Pulled into interesting new directions, the Kia Forte has shed some of its plainer economy-car cues. It's now much more a ringer for the Hyundai Elantra and Honda Civic with its rakish silhouette--and like many Kias, has a cohesive, attractive style that's among the best of its kind.Styling is subjective, but there's no denying the Forte's handsome sideview. It does more with a laid-back windshield than the Civic does: it counters that sportscar rake with a dip carved into the sill and a stubby, near-vertical trim piece at the back of the side glass that visually brackets the passenger space. While that's going on, the side glass dips ahead of the sideview mirrors, and the tail thins out enough to balance pretty chamfers on the taillamps. The rear end narrows like a Focus, and we're not as completely convinced by the thin lip liner of chrome around the complex shape of the grille--but from the side and quarters, the Forte's a budget knockout.
From the inside, the Forte caps a few years of advances in Kia design with a simple but sculptural dash, one with a split console design that cuts down on what could be a bulky center stack. That bank of controls emerges smoothly from a dash surface finished in better plastics than we've seen in the Forte before, and the very light touch of metallic trim and very friendly presentation of big, round, climate-control knobs couldn't be easier to understand or operate. When it's fitted with the available LCD screen, the Forte's dash wouldn't look out of place in a more expensive Optima--and actually knits itself together a bit better visually than that favorite four-door.