Solid economy-car performance gets an interesting spin in the latest Kia Forte, with new electric steering allowing drivers to tune its feel.
We've driven only one of the three Fortes possible so far--in a first drive, Kia didn't provide its entry-level LX edition. That version comes standard with a 148-horsepower four-cylinder engine and a choice of a five-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission. It drives the $16,000 base price that will be key to the Forte's advertising, so as soon as we can get a copy and download some vital info via the steering wheel, we'll add to this review.
In the meantime, we've spent triple-digit miles in the Forte EX, which comes standard with a well-sorted drivetrain pairing a 2.0-liter in-line four-cylinder and a six-speed automatic. This Forte nets out at 173 horsepower and 154 pound feet-of torque at a high 4700 rpm, which leads to a pretty insistent foot on the gas pedal. It works out mostly to its advantage: it's not quick but not at all sluggish, and some added reinforcements to the engine and mounting keep it revving smoothly up to its 6500-rpm redline, while the transmission doesn't get into the way of extracting estimated sub-9-second 0-60 mph times. The sport-shift mode happens on the lever, though--we expect paddles on an SX version to come.
The Forte's gains in wheelbase and a changeover to electric power steering lend it a more agile touch than the outgoing car. This Forte softens off the harder pavement breaks better than the prior car. It's a good, comfortable point in the compact-car spectrum between the very sporty Ford Focus and the very cushy Toyota Corolla. Ride motions are damped well in the Forte EX even through the optional 17-inch wheels and tires fitted to both our test cars, and through a simple but effective strut front and torsion-beam rear suspension.
The power steering has a system like the one on the Hyundai Elantra GT, with user-selectable modes for sport, normal, and comfort levels of assist. It doesn't change the reasonably quick responsiveness, but it does add some weight as you crank the wheel through its motions. To us, a car like the Forte usually feels at home in the base two modes, but sport mode is useful to help it track cleanly on the highway--tracking has been a weakness of both Kia and Hyundai electric power-steering systems, but this time it's not a liability.