The Kia Forte offers a full family of compact cars, with three distinct body styles and two engines. The Forte was last redesigned for the 2014 model year.
The 2017 Kia Forte sedan models feature freshened styling, and a new Forte S trim level has joined the lineup. The 2017 Kia Forte S is a modestly sportier sedan that this year fits between the entry-level Forte LX and top-end Forte EX trim levels. The 2017 Forte sedan has a redesigned front bumper cover and a new tiger nose grille lower and blending into the headlights. Taillights have been reworked, with LEDs optional. Upholstery is upgraded for 2017, also.
Two-door Forte Koup and five-door Forte hatchbacks retain the previous platform and look, though a redone hatchback should be coming soon.
Beneath LX and S sedan hoods, a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, developing 147 horsepower and 132 pound-foot of torque, has edged aside the prior 1.8-liter four. EX versions get an aluminum-block 2.0-liter with direct injection, producing 164 horsepower and 151 pound-feet. A 6-speed manual gearbox is standard with LX trim. Most Fortes come with the 6-speed automatic transmission, which is optional for LX and standard otherwise.
The current design has been around for several years, but it’s still a handsome vehicle, sharply detailed and topped by a dramatic roofline. Standard equipment has increased, making the Forte an even greater value. Cabin trim and materials have moved well ahead of early models.
Forte S and EX models come with a 7-inch touchscreen, as part of a new UVO3 system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay functionality, to access smartphone functions.
Kia now offers some active-safety features as options, but a rearview camera is standard only on S and EX trim levels. Safety ratings score no better than average in crash-testing. Finally, Forte has earned an overall five-star score from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Structural revisions for 2015 raised the previous crash-test score from a miserable three stars to an acceptable four-star rating. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety now ranks the Forte sedan Good, due to raising its small-overlap test score from Poor to Marginal.
Newly available safety features include autonomous emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, frontal collision warning, lane change assist, and dynamic bending lights. For the LX model, a rearview camera is part of an option group. All-disc brakes are standard.
Forte LX ($16,490) comes with the 147-horsepower engine and manual gearbox or automatic ($1,010). Standard equipment includes cloth upholstery, keyless entry, air conditioning, power windows/locks, power mirrors, satellite radio, Bluetooth, and steering-wheel audio controls. The Popular Package for LX includes 16-inch wheels, keyless entry, and cruise control.
Forte S ($19,200) comes with automatic and a sport-tuned suspension. Included are 16-inch alloy wheels, a rear spoiler, LED positioning lights, and a rearview camera. Special black cloth seats feature contrast stitching.
Forte EX ($21,200) gets the 164-horsepower engine and automatic, leather upholstery, heated front seats, ventilated driver’s seat, cooled glovebox, dual-zone automatic temperature control, pushbutton start. The EX Premium Package adds leather upholstery, a power ventilated driver’s seat, heated front/rear seats, a sunroof, pushbutton start, 17-inch wheels, and navigation.
Options include UVO infotainment system, true on-board navigation, and LED taillights.
Styling was mildly updated for 2017, featuring Kia’s latest, more shapely, neatly raked front-end design. The sedan’s gracefully arched profile and elongated roofline above sculpted bodyside sheetmetal, help retain appropriate proportioning.
Almost-vertical trim elements behind side glass serve as brackets for the passenger compartment. Windows dip ahead of outside mirrors, while the back end narrows. When redesigned for 2014, the Forte grew a bit wider and longer, but not taller, resulting in the handsome profile.
Clean and simple, the Kia Forte cabin conveys a sporty note. Better-quality plastics and a tasteful layout help establish a mildly upscale feel, enhanced by soft-touch materials. On the dashboard are big climate-control knobs, augmented by hooded analog instruments. Below is a split-style console that avoids looking bulky. Upper trim levels add a covered console.
Seats offer average comfort. Though supportive, front seats could use more side bolstering. Tall drivers might consider the seat bottoms a bit short. Kia’s intuitive and readily effective infotainment system ranks with the best, though noise can be an issue.
Headroom falls short in back, thanks to the low, relatively long roofline. Space is tighter yet if a sunroof is installed. The roof profile also tends to impede easy entry/exit, despite wide-opening doors. Riders might find themselves in knees-up mode on rather low seat cushions, though legroom is satisfactory. Outward visibility is somewhat restricted.
Kia’s compact sedan offers plenty of storage, including a screened bin ahead of the gearshift lever. Not only does the trunk’s capacity (14.9 cubic feet) top nearly all rivals, its wide lid eases loading.
In both handling and performance, the Kia Forte is unremarkable. Failing to stand out, it’s reminiscent of several top 1990s compacts.
Its four-cylinder engines rev readily, with little vibration and a perky nature, though they can grow noisy. The larger of the two engines is tuned for a more relaxed road experience. Neither is particularly powerful. Updated for 2017, the automatic transmission delivers sluggish shifts, as if it’s making a deliberate, thoughtful choice each time. Not too many buyers are likely to specify the manual gearbox that’s standard with LX trim.
Although a Forte falls short of the sportier Ford Focus and Mazda3, Kia’s sedan steers and handles well enough. The suspension irons out a certain amount of coarse pavement, but harsh spots can transmit more sound to occupants than is typical nowadays. Body motion is more noticeable than expected.
Some models offer selectable steering boost, with Normal, Sport, and Comfort modes. Sport mode can help the Forte track neatly on highway stretches.
In short, the Forte isn’t exactly top-rung in refinement, but it’s a capable contender in a crowded market category.
Fuel economy is good, but no better than average for the Forte’s class. Thriftiest versions by far are the LX and S with automatic, EPA-rated at 29/38 mpg City/Highway, and 32 mpg Combined. The more powerful EX model is EPA-rated at only 25/38 mpg City/Highway, and 32 mpg Combined.
Kia Forte offers a good value, but does not stand out in its class. Stylish, extroverted design and a spry nature add to its appeal. Safety hasn’t been a strong point. Active-safety features are optional, including a rearview camera for the base sedan. Selling price and the deal are key factors here.
Driving impressions by John Voelcker, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.