New & Used Kia Forte: In Depth
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The Kia Forte took the place of Kia's earlier Spectra and Spectra 5 models in the lineup, giving the brand a more attractive and competitive contender in the small economy car segment.
The Forte is a line of compact cars that now includes a coupe (playfully branded the Koup), sedans, and hatchbacks. It's been around only since 2010.
MORE: Read our 2015 Kia Forte full review
The first generation lasted a short four years, with a new and redesigned version launched in 2014. The 2010–2013 Forte four-door sedan and two-door Forte Koup shared little sheetmetal. Both were neatly and handsomely styled, elevating Kia from the bland-box lines it had been known for. The standard engine was a 156-horsepower, 2.0-liter four used in the base LX and mid-range EX models, whereas the sportier, top-line SX model got a 173-hp, 2.4-liter four. For the 2010 and 2011 model years, LX and EX Fortes came standard with a five-speed manual gearbox; a behind-the-times four-speed automatic was optional. The SX had a six-speed manual standard, with a five-speed auto available as an upgrade. In this generation, the Forte started with a base price below $14,000 and was well-received. Solid performance over the next several years helped put Kia back into the small-car conversation with the segment's big players.
All of those original Forte models featured Bluetooth pairing, Sirius Satellite Radio, and steering wheel controls with voice activation. The mid-range EX model added air conditioning and various power accessories; the SX model got a sportier suspension tune and flashy 17-inch alloy wheels. The few options included a power sunroof, leather seats, and a Convenience Package that bundled several upgrades into the base LX.
There was also a high-efficiency option for the EX trim level: The Fuel Economy Package paired the better five-speed automatic to the 2.0-liter engine, adding electric power steering, a smart alternator system, tires with low rolling resistance, and some aerodynamic tweaks as well. It paid off in fuel economy of 27 mpg city, 36 mpg highway, the highest of any Forte model. (The Forte was not among those Kia cars affected by a gas-mileage restatement in the 2011–2013 model years.)
The 2012 model year brought some notable improvements to the Forte. All models were equipped with either six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmissions, with fuel economy ratings of 26/36 mpg for much of the model line. There was also a new Technology Package that brought navigation with SiriusXM Traffic, plus automatic climate control and push-button start.
The Forte Koup and Forte5 hatchback were offered with the same powertrain options as their sedan sibling, although they did without the base-level LX trim. Starting with the EX trim, the coupe and hatch came with standard A/C; power windows and locks; and a six-speaker stereo with AM/FM/CD/MP3/Satellite capabilities as well as USB and aux-in ports.
With a new model around the corner, the 2013 Forte lineup brought relatively few changes.
The new Kia Forte
The Forte lineup today includes a compact four-door sedan, a five-door hatchback, and the two-door 'Koup'--with new and more flowing lines and even more amenities than its predecessor. Competitors include the high-selling Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic, along with the Chevy Cruze, Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra (which is closely related to the Forte), Mazda 3, and Subaru Impreza--as well as the slightly pricier Volkswagen Jetta sedan and Golf hatchback.
The completely redesigned 2014 Kia Forte sedan made its way to showrooms in the spring of 2013, while the Koup and five-door followed shortly after. The new Forte compact is longer, lower, and wider, with fully 2 inches more in the wheelbase, expanding interior room. It comes in two basic trim levels: the base LX and the high-end EX, each with its own engine. The Forte LX is fitted with a 148-hp, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and a six-speed manual gearbox, with a six-speed automatic transmission optional; the Forte EX upgrades to a 173-hp, 2.0-liter four that is paired with the six-speed automatic only. All models use electric power steering.
Today's Fortes offer better fuel efficiency and much more handsome styling than their predecessors. The models, and Kia in general, have made big strides in the infotainment realm as well, with the best system included with navigation. All Forte sedans have air conditioning, satellite radio, heated outside mirrors, and steering-wheel audio controls. The Forte EX adds standard remote keyless entry, a cooled glovebox, a rearview camera, and Kia's UVO connectivity and infotainment system.
Kia made few changes to the Forte for 2015, although models equipped with the larger, 2.0-liter four-cylinder and automatic transmission see an uptick in fuel-economy ratings; they're now listed at 26 mpg city, 39 highway, 31 combined, which represents an increase of several miles per gallon.