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Fitting fashionably in between the subcompact Rio and mid-size Optima, the 2013 Kia Forte covers all the bases with three different body styles of compact cars—including a Forte sedan, Forte 5-door hatchback, and Forte Koup two-door.
The Forte was the first car to get the crisp new Euro-influenced look that has characterized all of Kia's latest cars—and it rightfully earned the Forte a new name, replacing the good but anonymous Spectra just three years ago. The Forte is smooth, clean, and uncluttered on the outside, with proportions that feel just right either up close or from a distance, an assertive stance, and a flowing, gently arced roofline. There simply aren't any awkward angles, and the sleek Koup (coupe) looks even better with its simple, swept-back appearance. You also have a five-door 'Forte 5-door' hatchback from which to choose, and we tend to think that model looks even better despite the truncated roofline. On the inside, the Forte is simple and no-nonsense, with a look that's not trend-setting in any way yet still impresses as stylish.
There's a choice between two powerplants with the 2013 Forte family, as in the years prior. In any body style, the Forte LX and EX are powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder making 156 horsepower. On SX models, the four-cylinder is upgraded to 2.4 liters, and power rises to 173 hp. All LX cars have a six-speed manual transmission standard, while other trims get a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic as standard equipment. Performance is straightforward, value-conscious, and perfectly adequate--there's nothing exotic about it, but it won't leave many commuters or daily drivers regretting a lack of power. We 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. Meanwhile, gas mileage is average for the class, at up to 26 mpg city, 36 highway.
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 Forte sedan remains an IIHS Top Safety pick, and it's performance in federal tests is a sound four stars, with some caveats, which we'll explain in more detail. 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. The Forte lacks advanced safety options, such as blind-spot monitors, now appearing on its competitors.
If you go with one of the more affordable 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.
- Elegant, simple styling
- Cabin space (sedan and hatch)
- Standard connectivity features
- Eager powertrains
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- Base model lacks telescopic steering
- Balky clutch (manual)
- Front-seat comfort