The compact car game has wholly changed over the last decade or so.
MONTRÉAL, QUÉBEC – Gone are the days when driving a fuel efficient little commuter was synonymous to living in a penalty box, and the latest entries are far from punishing in any way, shape or form. Models like the current Honda Civic and Hyundai Elantra (reviewed here) are top-sellers and are often far better suited for buyers than their larger mid-size siblings. Kia has taken the wraps off their freshly redesigned entry, and we were invited to Mont-Tremblant to take the 2019 Kia Forte for a spin and evaluate it for ourselves.
Deep down, the Forte shares its underpinnings with the Hyundai Elantra, and that is by no means a bad thing. The Elantra is one of our runaway favourites in the compact segment, and a car we enjoy spending time with every time one arrives at our office. The Forte’s styling cues are more conservative, but still reflective of the Kia brand’s current design language. Higher trim models get full LED headlights and 17” machined finish alloys, but the Forte looks handsome in even its most basic LX trim.
A 2.0L Atkinson-cycle inline four-cylinder with multi-port injection is the only engine option available at launch. It’s part of the “Nu” engine family; output is 147 horsepower at 6,200RPM and 132 lb-ft. of torque, which is more than reasonable for the segment. The Forte is decently responsive and gets out of its own way, but is outclassed in raw performance by the Honda Civic (reviewed here) and Mazda3, both of which offer higher output engines on upper trim levels. Engine response from the 2.0L is adequate, but it’s clear that this powertrain focuses on efficiency and refinement rather than acceleration and speed.
Two transmissions are available, starting with a traditional six-speed manual that is only available on the base LX MT model. All other trims of the Forte get a new “Intelligent Variable Transmission”, or IVT, which is Kia’s first in-house continuously variable transmission. Kia Canada claims that transmission noise has been reduced significantly, as the new IVT uses a chain belt rather than a push belt setup in other CVTs. In practice, it’s a fairly good setup with obvious smoothness and minimal to no fuss or drama. This is exactly what the average compact sedan buyer wants, and Kia has delivered a solid product.
Ride quality is one area where the Forte is among the top of its class. The front suspension is an independent setup, with MacPherson struts and twin-tube shock absorbers. Out back is a coupled torsion beam axle. Higher speed cornering on on-ramps is no issue for this Kia, but the rear end occasionally exhibited some unsettling jumpiness over bumps. Overall, it remains on the softer-sprung side of the segment, whereas those looking for a firmer and more athletic ride will want to consider the Mazda3 (reviewed here).
Manual transmission models are rated at 8.6L/100km and 6.4L/100km highway, but again, there will be a very low take rate on this example. Fortes equipped with the IVT will see a very generous 7.7L/100km city and 5.9L/100km highway. Our test drive actually saw 5.7L/100km over one highway run, besting the manufacturer’s claim. As with everything else in the segment, the Forte will gladly accept 87-octane regular fuel.
The Forte’s interior is very typical for a modern Kia product. It’s excellent visually, and while there are some ergonomic quirks, it all works very well. There are hard buttons for most major controls, as to not distract the driver by having to fiddle through unnecessarily complicated touchscreen menus. Interior space is more than suffient, with long seat tracks that will accommodate taller drivers without issue in the front seats. Rear seat passengers still have plenty of legroom behind tall front occupants, but headroom may be a challenge.
Materials are good overall, though as typical for this price point, there are some cheap plastics in play. The “Jet Turbine” style air vents are a nice touch, and there are definitely some obvious trickle-downs from Kia’s own Stinger halo car (reviewed here). The leather used on the steering wheel is particularly nice; almost reminiscent of BMWs with the optional M-Sport wheel. It’s nice to touch and easy to grip.
The base model Forte LX has many standard features, including automatic headlights, heated mirrors, heated seats, heated steering wheel, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, 8” display audio with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth, cruise control, and much more. Unique touches on the top-trim EX Limited that are uncommon in the segment include cooled front seats, heated rear seats, wireless charging, LED interior lighting, and radar cruise control.
Pricing for the 2019 Forte starts at $16,495 for the LX manual transmission, and $18,995 for the LX automatic (also includes forward collision avoidance assist, lane keeping assist, driver attention alert). The value-oriented EX is $20,995 and includes all of the active safety features, LED headlights, wireless charging, and heated leather steering wheel for $20,995. The EX Limited tops out the lineup at just over $28,000. These prices are not including destination or taxes.
The 2019 Kia Forte is the third-generation of the popular Korean compact, and if we include its predecessor the Spectra, it’s actually the fifth-generation model. This car has been significantly improved over the model it replaces, and while we’re not the biggest CVT fans, the new “IVT” setup has added an element of refinement not previously there on the outgoing car. With aggressive pricing and standard features, the Forte has caught up to all of its competitors and surpassed many of them. Compact shoppers would be doing themselves a disservice to not give this one a test drive.