2010 Kia Forte Review

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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.

8

2010 Kia Forte

Styling

The 2010 Kia Forte has a simple, attractive exterior that looks good from every angle; inside the Forte is attractive but not charismatic.  

The all-new Kia 2010 Forte signals that Kia is ready to compete for top honors in the hugely crowded compact sedan segment. While it’s not a perfect vehicle (what is?), the 2010 Kia Forte makes a strong visual statement and backs it up with a wealth of features and impressive levels of comfort and quality. Most top review sources, along with the editors at TheCarConnection.com, think that the Forte is a very good-looking small sedan.

The 2010 Kia Forte is Kia’s “new bread-and-butter car that replaces the Spectra,” according to Motor Trend, and it will arrive on dealer lots in “three trim levels: the base spec LX, the volume EX…and the top trim SX.” The Kia 2010 Forte features an all-new design that is very well-received in reviews surveyed by TheCarConnection.com. Edmunds raves that the Kia Forte boasts an “attractive exterior design,” and even goes so far as to say “the Forte is undoubtedly one of the best-looking small sedans on the market.” Cars.com is more reserved, remarking that “if you’ve experienced Honda’s Civic, the car will seem very familiar,” especially in terms of overall styling. Such comments still don’t stop Car and Driver from claiming that the 2010 Kia Forte “is now the best-looking car in its class; it especially stands out when viewed in person.” Motor Trend does an excellent job of summarizing reviewer sentiment by declaring that, “bottom line, this is one slick-looking compact.”

Inside, the Kia Forte’s cabin doesn’t quite make the same impression as the exterior sheetmetal. While Motor Trend reviewers like that the Kia Forte’s “center stack is clean and uncluttered,” Edmunds contends that the “interior doesn’t raise the bar for this segment.” That’s not to say the interior is a disappointment, just not quite as pleasing as the exterior.

Automobile Magazine does appreciate that the “cabin is nicely appointed, with cloth or leather seats,” and both Edmunds and Motor Trend approve of the “clean layout” of the Kia Forte’s dashboard.

7

2010 Kia Forte

Performance

The Forte doesn't handle with the verve of some other cars in its class, but it keeps up with the pack in every other way.

The surprisingly capable 2010 Kia Forte accelerates well, especially when you consider that it's powered by economical four-cylinder engines, but its handling doesn’t lend itself to spirited driving.

Kia will offer two engine choices for the 2010 Kia Forte, which Car and Driver lists as a “156-hp 2.0-liter” for the LX and EX, while the “top-spec SX uses a 2.4-liter that makes 173 hp.” Both engines prove to be quite capable, and reviews read by TheCarConnection.com don’t hesitate to recommend either mill. Cars.com reports that the 2.0-liter has “plenty of power for around-town and highway driving—even with four adults onboard,” while Motor Trend finds that the 2.4-liter has enough oomph for “virtually any day-to-day driving situation.” The spirited Kia Forte SX, with its 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, boasts a 0-to-60 mph time that Motor Trend lists in “the mid 7-second range,” which is very competitive for this class.

Reviewers may love both of the Kia 2010 Forte’s engines, but it’s an entirely different story with the transmissions. Car and Driver states that “four transmissions are on offer, depending on trim and option package,” including standard “five- (LX and EX) or six-speed manuals (SX),” as well as optional four- or five-speed automatics. Edmunds reviewers list the “four-speed automatic’s overly wide gear spacing” as one of the Kia Forte’s three biggest drawbacks, while Cars.com simply says that the “optional four-speed automatic…is a downer.” Although the Kia Forte SX is the most powerful trim level available, the model suffers from a six-speed manual that Car and Driver warns is not “particularly fun…with a vague clutch and notchy shifter.” Edmunds agrees, lamenting the “vague and rubbery” six-speed that results in “an unpleasant driving experience.” Fortunately, the pair of five-speed options (manual and automatic) fare much better with reviewers, while the five-speed automatic is the most widely complimented in the Kia Forte.

