The Kia Forte over it’s 9 year run has become a real contender in the compact sedan market.
Back when the Forte was first introduced in 2009, it sold less than 27,000 units. Paltry compared to the likes of the Honda Civic, which sold about 260,000 units in the same year. But over the span of nine years, Forte sales have steadily increased with a peak of over 117,000 units. The Forte, now in its third generation, is poised to entice even more buyers with an all new design, fuel efficient drivetrain and plethora of safety and tech features that will make you forgot you are driving a compact sedan.
Our journey begins in the great city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Once a thriving steel town Pittsburgh today is mainly known for its sports teams. Most don’t realize that Pittsburgh has become a mecca for technology and health companies. Alphabet (Formally Google) and Facebook have large offices here and Amazon is even considering building HQ2 here. Because of the diverse driving conditions, Uber had been running a large fleet of autonomous vehicles until recently. So it’s very fitting, that we’re here in Pittsburgh on an all day journey to get up and close with the new Forte to test a new drivetrain and review the various features.
Walking around the Forte you immediately see many of the styling cues from the Stinger. Like the Stinger, the Forte has a tiger-nose grill in addition to sporty air curtains that help direct air around the car. A major design change, the turn signals are not part of the headlamp assembly like the previous generation. The air curtains now house the turn signals which adds to the sporty look of the Forte. Likewise the rear turn signals are not part of the brake light assembly but instead integrated in the bumper area. The headlights are also Stinger style but if I’m being honest, the Forte projector headlamp design look better to me. LEDs projectors will come standard in the upcoming Launch Edition (more on the Launch Edition later). Kia also gave the new Forte a longer hood (the cowl moves approximately 5 inches back) along with sharper hood lines to add to the sportier look. My only issue on the exterior is that the rear of the Forte doesn’t quite match the sportieness of the front. Although it’s still very attractive, something was missing, like perhaps dual exhaust tips. Maybe that’s asking for too much in a compact sedan but in my opinion it would have added to the overall sporty look in true Stinger fashion. Although, the Launch Edition will come with a rear deck lid spoiler. It might just be the missing touch that will change my mind about the rear.
Dimensions of the Forte grows a little longer (182.7 in), taller (56.5 in.) and wider (70.9 in.) although the wheelbase stays the same at 106.3 inches. The extra dimensions help the Forte to be one of the most spacious in the segment. While three adults would still be a tight fit in the rear it’s more than doable. However, being at 5’ 11” and about 230 pounds, I wouldn’t want someone in the middle seat! Kia also worked on rear passenger visibility by raising the rear seating position to be a little higher than than the front. While I did find visibility very good I found that my head would now touch the roof. For longer road trips this might be a problem and I would probably force shorter passengers to the back.
I found the interior materials and construction very nice with one exception. The insert on the door panels around the door handles on the EX model had a gloss black plastic. It just didn’t seem to fit the rest of the interior. It’s a minor thing but all I could think about was how finger prints would show up. The seats in the front and the back are very comfortable. The leatherette in the EX had a nice feel and the stitching on the seats gave a very upscale sport feel. You’ll also notice another Stinger touch in the interior with round air vents which adds to that upscale feel.
The overall control and instrument layout of the Forte was very organized and Kia did a great job of keeping control layout as as simple as possible. I was quickly able to find and navigate the touchscreen, HVAC controls (dual climate) and radio controls which meant less time searching and more time keeping my eyes on the road.
The previous Forte was a IIHS Top Safety Pick+ and the new Forte should pick up that mantel. In a more controlled environment we would have tried out all of the safety systems but could only safely test the Lane Departure Warning system and the Lane Keeping Assist. Both worked as expected alerting us when we were veering out of our lane and then keeping us in our lane of traffic. It’s good to see that these safety features are now standard across all Forte models. Additionally, Kia is using a higher amount of advanced high strength steel (54 percent) which will result in a 16 percent more rigid chassis.
