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First Drive: 2010 Kia Forte

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2010 Kia Forte

2010 Kia Forte

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2010 Kia Forte

2010 Kia Forte

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2010 Kia Forte

2010 Kia Forte

Enlarge Photo

2010 Kia Forte

2010 Kia Forte

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2010 Kia Forte Koup

2010 Kia Forte Koup

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Kia has renamed its core small-sedan model the Forte to signal a new beginning for the brand in this segment, and it only takes a glance at the new model to understand why. It’s a really good-looking car. While the Spectra that preceded the Forte certainly wasn’t a bad car, its anonymous styling didn’t win many friends and its feature set was far from exciting.

Like the fashionable 2010 Soul, the 2010 Kia Forte merits a new trip to the Kia dealership and perhaps a new look at Kia, as the brand is quickly shedding its reputation for dowdy vehicles. The Forte has many of the elements and features of much more expensive cars, yet it’s still one of the least expensive small sedans.

Thank Kia’s new design studio in California for creating such clean, assertive, and attractive look for the Forte. With smooth, clean sheetmetal and an uncluttered look in front and in back, the new Forte doesn’t go over the top and it’s likely to age well; even more to the point, they got the trim proportions right. The svelte 2010 Kia Forte doesn’t have any awkward angles, and a nice wide stance from the front and back somehow matches the flowing, elegant roofline. Inside, the look is simple, with a smoother, more organic version of the teardrop center stack used in the Forte.

Forte shoppers have a choice of two different engines—a 156-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder in LX and EX models or a 173-hp, 2.4-liter four in the sportier Kia Forte SX. LX and EX models have a standard five-speed manual and optional four-speed automatic, while SX models get a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic.

The 2010 Kia Forte delivers a lot more driving satisfaction (and sophistication) than most value-minded buyers will expect. Both engines bring more than adequate acceleration, and they function just fine with the automatics as they both are happiest in the mid-rev ranges. Kia expects acceleration to 60 mph to be in the low eight-second range for the SX. The standard hydraulic power steering responds well, outward visibility is good, and the ride is firm but absorbent—a nice compromise for daily driving. There’s not a lot of nosedive in hard braking, and the four-wheel discs stop the Forte confidently. Automatic Fortes include a manumatic shift mode that actually locks in a gear; unlike other systems it won’t force a downshift if you floor it. We recommend the automatic with the Forte, as it works well with the engine and clutch-throttle coordination on manual cars was imprecise.

The EX Fuel Economy Package keeps the 2.0-liter engine but upgrades to a five-speed automatic, and includes electric power steering, a smart alternator system, low-rolling-resistance silica tires, and some minor aerodunamic enhancements. And, surprisingly, it’s the Forte that we liked best; we thought the weighting of the electric power steering was better, with a little more feel of the road, and boosted more while parking and less at speed. None of the other changes affected ride or handling noticeably, yet the package ups fuel economy ratings to 27 mpg city, 36 highway. What’s not to like?

The rather tall roof and wider body works wonders for passenger space in the Forte. Front seats aren’t generously proportioned, but there’s adequate headroom even with the sunroof for this 6’-6” driver, with lots of legroom, and the back seat has plenty of space for two adults, three in a pinch—though there legroom is limited. The trunk is huge.


 
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