It’s a well-known fact that the compact sedan segment is one of, if not the most, fiercely competitive groups in the automotive industry. There are a ton of players, but only the absolute best will be successful. The competition in this segment is much like pre-med university students competing for that coveted offer into medical school; all the major contenders are good at what they do, but only the absolute best will be successful. The advantage here is that manufactures are pulling out all the stops to build the best compact sedans they can, so shoppers have a plethora of great hard-working cars to choose from. I’d always thought of Kia as an underdog in this competition, rather than a leader, so when given the chance to drive the brand new 2014 Kia Forte SX for a week, I was curious to find out whether it stood up to the challenge of competing with some of the best.
When I picked up my fully loaded Forte SX sedan I had not even seen one in the flesh yet, so my first order of business was to give it a look over. The first thing I noticed was that the front end is absolutely stunning, the smooth fluid lines and sharp LED accent lights look phenomenal. Moving to the side of the car, the machined 17” alloys and polished metal accents below the window line add just a bit of character and class. The rear end however was a bit of a letdown for me, it looks more like a Ford Fiesta than anything else, and that’s certainly not a good thing.
Surprisingly, one of the first things I noticed was that the Forte SX with its naturally aspirated 2.0L putting out 173hp was actually pretty quick to get moving. Highway merging and passing is a breeze compared to many of the competitors in this segment (I am looking at you, Honda Civic). The 6-speed automatic is smooth and easy to live with, my only complaint is that downshifts are not as quick as they could be, however the paddle shifters, while gimmicky, are very quick to respond and make downshifting in a hurry much more enjoyable. The fuel economy numbers are right in line with the competition and I averaged 7.4L/100km over a week of rush hour commuting. Pushing the ‘Active Eco’ button does help take a few points off the fuel economy, but it almost always prevents the transmission from downshifting, making merging and passing a much larger chore than it needs to be.
The handling is competent, definitely not exciting, but the steering feels confident and solid, which is what’s going to matter for most Forte buyers. On the road, the Forte feels well-built and stable, even at high speeds, a welcome trait in such a car. I did notice that the ride was a little harsher than I expected and an almost annoying amount of road noise when driving on rough asphalt. I’ve related both of those issues to the optional 17” rims and low profile tires my tester came with. They looked great, but I am not sure they are worth the sacrifice in comfort.
When it comes to interior quality and features, I’ve recently learned to up my expectations from the Korean manufactures and the Forte is no exception. The top of the line SX model comes with enough electronic gadgets to keep even the biggest techies happy. As usual from Kia, I found the touch screen navigation and entertainment system very easy to use, the dual climate control was also very well laid out and user friendly. The driver’s seat was cooled and all seats were heated. Interestingly, heated rear seats are not offered in most major compact competitors, except for the Forte’s close cousin, the Hyundai Elantra. The seats themselves are trimmed in very nice perforated leather; however I did find the seat bottoms a little stiff on a long distance run. I also found the rear seat head room to be a bit of an issue, I am about 5’11” and my head wouldn’t quite fit comfortably.
This all comes down to one question; does the new Forte have what it takes to be a leader in its class? Much like the Elantra, whose sales have really taken off recently, the Forte does a good job of playing the features game. Each trim level comes with just a couple more standard features than the competition, and I certainly feel that the 2.0L in my SX tester is one of the best engines in the class, even if just for the extra power. A personal favorite of mine in this segment for years has been the Ford Focus, mostly because as an enthusiast I love the driving dynamics. However, a comparably equipped Focus Titanium sedan comes in at just under $29,000, that’s almost $3000 more than my Forte SX tester which came in at just over $26,000. Now, the Honda Civic has always been a class leader and a Civic in Touring trim with similar equipment actually weighs in a few hundred dollars cheaper than the Forte. If you can get past the obvious lack of power in the 140hp Civic, that price makes it a very strong competitor. Of course, if it’s performance you’re looking for, for only slightly more money and a little fuel economy sacrifice you could step up to the Civic Si.
After my week with the Forte was over, it’s becoming more and more clear to me that Kia is serious about offering the kind of value consumers are looking for to be a leader in this segment. With the number of great cars in this fierce competition it’s really starting to come down to personal preference. If you want to have some extra power at your disposal, and like to have all the features a compact car owner may have only dreamed of a few years ago, then the Forte may be for you.
2014 Kia Forte SX Gallery