Economy cars should offer good fuel economy, and the Kia Forte doesn’t disappoint. Edmunds says “for most [Kia] Forte trim levels, fuel economy is above average for the small car segment.” According to the official EPA estimates, the Kia 2010 Forte should return 25 mpg city and 34 mpg highway with the 2.0-liter engine and either the five-speed manual or four-speed automatic. The 2.0-liter can also pair up with an available five-speed automatic that bumps fuel economy up to 27 mpg city and 36 mpg on the highway. For the higher-output 2.4-liter engine, the EPA estimates that the manual will return 22 mpg city and 32 mpg highway, while the auto gets 23/31.

Kia’s all-new compact sedan is competitive in just about every regard, but some elements of its driving character are decidedly subpar. Beginning with the positive, Motor Trend comments that the Kia Forte’s “suspension feel” is excellent and “strikes a nice balance between comfort and sport feel.” Car and Driver reviewers also notice that “The ride was relatively supple” during their tests, and Edmunds calls it “comfortable enough.” On the downside, Car and Driver says the 2010 Kia Forte is not “something we’d really call sporty,” as “the tires and suspension seemed to give up by midcorner” during their test drives. Edmunds adds that the Kia 2010 Forte’s “handling is uninspiring, even in sport-tuned SX form.” One of the most common complaint generators is the power steering, which Cars.com notes “doesn’t offer adequate feedback.” TheCarConnection.com’s editors also notice that the weighting seems uneven and unnatural, with a stiffer calibration during low-speed parking while a too-light feel at moderate and highway speeds.

8

2010 Kia Forte

Comfort & Quality

This is as good as it gets in such a low-priced vehicle; the 2010 Kia Forte is quiet and refined inside, and there's plenty of passenger space, plus a huge trunk.

The five-passenger Kia Forte is roomy for this class, with an exceptionally large trunk that will swallow just about anything you can think to throw in it.

Inside the passenger compartment, Kia’s 2010 Forte offers spacious accommodations for the two front passengers, although the rear seats are somewhat less comfortable. TheCarConnection.com’s editors find a generous amount of both headroom and legroom for those riding in the twin buckets up front, and Cars.com states that the “seat comfort is decent.” Unfortunately, Edmunds warns that “the telescoping steering column is only available on the SX, meaning taller drivers might have a hard time getting comfortable in the LX and EX.” TheCarConnection.com's editors observe it would more likely be the opposite, with the steering wheel too close for shorter drivers. Also, despite the abundance of headroom up front, Motor Trend cautions that “headroom can be an issue in the back seats for taller passengers.” Although the rear bench makes good use of the Kia Forte’s available interior volume, Edmunds still reports “rear legroom is nonetheless a little tight for those with longer legs.”

Not all reviews read by TheCarConnection.com skew toward the negative, however, as Cars.com recognizes the virtues of a backseat that is “accommodating for adult passengers,” with “enough space to carry your friends or go on a double date without making those riding in back ornery.”

While the overall passenger space could be termed good, the Kia 2010 Forte’s available cargo room is unequivocally great. Motor Trend reports that the Kia Forte “leads its class in several categories, most notably its 14.7 cu-ft of cargo volume, which can be expanded greatly if you fold down the 60/40 split rear seats.” Edmunds offers similar praise for the Kia Forte’s utility, declaring “trunk space…is plentiful, measuring an impressive 14.7 cubic feet.”

It’s much more common with this class to read complaints about interior quality, but once again the 2010 Kia Forte rises above the pack and earns praise from reviewers for its top-notch assembly. Motor Trend is pleasantly surprised to find that the “build quality on the pre-production examples we sampled was first rate, and the materials are on par with other offerings in the segment.” Edmunds seconds their opinion regarding the materials, claiming “materials quality is good enough to satisfy expectations in this segment.” Cars.com is slightly more optimistic, noting that the 2010 Kia Forte’s “interior quality rivals the better examples in this segment,” thanks largely to a “dashboard [that] makes use of mostly hard rather than soft-touch surfaces,” but with a “plastic [that] has nice graining and isn’t excessively shiny.” Perhaps the greatest compliment also comes from Cars.com, where reviewers proclaim “there’s really nothing to remind you that the Forte is a value choice in its class.”

