2012 Kia Forte Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
January 19, 2012

The 2012 Kia Forte family of vehicles manages to feel more eager, comfortable, and sophisticated than its sticker price might suggest.

The 2012 Forte is a line of compact cars, fitting between the subcompact Rio and the mid-size Optima in Kia's lineup.

Introduced a couple of years ago, the Kia Forte set a new design direction for Kia's cars--adding a dash of European flavor and pitching the anonymity. And on closer look, it's easy to see why Kia gave this model a completely new name (replacing Spectra). The 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. There aren't any awkward angles, and the sleek coupe looks even better with its simple, swept-back appearance. Last year, a five-door Forte5 hatchback joinsedthe lineup, with a more truncated roofline in back. Inside, the look in any of the models remains simple, no-nonsense, and stylish though not particularly trend-setting. 

A 156-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder powers LX and EX models of the Forte, while sportier SX models get a 173-hp, 2.4-liter four. The Forte Koup is only offered in EX or SX trims. LX models have a standard six-speed manual, while the rest of the line gets a smooth new six-speed automatic. There's nothing to complain about performance-wise, even though this is a very value-minded car; with either of the engines, you'll find more than adequate acceleration. Meanwhile, gas mileage is competitive for the class, at up to 26 mpg city, 36 highway. We actually recommend the automatic with the Forte, as it works well with the engine, and the manual is a bit balky. Suspension tuning is firm but absorbent, and the hydraulic power steering responds well.

With a rather tall roof and high seating position, you get a reasonably good view outward from the front seats, and the cabin feels airy. Front seats are a bit short and flat, but there's lots of legroom, and the backseat has plenty of (legroom-limited) space for two adults, three in a pinch. Interior appointments are unremarkable, but they stand as better than what we've seen in the latest Honda Civic, while Kia has done a great job sealing out road noise.

Review continues below

The 2012 Kia Forte sedan remains an IIHS Top Safety pick, and it's performance in federal tests is a sound four stars. Otherwise, the standard safety-features roster includes dual seat-mounted side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, front active headrests, anti-lock brakes with brake assist, and electronic stability control.

If you go with one of the more affordable 2012 Kia Forte models, you won't miss out on much--except for maybe telescopic steering adjustment, which comes only on EX models and above. Air conditioning remains optional on the base Forte LX, but all Forte trims 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 A/C and power accessories—and larger 16-inch alloys, for Koup models—while the SX adds fog lamps, plus upgraded upholstery and trim. A Technology Package brings navigation, Sirius XMTraffic, automatic climate control, and push-button start, plus other upgrades.

7

2012 Kia Forte

Styling

The 2012 Kia Forte is a good-looking small sedan, but there's not a lot of charm inside or out.

Just a couple of years ago, the Kia Forte was at the leading edge of a new design direction for Kia's cars--adding a dash of European flavor and pitching the anonymity. But change came quickly to Kia, and it's already been joined by an almost entirely new line of vehicles.

The 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. There aren't any awkward angles, and the sleek coupe looks even better with its simple, swept-back appearance. Last year, a five-door Forte5 hatchback joinsedthe lineup, with a more truncated roofline in back. Inside, the look in any of the models remains simple, no-nonsense, and stylish though not particularly trend-setting.

Inside, the look in any of the models is simple, in a good way, even though the Forte doesn't get the more cockpit-like, Euro-styled dash that's been given to the Optima. 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.

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2012 Kia Forte

Performance

the 2012 Forte delivers a lot more driving satisfaction (and sophistication) than most value-minded buyers will expect.

The 2012 Kia Forte remains one of the better picks for performance in a rather crowded class of compact sedans, although with a host of other models introduced over the past model year, the competition is a lot tighter. It's near the front of the pack in acceleration, although it lacks the well-rounded performance that would make it an enthusiast pick.

A 156-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder powers LX and EX models of the Forte, while sportier SX models get a 173-hp, 2.4-liter four. A six-speed manual gearbox is standard across most of the lineup, while a six-speed automatic transmission is available across the model line. Both engines deliver more than adequate acceleration, and they function just fine with the automatics as they're flexible yet happiest in the mid-rev ranges. Clutch-throttle coordination on manual cars can be frustrating, so we tend to recommend the automatic. Meanwhile, gas mileage is competitive for the class, at up to 26 mpg city, 36 highway.

