What’s not to like about a good looking, economical, affordable, compact car loaded with features expected on a luxury car? Not much when it's a 2014 Kia Forte SX sedan.
At $26,195 it comes with a level of equipment that would be commonly found on vehicles costing twice as much. And many of them don't have some of the features the Forte offers, like a heated steering wheel, automatic folding mirrors, cooled front seat and heated rear seat.
Pricing for the new Forte starts at $15,195 but my test vehicle occupied the other end of the price spectrum. Normally that fact would have put me off as yet another press car loaded to the gills with every conceivable option in hopes of impressing those of us who rarely purchase a new vehicle.
I was impressed nonetheless. One evening, while walking toward the new Forte on a dark driveway I noticed the interior lights come on along with small lights illuminating the door handle. The mirrors unfolded and puddle lights beneath them showed the ground near the vehicle.
I had, in fact, been impressed with the newest Kia from the outset, principally because of its sharp new looks, more powerful and efficient engine and a suspension that showed the engineers in Seoul had finally addressed this component. Good looks, power, fuel economy and lots of standard stuff, I had thought.
But that evening, when the little compact greeted my approach I began to look at it as a compact luxury car.
Meeting customers' needs
Kia has been on the market here for only 15 years and in that short time has shown more progress and understanding of consumers than some companies that have been here for almost a century. The incredible pace of this growth and consumer acceptance can be laid to building products people want, which in turn comes from learning what they want.
Kia is following this approach with the new 2014 Forte sedan – making it available in a loaded luxury-level that would allow folks to downsize without compromise and others to move up without having to pay for a traditional luxury car.
Style of its own
It starts with style. Kia (and Hyundai’s) president and chief design officer, Peter Schreyer, has headed a transformation of the company’s extensive product line from the funky Soul to the gorgeous Optima, endowing all with a sense of style and fashion.
It is 3-cm longer, slightly lower and rides on a wheelbase that has grown by 5 cm, which contributes to a more planted stance and additional people space. The rear seat can now accommodate full-size adults and the trunk has been expanded as well.
What has helped make the former Audi designer so universally respected is his belief that design incorporates the entire vehicle – inside and out .The new Forte has made giant strides in this respect as well with a mixture of surfaces, shades and dimensions that befit a larger and more expensive vehicle.
Interesting details are evident everywhere you look and touch from the ambient lighting to the subtle ribs moulded into the top of the instrument and door panels. Soft touch materials abound and it is all assembled with attention to quality.
A TFT (Thin Film Transistor) instrument cluster appears to be analog but is actually digital and highly legible under all ambient lighting conditions.
Hats off, too, to Kia’s Uvo touch-screen infotainment system, which unlike competitive efforts, is simple to operate with big on-screen buttons with redundant backup.
Four trim levels
The 2014 Kia Forte sedan comes in four trim levels: LX, LX , EX and SX. Standard equipment on all trim levels includes: remote keyless entry, power windows and locks, power mirrors, tilt and telescope steering wheel.
Stronger but lighter
Sharing its platform with the latest Hyundai Elantra, the new Forte is significantly stronger, yet 125 kilos lighter than the smaller outgoing version thanks to extensive use of high strength steel from the company’s own steel mill.
The Forte comes with two variations of the corporate Nu 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine displacing 1.8 and 2.0 litres.
Moving up the trim ladder to the EX and SX trim levels nets a 2.0-litre version of this engine boasting the latest technologies like direct injection and variable valve timing and producing 173 horsepower and 154 lb-ft. of torque.
While these numbers are impressive and the new Forte is at or near the top of its class in terms of performance, it doesn't impress as much for its power as it does for smoothness and fuel-efficiency.
There is nothing sophisticated or special about the MacPherson-strut front and torsion- beam rear suspension but the engineers have done a great job with the dampers, springs and bushings, resulting in more compliance, yet less lean.
The overall feeling is one of a comfortable ride combined with a semblance of sportiness if you push it. The chassis and suspension engineers have finally caught up with the rest of the gang – the design and drivetrain teams.
Tackling a favorite secondary road laced with frost heaves and the occasional pothole brought a smile to my face. The 2014 Forte sedan absorbed the nastiness with aplomb, remaining composed instead of crashing over surface changes, smashing against the bump stops or wallowing like a drunken whale. Well done!
While there is much greater compliance and control on rough surfaces, this is not a sports car, with understeer accompanied by a fair degree of roll when pushed hard in the corners – but far less than was the case with the outgoing model. Offsetting that is an exceptionally quiet ride, all but devoid of wind or tire noise.
The second generation Kia Forte is a particularly good looking small car. And in this case, beauty is more than skin deep.