Review update: 2020 Kia Forte GT rocks a sporty value

October 16, 2020

Get the manual. Three-word reviews don’t justify my job, but if you’re considering the 2020 Kia Forte GT, the manual can make the difference between enjoyment and aggravation. 

The 2020 Kia Forte GT is a sporty addition to the affordable compact sedan segment, which is diminishing as much as the manual transmission. 

The Forte GT does double duty as a responsible adult car that earns a TCC Rating of 6.0 out of 10 for its good value, but add the youthful GT and it turns driving life up a notch. 

Just get the manual. It’s $600 more. The test car came with Kia’s 7-speed dual-clutch automatic. It could make you seasick. 

After a week running between Chicago and the suburbs, I picked up a few other observations about this dual-natured value. 

2020 Kia Forte GT

2020 Kia Forte GT

2020 Kia Forte GT

2020 Kia Forte GT

2020 Kia Forte GT

2020 Kia Forte GT

Hit: Good power

The GT comes with a punchy 201-horsepower 1.6-liter turbo-4 that makes 195 pound-feet of torque. It’s used across the Hyundai-Kia multiverse, from the Hyundai Elantra GT N-Line to the Kia Soul turbo, and competes well with the higher priced Honda Civic Si (205 hp) and Volkswagen Jetta GLI (228 hp). It snarls like a little dog with a big complex until the mailman delivers the redline, when it loses its mind into hysteric yipping. It hits 60 mph in 6.7 seconds, according to Kia, which is pretty quick, but the power flattens out at highway speed. That’s why there’s downshifting. Peak torque comes on at just 1,500 rpm, and from a stop I intentionally and unintentionally spun the Michelin Pilot Sport summer tires and got the ESC light to flash orange. Torque steer pulled the front wheels to the right off the line, but overall it was the kind of engine you just want to keep pushing, as long as you’re using the paddle shifters. 

Miss: 7-speed dual clutch yoyo

2020 Kia Forte GT

2020 Kia Forte GT

2020 Kia Forte GT

2020 Kia Forte GT

2020 Kia Forte GT

2020 Kia Forte GT

At best, the 7-speed dual-clutch automatic is indecisive, and can momentarily hover between gears awaiting for throttle or more brake that traffic might not allow. At worst, it rocks between gears like a small boat on big waves, like a bad driver who goes heavy on the throttle then lays off, heavy then off, heavy then off, with no feather touch. 

In Sport mode under heavy throttle it shifts predictably. But when I laid off and kept a light foot to keep pace with traffic, it would yoyo around 2,000 rpm, oscillating 400 rpm in either direction. Unfortunately, this transmission’s flaws are not unique to the Forte GT. 

Fortunately, there are paddle shifters to correct its indecision. In Sport mode its issues are the most pronounced. Smart mode eventually learns the driver’s tendencies based on past performance, and can smooth out some of the rough parts. Normal mode, which can default in the instrument cluster to Eco mode at cruising speeds, is a bit sluggish in its shifts, but nothing like in Sport mode. The reason to buy the GT is to optimize Sport mode, which is why I would recommend the $600 upcharge for the manual even though I haven’t tested it. 

Hit: Value

The manual transmissions in rival front-wheel drive sport sedans are cheaper than automatics (which has pretty much been the case since automatics came to market), but the competitors are more expensive. The 2020 Honda Civic Si has a 205-hp 1.5-liter turbo-4 with a 6-speed manual for $26,155, which is nearly $3,000 more than the well-equipped Forte GT. The 2020 Volkswagen Jetta GLI uses a 228-hp 2.0-liter turbo-4 with a 6-speed manual or 7-speed dual-clutch automatic that costs $27,965 with destination. That’s 20% more than the Forte GT.

The forthcoming Hyundai Elantra N Line with an identical powertrain is expected to cost about $27,000. 

Miss: Handling

Independent front and rear suspensions improve the ride quality and handling over the regular Forte and its torsion beam rear suspension, but push the GT hard enough and it can struggle to regain composure. During a couple of hard braking events when entering  off ramps it had a hard time balancing all the weight in the front, and responded resentfully at being tasked with such a thing. Quick lane changes at higher speed resulted in too much lateral motion. Both behaviors made me doubt its ability on a track. But that was intentionally harsh driving, which should account for a very small percentage of road miles for Forte GT drivers.

Hit: Good bucket seats 

2020 Kia Forte GT

2020 Kia Forte GT

2020 Kia Forte GT

2020 Kia Forte GT

2020 Kia Forte GT

2020 Kia Forte GT

The GT seats with synthetic leather have side bolsters that hug but they’re soft enough to be squeezed so it results in a firm kind of comfort. The ribbed contours and red contrast stitching with a red GT badge in the headrests look cool without being too over the top. The same can be said for the exterior accents. 

Hit: Well equipped

The Forte GT comes with safety features such as automatic emergency braking and active lane control, standard convenience features such as an 8.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, and an excellent 5-year/60,000-mile warranty. Kia’s infotainment interface is easy to use and the interior has a smart finish that rises above its price class. 

The tester had a $2,200 GT2 package with more safety features and a Harmon Kardon audio system, a sunroof, a wireless phone charger, and heated and cooled front seats. Arguments can be made for or against it, but even if you opted for it, the Forte GT would still cost less than the competition. 

There’s not a better deal among sporty entry-level sedans with front-wheel drive than the Kia Forte GT. Just get the manual. 

_______________________________________

2020 Kia Forte GT

Base price: $23,215, including $925 destination

Price as tested: $26,445

Drivetrain: 201-hp 1.6-liter turbo-4 with 7-speed dual-clutch automatic and front-wheel drive

EPA fuel economy: 27/35/30 mpg

The hits: Value, power, good standard features

The misses: Indecisive automatic transmission, handling that can’t handle extremes. 


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