The Forte lineup feels well-tuned for daily driving, compromising ride quality and crisp body control. It's not a sport sedan, and the suspension shows an underlying softness when pushed hard. What's more, the standard hydraulic steering in the 2011 Kia Forte is oddly stiff at lower speeds but lighter at higher speeds.

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2012 Kia Forte

Comfort & Quality

The 2012 Kia Forte delivers a comfortable, roomy interior, although its interior appointments aren't the step ahead that you'll find in some of Kia's other vehicles.

As of late, compact sedans have been creeping toward mid-size, and that leaves the Forte as one of the most manageably sized models in its class. With a good seating position, a back seat good enough for two adults, and cheerful but unremarkable interior appointments, the 2012 Forte impresses as uncomplicated yet comfortable.

The rather tall roof helps, as does the high seating position, so you get a reasonably good outward view from the driver's seat, as well as an airy feel and the impression of a lower beltline. The down side is actual seat comfort; front seats are a bit short and flat, and the rear bench is carved out for maximum space but not altogether contoured for adults. In back there's enough headroom for adults, too, so it's really legroom (or shoulder) limited. Interior appointments stand as better than what we've seen in the latest Honda Civic--though certainly not with the best. Even compared to its cousin, the Hyundai Elantra, there's a little more plastic, though it all feels well put-together.

Kia has done a great job sealing out road noise, but the engine can get thrashy when pressed into its upper rev ranges.

7

2012 Kia Forte

Safety

The 2012 Kia Forte has a blemished set of safety scores, although all the expected features are included.

The 2012 Kia Forte isn't missing anything in terms of features, but you should pay attention to both major safety agencies, as they paint two very different impressions for this small sedan and coupe.

The IIHS has given the Kia Forte top 'good' ratings in frontal offset, side impact, and rood strength, along with rear impact; the Forte also earned the IIHS Top Safety Pick designation. The IIHS notes that these scores extend only to the four-door Forte Sedan models. In federal-government testing, the Forte earned four stars overall, including four stars for frontal and side-impact protection, but it got a more worrisome three-star rating with a male (adult) sized crash dummy in the side test, and only a two-star rating in the new side pole test.

Dual seat-mounted side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, front active headrests, anti-lock brakes with brake assist, and electronic stability control are all included across the 2012 Forte model line.

8

2012 Kia Forte

Features

The 2012 Kia Forte offers a good set of standard equipment, and items like Bluetooth connectivity, steering-wheel controls, and satellite radio won't cost extra.

If you go with one of the more affordable 2012 Kia Forte models, you won't miss out on much--except for maybe telescopic steering adjustment, which comes only on EX models and above.

Air conditioning remains optional on the base Forte LX, but all Forte trims 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 A/C and power accessories—and larger 16-inch alloys, for Koup models—while the SX adds fog lamps, plus upgraded upholstery and trim. A sport-tuned suspension, larger brakes, and showy 17-inch alloy wheels are also part of the SX package.

Forte Koup models are spiced up just a bit in features and appearance versus Sedans of the same level; for instance, Koup EX models include 16-inch alloys, instead of the 15-inch steel wheels of their Forte EX sedan counterparts.

A Technology Package brings navigation, Sirius XMTraffic, automatic climate control, and push-button start, plus other upgrades, while other options 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.

7

2012 Kia Forte

Fuel Economy

40 mpg has become the new target for the compact class, but the 2012 Kia Forte, especially in EX or Eco form, does approach that magic number.

The 2012 Kia Forte comes with EPA ratings that, today, are considered about average for the class; although just two years ago they would have been among the best. Compacts have improved tremendously in this area, thanks to improved aerodynamics, powertrain improvements, and basic things like taller top gearing.

With EPA ratings of 23 mpg city, 32 highway, the sporty SX model is unremarkable. But the Kia Forte Eco package returns 27 mpg city, 37 highway with the six-speed automatic electric power steering, low-rolling-resistance tires, and additional aerodynamic improvements.

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December 4, 2016
For 2012 Kia Forte

Great Car, favorite color and stick shift my style

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I have the Koup SX and I really like it I just wish it got better gas milage
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April 28, 2015
2012 Kia Forte 2-Door Coupe Automatic SX

Great little Car

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Love the Koup. The car is fun to drive, reliable and looks great. I have been driving this since May 2013, picked it up with 10 miles on the odometer. The car is now at 45K and I've done nothing but routine... + More »
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April 17, 2015
For 2012 Kia Forte

2012 kia forte koup is a great car

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Great car!. Never had a problem with it in the 3years it was leased.
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