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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.
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.