2010 Kia Forte Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
August 18, 2009

The 2010 Kia Forte is a strong contender in every way—a surprisingly good-looking, enjoyable-to-drive car that will hold the budget down.

TheCarConnection.com has driven the 2010 Kia Forte, then researched reviews from other respected sources to bring you the most complete assessment possible. Here you'll find firsthand observations from the experienced TheCarConnection.com editors along with other reviewers, plus a comparison of the Forte to other affordable small sedans.

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, which is quickly shedding its reputation for dowdy vehicles. The Forte has many of the elements of much more expensive cars, yet it’s still one of the least expensive small sedans.

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Thank Kia’s new design studio in California for creating such a clean, assertive, and attractive look for the 2010 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, the trim proportions are just right. The svelte 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; the look is no-nonsense yet surprisingly upscale.

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 SX. 2010 Kia Forte 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 deliver 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.

While there’s a lot to love in the package, we found a few small issues. The standard hydraulic steering in the 2010 Kia Forte is quite stiff at low speeds but light at higher speeds—the opposite of what we wanted—and both engines can get a little thrashy at the top of their range. But honestly, that’s the case with most of its rivals. We actually recommend the automatic with the Forte, as it works well with the engine, and clutch-throttle coordination on manual cars was frustrating.

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 aerodynamic enhancements. And, surprisingly, it’s the Forte that we like best; we think the weighting of the electric power steering is better, with a little more feel of the road, and boosts more while parking and less at speed. None of the other changes affect ride or handling noticeably, yet the package ups fuel economy ratings to 27 mpg city, 36 highway.

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 backseat has plenty of space for two adults, three in a pinch—though legroom is limited. The trunk is huge. Overall, Kia has done a great job damping the noise and vibration that usually accompanies the cheapest small cars, and even over the coarsest road surfaces the cabin boom isn’t excessive. Seat materials are unremarkable, and while there’s definitely some hard plastic around the cabin, we couldn’t find any ragged edges.

All safety features are standard across the entire 2010 Kia Forte line; that includes dual seat-mounted side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, front active headrests, anti-lock brakes with brake assist, and electronic stability control.

All 2010 Kia Forte models get Bluetooth, Sirius Satellite Radio, and an auxiliary input jack for the audio system, plus steering wheel controls and voice activation. The EX model adds air conditioning and power accessories, while the SX adds fog lamps, plus upgraded upholstery and trim. The SX model is the “image leader” of the lineup; in addition to those details and the stronger engine, it gets a sport-tuned suspension, larger brakes, and showy 17-inch alloy wheels.

Other options on the 2010 Kia Forte are limited to a power sunroof, leather seat packages (heated in front), and a Convenience Package that adds A/C and other upgrades to the LX.

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