The Kia Forte is a strong contender in the highly competitive compact segment, and if the number of current-generation Fortes I’ve been seeing on the road is any indication, I believe the consumer response has been very positive. The Forte hits on two key criteria in the segment; luxury features and power, both of which tend to be at a premium when we’re talking compacts. However, cramming Mercedes-levels of features and a hot little engine into a compact mainstream design is actually pretty innovative and that’s really where my appreciation for the Forte stems from.
Building on the success of the Forte sedan, the lineup now includes the Forte Koup and the Forte5. Our friends over at Kia were kind enough to hand me the keys to a new Forte5 SX for a week so I could get acquainted with it. As the name suggests, the Forte5 is a handsome 5-door hatchback, which looks and feels almost identical to the Forte sedan, with the addition of a very practical rear hatch. That said, the really exciting thing about my particular Forte5 tester is that it’s equipped with Kia’s new 1.6L turbocharged GDI engine. Last year when I drove the Forte sedan, I came away raving about how much I loved the 2.0L GDI for its extra punch, so I was anxious to try out the even hotter 201 horsepower 1.6L – which is right up there with quasi-competitors such as the popular Honda Civic Si.
Not surprisingly, this little car is quick. It’s not going to be giving the latest Corvette a run for its money, but nonetheless; it packs more than enough power to put a good percentage of commuter traffic in their respective places, and have fun doing it! There is a bit of turbo lag, but it’s only noticeable in certain situations, such stepping on it while already slowly moving along, and it’s not something I would take notice of during regular driving. Despite the extra power being shoved through the front wheels, torque steer hasn’t presented itself to be an issue. The huge 18” rims wrapped in Kumho performance rubber do a great job maintaining grip when pushed a bit. Through the corners, the car displays minimal body roll, and is tight and stable both at highway speeds and on banked ramps.
To get all this “hot hatch” goodness you’ll need to spring for the top-line SX model, as the peppy 1.6L isn’t available in other trims. But, your $28,700 also gets you a hot (warm? –Ed) hatch that looks the part. My black-on-black tester is very handsome, and at a quick glance I can’t help but feel that it looks a lot like the previous generation Audi A3 – that is a very good thing. The car’s overall muscular styling is complimented by big dual exhaust tips, which help give it a more substantial look. For your money you’ll also get a plethora of luxury features such as a cooled driver’s seat, heated seats all the way around, a heated steering wheel, memory seats, navigation, dual-zone automatic climate control and Kia’s fancy power folding mirrors.
Between the impressive driving dynamics and all the little luxurious gadgets in the new Forte5, it’s really hard to keep it from putting a smile on your face. In fact, the only real sacrifice I think you’d make for the sportiness of this car is an obvious one and it’s the ride quality. While the car is adequately quiet inside, the big wheels, low-profile tires and stiffened suspension do mean you’ll feel the bumps a little more than in a base model Forte. Fuel mileage only suffers slightly with the turbo, and I averaged a healthy 7.6L/100km, compared to the 7.4L/100 I averaged while driving the 2.0 Forte sedan last year. Obviously this isn’t a scientific test, just my observations, but I’d be more than happy to foot the bill for the difference just to have the feisty little turbocharger under the hood. It’s also worth noting that the 1.6L happily runs on regular grade fuel, which caught me a little off-guard as I was half-expecting Kia to publish an octane grade recommendation.
Another big advantage of the Forte5 over the sedan is the additional cargo space; the rear seats easily fold completely flat revealing a massive cargo area with plenty of height for tall or bulky items. This alone makes the Forte5 a great choice for someone looking for a versatile “do it all” compact. The rest of the interior is very practical as well, rear headroom is improved over the sedan and like most Kias, all of the controls up front are well-positioned and intuitive to use. It would be nice to see some higher quality materials used though; the dashboard does look and feel a little thin, and the leather seats in my tester were accented with faux-carbon-fibre vinyl inserts that seem a little out of place. The seats themselves are also on the wrong side of hard and I found myself wiggling around a fair bit after spending a couple hours in the car.
All in all though, my minor gripes are a very small price to pay for the unique value the redesigned Kia Forte5 brings to the table. Much like the original “hot hatches” of the 80s, the Forte5 isn’t all muscled up and ready for the track, like the Focus ST or similar. Rather, the Forte5 holds a more traditional path of a proven platform, a hot little engine, a palatable price and all the space and features you need to get through life’s daily grind. I could easily see a young urban couple or family in need of a practical hatchback, but wanting something a little more fun and unique being very happy with a Forte5 SX.
2014 Kia Forte5 SX Gallery