2014 Kia Forte Review | Toronto Star

2014 Kia Forte Review



By Mark Richardson, Toronto Star


It’s not difficult to improve almost any car out there on the road. After a few years of customer feedback, just make it a little bigger, a little more powerful, a little better with fuel consumption and a little more up-to-date with its style.


Easy really, with research engineers constantly building on what’s already there and finding small ways to do it all just a bit better.


The tricky part is to do it without costing any more money in materials and technology, and the really tricky part is to be able to sell it for not very much money at all. That was the challenge for Kia and its complete revision of the popular compact Forte.


The Forte that’s been on the road for the last four years is the first generation for the model, which itself replaced the cheap-feeling Spectra, and cost-conscious Kia knew it couldn’t stray from the $15,995 price for the most basic LX version. That’s the figure you’ll see in advertising and which you’ll associate with the car, but it’s very unlikely you’ll want to pay that – it’s the model with a manual transmission and no air-conditioning.


Both air and automatic are smart investments when it comes to reselling the car, so tick off those boxes and the price bumps to $18,695. Be prepared to write a cheque for about $23,000 after the taxes and various charges are paid. If you want all the bells and whistles – and there are many available – it will cost anywhere up to an extra $10,000 or so.


There’s no official price difference for Kia’s 2014 second-generation Forte, although any older models still on the sales lots will be discounted to get them out of there. It’s right around the price of its main competition, the Hyundai Elantra, with which it shares a platform, and the Honda Civic.


There weren’t any stick-shift Fortes down here in Arizona for this introduction to the press. This was partly because only 2 per cent of buyers opt for that most basic version of the car, but also surely because the Arizona desert is no fun without air-conditioning.


Kia wants Forte drivers to have fun – that’s the mantra for this car.


The new Forte is a bit wider, lower and longer than the previous generation, and there’s no doubt it’s a looker. Kia’s president is also the head of design, which must count for something. The company just showed off the coupe version at the New York Auto Show and it’s low and sleek and sexy, but the sedan is just as appealing for those who want the practicality of four doors.


The base engine is smaller than the previous version: it’s a 1.8L four cylinder that makes 148 hp and which Kia calls its “Nu” engine, replacing a 2.0L motor that made 156 hp. It’s pretty much the same powerplant under the hood of all new Elantras.


Its estimated fuel consumption is the same for the new 1.8L car as the claimed 5.5 L/100 km of the automatic 2012 Forte in the city, and slightly worse on the highway, at 8.3 compared to the previous 8.0. The manual is a bit better, but the difference is negligible.


The larger “Nu” engine is an all-new 2.0L gasoline direct injection motor that makes 173 hp, which is the same power as the 2.4L engine it’s replacing. The car is more than 100 kg lighter though, thanks to better use of high-tensile steel, and its body is one-third stiffer as well.


The 2.0L engine is less thirsty than the old 2.4L motor, at 5.5 L/100 km in the city and 8.5 on the highway, which is an improvement of at least half-a-litre on each.


But I wasn’t thinking about gas as I hustled the one-up-from-base LX+ with the smaller engine through the desert down here. Kia reckons this model will attract 40 per cent of the Forte’s sales, and with a price starting at $19,995, they’re probably right.


The car certainly was comfortable and handled very well. Kia’s engineers have revised and retuned pretty much everything, but especially the front suspension and the steering feel.


In fact, just as with the Hyundai Elantra, there’s a “Flex Steer” button right on the steering wheel that’s standard on all but the cheapest model. It switches between Comfort, Normal and Sport, and stiffens or loosens the steering effort by 10 per cent either way. I switched it to Sport and forgot about it.


The smaller engine finds its way up hills without having to hunt among its six gears, but a later drive with the larger engine put paid to any issues of power. Not surprisingly, the car with the smaller motor looks sporty but drives like a regular compact, while the better 2.0L motor actually drives like a sporty car, too. Not a Porsche or anything like it, of course, but it sends plenty of enjoyable feedback to the driver.


There’s lots of space inside for the front row, without banging my knees into the console or brushing my head against the ceiling, and there’s comfortable room for two in the back as well. If a third person squeezes in there, it’ll be cramped, but they’re probably just kids anyway, so what the heck. The seats are still comfortable after several hours and the larger trunk is surprisingly spacious, too.


Nicest of all are the high quality soft-touch plastics that are now finding their way into some of the least expensive cars, giving a high-end feel to an affordable vehicle. That, and a quiet ride with little of the exterior noise that was the bugbear of the previous generation.


There are many other compacts that drive well and look sharp, with long warranties, and the Forte is not an exceptional performer until you consider its price. Kia’s achieved its goal with this second generation: it’s a better car, and it’s still great value.


PRICE: (base) $15,995-$26,195


ENGINE: 1.8L I4; 2.0L I4


POWER/TORQUE: (hp/lbs.-ft.) 1.8L — 148/131; 2.0L — 173/154


TRANSMISSION: 6-speed manual; 6-speed auto


FUEL CONSUMPTION: (claimed City/Hwy., L/100 km) 1.8L MT: 8.0/5.3; 1.8L AT:8.3/5.5; 2.0L MT: 8.4/5.7; 2.0L AT: 8.5/5.5


COMPETITION: Hyundai Elantra, Honda Civic, Ford Focus, Mazda3, Chevy Cruze