One of the biggest draws for many buyers is the technology that comes in a car and fortunately the all new Forte comes with plenty of tech. Standard in all models is a bigger 8” touchscreen and all models will come available with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. We only had the chance to test the Apple CarPlay integration but the responsiveness of the touchscreen and integration with my iPhone worked very well. We had a mix of cloudy and sun and the screen was very visible in all lighting conditions. The USB sync port are easily accessible and additional charging ports were added in the new Forte. The extra charging ports (which are also fast charging) means there is no need to bring separate adapters for passengers. Just bring your charging cables! The Launch Edition also comes with extra safety and tech features which we talk about below.
To start there will only be one engine choice for the 2019 Forte, a second generation NU 2.0 MPI gasoline engine running on the Atkinson cycle. This engine makes the same 147hp and 132 lb.-ft. of torque as the previous generation Nu engine. This is not by any means a performance engine but it will be more than capable for the average driver. The Forte will be available in either a 6 speed manual transmission (FE trim only) or a new CVT transmission comes standard for all other trims (optional in the FE). There will be no GDI engine but that doesn’t stop Kia from achieving a good balance of performance and fuel mileage in the new Forte. Mileage is now being reported at 31/41/35 mpg city/highway/combined in the FE trim and CVT, a noticeable improvement over the previous generation.
Much of the mileage improvements can be attributed to the new in-house designed continuously variable transmission (CVT) that Kia calls it an IVT (“I” standing for intelligent). Kia’s CVT uses a chain linked belt versus a traditional push belt and this allowed Kia to implement a new adaptive shift logic that simulates the changing of gears like a traditional automatic transmission. In our short time driving the Forte we can say that Kia’s implementation worked very well and it was hard to tell that the Forte had a CVT (see our 0-60 Facebook video below).
Kia Forte 0-60 in Sport Mode: ~9.5 seconds (Note: This was done with three three adults in the car.)
Kia even implemented a shifting mode that allows you to manually shift up or down. While I’ve always found manual shift modes in automatic transmissions a little gimmicky, it aided in making you forget that this was a CVT. It’s hard to find faults in Kia’s all new CVT, it’s been done right.
While the Forte still utilizes a torsion beam for the rear suspension Kia did make improvements in the geometry of the suspension components and along with the stiffer body because of the use of high strength advanced steels, the total package delivers a relatively smoother and improved ride. We drove through various driving conditions in Pittsburgh and except for the bumpiest of roads where the suspension couldn’t quite absorb the irregularities from entering the cabin I walked away quite impressed with the Forte handling and comfort. Myself and my driving partners all commented on how well the Forte felt and handled.
As hinted, Kia is also releasing the EX Launch Edition later this Fall which will add a host of additional exterior, safety and technology features. Special graphite finish 17” alloy wheels, rear deck lid spoiler, LED projection headlights and a special Fire Orange color round out the exterior upgrades. You also get a power sunroof, 4.2” LCD meter cluster, wireless charging, navigation and the Harmon Kardon designed premium sound system. The navigation system worked well and kept up with the various roads that we were driving in which included a lot of remote backcountry areas where we didn’t have cell service. The Harmon Kardon system will have 320 watts of power and 8 speakers utilizing their patented Clari-fi system which is designed to enhance and restore music that is being streamed or has been compressed. It’s very impressive to know that the sound system was designed specifically for the car and as someone who has competed in audio competitions in the past, you would be hard pressed to hear a nicer sounding system in a compact sedan outside of spending hours researching, designing and spending thousands of dollars on a custom sound system.
Safety upgrades in the Launch Edition include Forward Collision-Avoidance Assistance with Pedestrian Detection and smart cruise control. In my opinion, these extra features in the Launch Edition will be worth the upgrade.
Pricing starts at $17,690.00 for the Forte FE with 6 speed manual transmission. The top of the line EX starts at $21,990.00 and later this Fall, the EX Launch Edition will be available for another $3,210.00. You will be hard pressed to find a more complete package at these price points.
Automotive manufacturers such as Kia often fly out and provide accommodations to journalists to test drive new car models. This is standard practice in the industry.