Turbocharged and manual! | The Kia Forte Koup SX does a good job of blending everyday flexibility, practicality, sharp style, extensive gadgets.
The “Sporty Personal Coupe” market has seen its ups and down in the past several decades. Massive two-door land barges were the lay of the land in the 70s and 80s proved that people like their comfortable coupes. Not everybody needs to carry passengers, so two doors is often “enough”. With the crossover SUVs largely taking over the market, is there still a place for the two-door coupe? Cynics would argue that the modern compact coupe is nothing more than just a compact sedan minus two doors. In some ways, they’d be right. Honda has a two-door version of their popular Civic, and Scion has the tC coupe. Kia, keen to flex its muscles in every sector, unveiled the Forte in 2010. The second-generation Forte was released in 2014. To see where the Koreans have progressed, I picked up the keys to a 2015 Kia Forte Koup SX, with the six-speed manual transmission.
A cleanly-styled compact, the Forte is related to the Hyundai Elantra, utilizing a similar platform and powertrain. The Forte Koup isn’t simply an exercise in badge engineering, though. There are some sheetmetal differences that help set the Koup apart from the Elantra. The shape of the rear window glass and the lower window sills are a little more scalloped out on the Koup. Frameless windows are standard equipment, as are projector headlamps (high-intensity xenon on the SX Luxury trim). Base model Koups get 17” wheels as standard, but my particular Koup is equipped with some incredibly attractive 18″ two-toned wheels. The glossy-black power-folding mirrors are a nice touch.
Up front, a big air dam is flanked by two large headlights with LED parking lights. I’m not so sure why the LEDs aren’t used for the daytime running lights – things would look much better than the old-school use of the high-beams at low-power. Out back, the taillights feature LED light pipes that look great at night, and the Koup even features a faux-carbon diffuser in the lower bumper, with dual exhaust tailpipes on SX models. To sum up, there are lots of “sporty” touches here on the Forte Koup SX. It seems that most who are looking for a compact two-door are looking for something stylish, progressive, but not over the top in terms of external style. The Kia Forte Koup does a pretty good job in his regard.
Inside, the Forte continues the clean execution, with lots of matte plastic textured surfaces, soft-touch materials, and a fairly traditional layout. Large dials for the dual-zone climate control (standard on SX) dominate the centre stack, and aluminum-alloy pedals do a good job dressing up the footwell. Visibility from the driver’s seat is actually quite decent, thanks to the low window sills. SX models feature cloth seats with leatherette bolsters – opting to full leather requires you to step up to the SX Luxury trim, which also adds satellite navigation, a sunroof, and a heated steering wheel.
The steering wheel features a button that toggles through various levels of steering assist, from Comfort, Normal, and Sport. I left it in Sport most of the time. Do note that this really only varies the heft of the wheel – feedback through the wheel isn’t increased regardless of the setting. Second row accommodation is surprisingly good, thanks to a fairly long wheelbase and roofline, which lends itself to good legroom and headroom, respectively. Two of your colleagues will be able to squeeze into the back seat for a short lunch run – three will be tight. Aside from the more challenging ingress/egress, not too much differentiates the Koup from the sedan.
Where the Forte Koup SX differs from its Hyundai Elantra cousin is under the hood. Over in the Hyundai camp, the only available choice is a 2.0L naturally-aspirated gasoline four-cylinder engine. With the Forte, this 2.0L engine serves as the base-model entry. As soon as you step up to the Forte Koup SX, Kia drops in a 1.6L turbocharged four-cylinder, shared with the Hyundai Veloster Turbo. This little engine produces 201 horsepower at 6000rpm and 195 lb-ft of torque from a useful 1750-4500rpm. It is paired up to either a six-speed manual transmission, or a six-speed automatic. The SX Luxury trim is available with the automatic transmission only, unfortunately. If you’re looking for a Forte Koup with three pedals, satellite navigation, and a sunroof, then you’re out of luck as such a configuration simply doesn’t exist.
Behind the wheel, the Forte Koup with the turbocharged engine moves with good authority. The torque peak is where you spend a lot of time in the rev range, and boost lag isn’t much of an issue, thanks to the twin-scroll turbo design. The shifter on the six-speed manual transmission is accurate enough to use, but the clutch pedal lacks feedback. Combined with the soft engine mounts (that allowed the engine to rock back and forth as torque is transferred), means it was somewhat difficult to be smooth at every launch.
Some may assume, thanks to the Forte Koup’s sporty exterior bits that the driving experience would be aggressive to match. In practice, the Forte Koup actually straddles the comfortable side of the equation. In terms of noise, the Forte Koup also delivers a very quiet experience – this powertrain simply isn’t tuned to deliver much audible excitement. Competitors like the Scion tC and Honda Civic Si deliver a more focused and performance-oriented experience, by way of firmer suspension tuning and more enthusiastic exhaust notes. The 201hp is very comparable to the Civic Si’s 205hp, but the power delivery couldn’t be more different. The Forte Koup SX provides flexible low-rpm torque compared to the Civic’s high-rpm character.
Kia rates the Forte Koup SX, with the six-speed manual, at 9.4L/100km in the city, and 6.8L/100km on the highway. Over approximately 500km of mixed driving, I managed a week-long average of 8.8L/100km. The gearing of the six-speed manual is actually fairly short – 100km/h sees the engine spinning at around 2700rpm in sixth gear. The fuel tank will happily accept 50L of regular 87 octane fuel.
The base Forte Koup EX starts at $21,295 and is fairly well-equipped, with a full safety and communication suite. Air conditioning and keyless entry are standard equipment, as is the FlexSteer customizable steering system. The SX trim, which is the car tested here, gets you the turbocharged engine, 18-inch wheels, carbon-look exterior bits, larger front brakes, and fog lights, among other items. Kia asks for $24,195 for this mid-level trim, which is fairly competitive in this class. The six-speed automatic is a $1,200 option. It’s too bad the six-speed manual is not available with the top-end SX Luxury ($28,795). Buyers are forced to choose between the control provided by three pedals, or creature comforts like satellite navigation and upgraded headlights.
The Kia Forte Koup SX does a good job of blending everyday flexibility, practicality, sharp style, extensive gadgets, and of course, value. It may not be the best choice for somebody looking for a legitimate sport-compact coupe, but the Koup isn’t really aimed at that kind of audience, anyway. The Koup SX is more of a companion that you don’t necessarily have to worry about day in and day out. It doesn’t try too hard with sporty pretenses – it just quietly gets the job done in Kia’s trademark style.
2015 Kia Forte Koup SX-T Gallery