the top five with 33,000 sold.
The outgoing Forte finished calendar year 2012 in eigth place with sales of 15,000 units. Kia is not content with having passed the other dozen or so players in the field; it wants to move further up the list.
Company on the move
As a company, Kia sold 2.7 million vehicles globally last year and is currently in eighth place in world-wide sales. It's seventh in Canada, where it has pushed past stalwarts like Nissan, Mazda and Volkswagen, doubling its sales in the past five years.
North America is the largest market for the brand, followed by Europe, China and South Korea.
While based heavily on value and price, this success has also been possible because of huge gains in quality and resultant customer loyalty, which is currently the third highest in the industry.
The push continues at a relentless pace. Kia will introduce nine new or revised models in 2013 starting with a revised Sorento on a new platform, the Forte reported on here (with a five-door hatchback to join it later), followed by a new Rondo in the spring and a new high-end model called the Cadenza after that.
Aimed at Elantra
Based on the same platform used for the new Hyundai Elantra, the 2014 Kia Forte as it is called in North America (Cerrato elsewhere around the world), has that car in its sights.
(The Elantra was voted the 2012 Canadian Car of the Year by members of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).)
The new Forte is wider and lower than the outgoing model, as well as the Civic and Elantra, and offers such class-exclusive features as heated and cooled seats, a 10-way power driver's seat, cooled glovebox and heated steering wheel.
Kia execs here at the car's launch specifically singled out the Elantra when boasting about the features of the new Forte.
Standard equipment will also include power windows and locks, hill start assist, tilt/telescope steering wheel, aux and USB audio inputs and heated mirrors.
At the other end of the scale the most expensive Forte – the SX – will go head-to-head with the Elantra GT but have a bigger engine, HID headlights, heated and cooled driver's seat and paddle shifters.`
Kia expects the two models at either end of the price ladder to account for only 2% of sales each. The big sellers are expected to be the LX (43%), mid-level EX (28%) and LX with automatic (25%).
The LX auto adds air conditioning and keyless entry to the standard equipment list and the LX includes heated seats, alloy wheels, windshield wiper de-icers and cruise control.
Rich in features
The new Forte features the latest iteration of the company's signature grille, new LED "positioning" lights fore and aft, new front and rear bumpers, wrap-around tail-lights and more glass behind the A pillar and ahead of the C pillar.
The interior features an all-new instrument panel with faux carbon-fibre trim on some models and chrome-like accents on others. Despite talk of "high elasticity soft metal" paint and other attempts at soft touch surfaces, there is an abundance of hard materials on the instrument panel.
There are three unique instrument clusters – one for each trim level – offering increasingly complex, informative and customizable settings.
The entry-level display is LCD, the unit on the EX trim dot-matrix and the SX panel a full-colour TFT (Thin Film Transistor) LCD with high-intensity white lighting.
The interior is littered with storage provisions and the split-folding rear seat can be lowered from the trunk – at least it can be released, you have to actually push on the seatback to get it to lower.
The standard radio comes with voice-recognition, internal music storage and Bluetooth. An up-level UVO unit includes advanced voice-recognition and a rear view camera and a third option is a new Multimedia interface with navigation.
Smooth and quiet
The Forte LX comes with the 1.8-litre Nu engine carried over from the outgoing model while the EX and SX come with a bored-out version displacing 2.0 litres and featuring direct injection.
I drove both during the introduction here and while the 143-horsepower, 1.8-litre is perfectly adequate, the added 25 horsepower and responsiveness of the 2.0-litre was instantly detected and appreciated.
Both engines are silky smooth and quiet – as is the car itself . It's almost oblivious to road or wind noise, even at the base trim level.
The larger (17-in) alloy wheels of the EX and SX models not only look better, they place more rubber on the road which is appreciated if you are the type of driver who likes to tackle the twisties.
The suspension is more refined than the outgoing, Forte with advances in spring, shock-absorber and bushing selection showing through in a nice blend of ride and handling, despite the rather unsophisticated twist beam rear axle.
The electric power steering has a modicum of feedback and on higher trim levels comes with a gimmicky "Flex Steer" switch that allows the driver to vary the amount of assist between comfort, normal and sport modes.
It defaults to normal when the ignition is switched off and few if any drivers are likely to bother with it after the first few days.
From a very well-equipped base trim level to the most luxurious compact car on the Canadian market, there is a 2014 Kia Forte for most tastes and budgets. Which should result in the desired increase in market share.