One of the benefits of the 2010 Kia Forte’s solid build quality is that the vehicle is rather quiet inside, especially for an entry-level sedan. Motor Trend reports “the cabin was relatively quiet at freeway speeds, with little wind noise exhibited,” and other reviews read by TheCarConnection.com agree.

8

2010 Kia Forte

Safety

We don't know about crash tests yet, but the Forte offers a host of safety features, many of which are optional in rival models.

Entry-level compact sedans aren’t typically—if ever—known for their standout safety features, but Kia is looking to change that with the new 2010 Kia Forte. The new Kia 2010 Forte offers just about every safety feature that its competitors do, but on the Kia Forte they are all included as standard fare, which is much more than can be said about any other car in this class.

Like most 2010 model year vehicles, the 2010 Kia Forte has not yet been crash-tested by either the insurance-funded IIHS or NHTSA, the federal government's program, and since the Kia Forte is an all-new model, there is little indication as to how the car will fare during its crash-test trials. Keep checking TheCarConnection.com for the latest updates on the Kia Forte’s crash-test ratings; we’ll bring you the results as soon as they become available.

Despite the dearth of impact data, TheCarConnection.com’s editors are comfortable giving the Kia 2010 Forte a very solid 8 in the Safety category thanks to its commendable list of standard safety features. Edmunds reviewers report that the “standard [2010 Kia] Forte safety equipment includes antilock disc brakes with brake assist, stability control, front side airbags, side curtain airbags and active front head restraints.” Motor Trend adds that those features “are aided by an impressive acronym soup of safety features including…EBD (electronic brake force distribution), and TCS (traction control),” all of which “are standard across the Forte range.” There are still some much more expensive cars that don’t come standard with all of these available safety features, so to see a compact sedan offer the full complement of safety equipment on even the lowest trim level is refreshing and an indication of Kia’s commitment to driver safety—after all, only safe customers can become repeat customers.

The 2010 Kia Forte has one other major safety advantage going for it, and that’s the Kia Forte’s impressive driver visibility. Car and Driver reports that one of the Forte’s styling cues, its “upswept side-window line,” helps contribute to “front-side visibility.” TheCarConnection.com’s editors also notice the uncluttered sightlines during their test drive of the Kia 2010 Forte.

9

2010 Kia Forte

Features

You won't pay a bundle to get the most desirable features. In fact, some of the most desirable ones like Bluetooth are standard.  

By all indications, it appears that Kia is trying to become the de facto leader in high-value compacts with the 2010 Kia Forte. Kia understands it’s not enough anymore to simply have the lowest price tag; rather, Kia finds a way to combine bargain-bin prices with a significantly better-than-average features list on the 2010 Kia Forte.

Even the base Kia 2010 Forte LX, which Car and Driver points out “starts at just $14,390,” comes very well equipped for the class. Motor Trend reviewers state that “standard features across the range include Bluetooth hands-free integration and a CD/MP3 system with three months of free Sirius satellite radio.” Car and Driver adds that “USB and auxiliary input jacks” are standard on all three trim levels of the 2010 Kia Forte. Moving up to the Kia Forte EX, Edmunds reports that the standard features list grows to include “air-conditioning, full power accessories, a six-speaker layout for the sound system, cruise control and a 60/40-split folding rear seat with a center armrest.” The top-end Kia Forte SX gets a larger engine, along with “fog lamps” and a “telescoping…steering wheel,” according to Car and Driver.

The Kia Forte offers so many standard features across the lineup that TheCarConnection.com’s editors discover very few options to choose from. In fact, one of the most noteworthy aspects of the options list is what’s not on it; Motor Trend is disappointed to find that “one notable omission from the option list is a factory navigation system, although an aftermarket Garmin package will become available.” Edmunds points out that “options on the LX include air-conditioning and the split-folding rear seat, but power accessories are unavailable,” while the Kia 2010 Forte EX is available with “a sunroof, 16-inch alloy wheels and leather upholstery with heated front seats.”

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