Kia Forte Carves Its Own Compact Niche

John Gilbert

Snow White Kia Forte was the perfect conveyance to the SnoCross season opener at Spirit Mountain. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Snow White Kia Forte was the perfect conveyance to the SnoCross season opener at Spirit Mountain. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Snowmobiles are rugged, but the redesigned 2019 Forte is smoothly contoured with surprisingly luxurious features. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Snowmobiles are rugged, but the redesigned 2019 Forte is smoothly contoured with surprisingly luxurious features. Photo credit: John Gilbert

A couple months ago, our subject was the outstanding $50,000 Kia Stinger sports sedan, ready to take on Germany’s best sports sedans, and in that review I mentioned a couple of other reviews I had read which actually suggested that you could save some money and buy two compact Kia Fortes and it is so similar that your neighbors would think you had bought the Stinger.

I ridiculed that comparison, because I had driven previous Fortes, and I like it as a compact, but thre is no similarity that might cause a sane person to mistake it for the Stinger.

Today I’m here to fortify my sarcastic evaluation of some of my colleagues.  I recently spent a week in the snow and chill of Minnesota’s North Shore of Lake Superior with a gleaming white Forte EX, the loaded version of Kia’s all redesigned Forte.

At the last redesign, Kia changed the attitude of the Forte, from a conservative compact to a much sportier looking compact, with some neat contours carved into its flanks. For 2019, those contours get refined, and while it sounds like a nonsequitor to say a luxury compact, the added EX has some very nice features.

Kia, also, is not stupid; having just come out with the sizzling twin-turbo V6 and all-wheel-drive Stinger, with a sleek, dramatically low shape, the company decided to throw the comparison at the media. Some bought it. Motor Trend even said it was “inspired by the Stinger.”

Well, no. Regular readers of Newcarpicks.com know that I tend to favor smaller vehicles, as long as they’re big enough. I like every improvement to gas mileage that’s possible, and the maneuverability of a lighter smaller vehicle is more fun, in my mind. So I would surmise that the Stinger is a far different, larger, faster, stronger, more feature-filled, overpowering all-wheel-drive road-monster, compared to the Forte — but in some ways, that lack of comparability is in the Forte’s favor.

The Forte’s redesign includes a low and sporty front end, with extremely bright and well-aimed LED headlights, taillights and daytime running lights sliced in atop both fenders. A sweeping contour starts low at the front wheelwell and angles up to the top of the rear wheelwell.

The Snow White Pearl paint stayed snow white for a couploe of days, and then it turned cold enough for street treatments in Duluth, and the spray of road glop messed up the white. It did, however, enhance the contours a bit.

 Instrument panel is changeable, but it’s more impressive when it shows 39.2 miles per gallon. Photo credit: John Gilbert
 Instrument panel is changeable, but it’s more impressive when it shows 39.2 miles per gallon. Photo credit: John Gilbert
A plush and comfortable dose of luxury makes the interior of the Forte a comfortable place to reside. Photo credit: John Gilbert
A plush and comfortable dose of luxury makes the interior of the Forte a comfortable place to reside. Photo credit: John Gilbert

Inside, the new Forte EX is quite surprising. You are greeted with a plush, comfortable interior, particularly the leathery body-hugging bucket seats. Leathery is apparently something called SOFINO seat trim. Apparently, South Koreans do such a good job of coverinbg these seats in luxurious stuff thay named it a spinoff of the Italian “So Fine, oh.”

Sorry about that.

Driving the Forte makes you appreciate the longer and wider and taller dimensions, and Kia has done a great job of making it all handle really well. A drive-mode switch on the console gives you a sport option that firms up the suspension and makes the continuously-variable transmission feel as though it is really stepped gears. Kia didn’t want to sound ordinary by calling it a CVT, so they call it an “IVT,” for intelligent variable transmission.

Shifting wasn’t an annoyance, at least, going with the sport setting and taking advantage of manually interrupting the drone of the variable belt. Rear seat room is surprisingly adequate, meaning you duck your head to get in, but once in you’re not stuffed or uncomfortable. It even has a back seat console.

The biggest thing about Kia, and its partner, Hyundai, is that its cars always promise a lot and then deliver more than they promise.

The test Forte EX, for example, has a base price of $21,000, with the same 2.0-liter 4-cylinder and 147 horsepower with 132 foot-pounds of torque as the EX, and the same choice of 6-speed stick or the IVT.

All components can be operated onto the nav screen by using the smart-knob on the console. Photo credit: John Gilber
All components can be operated onto the nav screen by using the smart-knob on the console. Photo credit: John Gilber

As tested, the Forte EX listed for $26,515, a bargain these days, especially when you check both the standard features and the available options.

As standard, you get 17-inch alloy wheels, the drive mode selection, the 2.0-liter engine, and a load of safety and security items. For example: apush-button start,, blind spot collision warning, driver attention warning, forward collision avoidance warning and assist in preventing that collision, traction control, eloectronic stability control, stability management, hill start assist, tire pressure monitor, driver attention warning, lane-departure warning and lane keeping assist, rear cross-traffic warning, heated power outside mirrors,dual zone climate control, rear vents, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone cooridination, three-month subscription to Sirius satellite radio, 8-inch touchscreen, USB charge outlets, Bluetooth connectivity — all standard.

The EX Launch package upgrades you to Harman Kardon Premium audio, navigation system, forward collision avoidance with special pedestrian avoidance, smart cruise control, and the power sunroof and auto-dimming rear view mirror.

That is a lot of equipment on a luxury car, let alone a compact, and even a compact that has been stretched out to nearly midsize dimensions.

My family agreed with my assessment, and said the back doors seemed light and flimsy. Maybe, but with every safety box checked, airbags everywhere, and a lot of high-strengthy steel reinforcing the chassis and body, I like the safety equipment. And the normal 5-year roadside assistance and the 50,000 mile basic warranty, Kia has your back for 10 years, 100,000 miles on the powertrain.

Kia is stepping out from Hyundai’s shadow, for the betterment of both partners, and Kia generally gets the sportier model when the two share a size and platform, while Hyundai goes for more mainstream and general value. I felt like the Forte EX delivered a fun, sporty operation every drive, and as you can see on the dashboard photo, we registered substantial fuel economy — 39.2 miles per gallon on one photo.

With General Motors announcing it was going to close some factories and discontinue some cars, including the Impala and the Cruze, it is abandoning cars for SUVs apparently. The Cruze dropping out of the compact segment will only make more opportunities for companies like Kia to make its compacts more attractive, and the Forte is a prime example for 2019.