Drive: 2019 Kia Forte lacks excitement
Kia Motors always seems to find a way to build excitement around its compact sedan, the Forte. Apart from its Italian monicker, meaning strong or in music, loud, it has a dose of German DNA thanks to the involvement of former Audi designer Peter Schreyer in its development. The Forte replaced the forgettable Spectra in the 2009 model year and has been redesigned twice since then.
Kia is banking on the Forte’s new styling, deliberately reminiscent of the eye-catching Stinger sport sedan, to sustain or increase its sales numbers. During a down period for sedans nationally, Forte sales have exceeded 100,000 for three years running.
Performance-wise, the Forte isn’t appreciably improved over the 2013-18 version. Its normally aspirated 4-cylinder engine — no turbo versions are offered for 2019 — sends just 147 horsepower to the front wheels through a continuously variable automatic transmission. These are not formulas for invigorating acceleration or handling. While we found the Forte’s road manners to be well within our comfort zone, the car lacked the excitement promised by its Stinger styling.
We also detected the same trait in the Forte that we noticed in the Hyundai Ioniq: the front suspension seemed more responsive and predictable than the rear. Specifically, the Forte has a MacPherson strut front suspension and torsion-beam rear axle. We’d hit one of the billion or so frost heaves or potholes on early-spring Connecticut roads and the front wheels would glide over it, seemingly unfazed ... but the rear suspension notified us firmly that we should have been going a little slower, or tried harder to avoid the road hazard.
In general, however, the Forte delivered a firm but comfortable ride, and the car wasn’t underpowered. Moreover, at $23,430, it was loaded with value to go with its good looks. Standard features on Fortes in EX trim included faux leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, satellite radio, automatic dual-zone climate control, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic warning, power-adjustable driver’s seat, and push-button start. So equipped, it borders on near-luxury. Adding the EX Launch option package ($3,210) brings the Forte EX solidly into the near-luxury category.
Among the Forte’s functional strengths are its large trunk, adequate head room for 6-footers in the back seat, and excellent fuel economy of 30 mpg city, 40 highway, using regular unleaded gasoline. We also noticed that the seats were more comfortable than was the case in Fortes we’ve driven in the past.
With the rollout of the redesigned Forte, the hatchback Forte5 and sporty, 201-horsepower Forte5 SX are absent, but a wider range of engine, transmission and body choices are expected for 2020. Choices for 2019 begin with the base FE ($17,790) and end with the EX ($21,990).
Rated a Top Safety Pick Plus by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Forte competes with its Hyundai cousin, the Elantra; the Honda Civic; Toyota Corolla; Nissan Sentra; Subaru Impreza;Chevrolet Cruze; and Ford Focus.
2019 Kia Forte EX
Engine: 2.0-liter inline Four, 147 horsepower, 132 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: continuously variable automatic
Weight: 2,762 lb.
Suspension: MacPherson strut front, torsion-beam rear
Wheels: 17x7-in. alloy
Tires: 225/45R17 all-season
Seating capacity: 5
Luggage capacity: 15.3 cu. ft.
Fuel capacity: 14 gallons
Fuel economy: 30 mpg city, 40 mpg highway
Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline
Steven Macoy (email@example.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel.