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Kia gave its core compact sedan and coupe a completely new model name when they introduced them last year, and it's easy to see 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 Soul wagon, the 2011 Kia Forte merits a new trip to the Kia dealership and perhaps a new look at Kia, which is quickly shedding its old reputation for cheap dowdy vehicles and replacing it with hints of on-a-budget enthusiast flavor. The Forte has many of the elements of much more expensive cars, yet it's still one of the least expensive small sedans.
The 2011 Kia Forte is smooth, clean, and uncluttered on the outside, with proportions that feel just right either up close or from a distance, a stance that's assertive and attractive, and a flowing, gently arced roofline. The svelte Forte doesn't have any awkward angles, and the sleek coupe looks even better with its simple, swept-back appearance. This year, a five-door Forte hatchback joins the lineup, with a more truncated roofline in back. Inside, the look in any of the models is simple, in a good way. It's not particularly trendsetting, but with a smoother, more organic version of the teardrop center stack used in the Soul, the look is no-nonsense yet stylish.
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. The Forte Koup is only offered in EX or SX trims. LX models have a standard six-speed manual; newly offered for 2011 is a six-speed automatic. With either of the engines, the 2011 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. 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 standard hydraulic power steering responds well, outward visibility is good, and the ride is firm but absorbent—a nice compromise for daily driving.
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 a 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 2011 Kia Forte Koup is an exception to those observations, though; the slightly different seating position makes headroom challenging with the sunroof especially. 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 2011 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.
You won't be missing out on key features in going with one of the most affordable 2011 Kia Forte models. Although air conditioning remains optional on the base Forte LX, all Forte trims get Bluetooth, Sirius Satellite Radio, and an auxiliary input jack for the audio system, plus steering wheel controls and voice activation. 2011 Kia Forte Koup models come only in EX and SX trims. The EX model adds A/C and power accessories—and larger 16-inch alloys, for Koup models—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. Steering-wheel paddle-shifters are now included on all SX models for 2011. About the only thing missing is a full-featured nav system.
- Roomy interior
- Quiet, refined cabin
- Standard safety, connectivity features
- Elegant, simple look inside and out
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- Steering feel
- Balky clutch (manual)
- No available nav system