- One of the best-looking compact cars
- A well-finished, smartly laid out interior
- Better road manners
- Smoother drivetrain (2.0)
- New UVO points to the future
- Front seats need more support
- Back seat head room is slim
- Three-mode steering is more for show
- Acceleration is moderate
- Safety ratings are lower than expected
The 2014 Kia Forte finds better focus with well-rounded performance and grabby good looks, but its safety scores concern us.
The 2014 Kia Forte impresses in most ways that matter for budget-conscious small-car shoppers. And with decent performance, an excellent feature set, three body styles, and plenty of style inside and out, it sounds like the right formula to battle best-in-class offerings from Ford and Mazda. But with the Forte's poor crash-test scores, we just can't recommend it.The Forte's grown in most ways except height, and that plays out handsomely in its four-door shape. (A new two-door Kia Forte Koup and sleek five-door Forte hatchbackjoin the lineup later this year.) It has more in common than ever with the Hyundai Elantra, but kinship in styling is looser. Picture the relationship between the Optima and Sonata family sedans, and you'll have a better gauge for the distance between the Forte and its confident stance, smart detailing, and distinctive cockpit, compared to the Elantra's adventurous curves. The reworked cockpit in the Forte works better than ever, too--it's simple and straightforward, especially when it's compared to some of the screen-driven competition, and the finishes applied are universally better than before.
Since it's longer, with a lower roofline, the Forte has a little less user space than before. It's not noticeable in front, where the Forte has good passenger space. The seats could use more bottom bolstering, though. In back, the tallest passengers won't be happy, but the majority of adults and everyone smaller will find enough room in the outboard seats, and the doors are cut in a more passenger-friendly way. The cockpit's finished with higher-grade plastics, and the details are nicely underplayed throughout, from the round climate control knobs to the tambour-covered console storage.
A pair of drivetrains gives Forte shoppers a choice between a 1.8-liter, 148-horsepower four and a 2.0-liter, 173-hp four. We've just driven the stronger Forte EX, which comes only with a six-speed automatic, and not the five-speed manual alternative offered on the lower-output LX. If nothing else, the Forte's drivetrain reminds us of the better 1990s-era compacts, with a high-winding, mostly vibration-free four delivering moderate acceleration to the front wheels with an easy-shifting transmission interpreting the results. Not quick, the Forte's doesn't lag too far behind the faster Focuses, at least until you factor in the high-performance models.
Ride and handling strike a balance between the cushy responses of a Corolla and the firm resolve of the Focus. The Forte's gotten better at absorbing roads gone wrong, an effect of a longer wheelbase that lingers even when bigger 17-inch wheels and tires are chosen. The electric steering's lifted from the Hyundai Elantra GT, and comes up with three driver-selectable modes; normally we think of these setups as frills, but the sport setting helps the Forte track better on highways, though we'd leave it in lighter modes for everyday work.
The 2014 Forte is a newly redesigned vehicle, yet that doesn't add up to top-notch occupant protection here if you go by U.S. crash tests. The NHTSA gives the Forte four-door four stars overall; three stars for front-impact protection isn't great, but five-star side-impact protection is. Factor in the Forte's 'poor' rating in the new small overlap frontal test, and this likely isn't one of the small cars we'd recommend for the most safety-conscious shoppers.
Every Forte comes with power windows, locks, and mirrors; air conditioning; satellite radio (with three months' free trial service); and steering-wheel audio controls. The EX gets a rearview camera and a new version of UVO that ditches Microsoft's software for smartphone-connected links to Google maps--a light, forward-thinking solution we hope becomes the norm. On the Forte EX, you'll even find options for leather trim, a ventilated driver seat, pushbutton start, and LED taillamps. It's a new layer of refinement to a car that has made steady progress against our best-rated compact sedans. It doesn't have the sharp handling of the Focus or its lavish list of options, but now the Kia Forte has more well-rounded performance, as well as proof--proof that good looks do run in families.
2014 Kia Forte
Good looks run in families, and the Forte's new lines wear better than even some of the larger Kias.
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.
2014 Kia Forte
The Forte delivers moderate acceleration, but a more comfortable ride and a choice of steering feel.
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.
2014 Kia Forte
Comfort & Quality
The Forte's classic economy-car space gets an above-average trunk and a nice finish.
With a longer wheelbase but a lower roofline, the Kia Forte has slightly less interior room on paper than the last version. It's not obviously shy in any dimension when compared to the top sellers in the compact class, and a closer eye (and ear) on details makes this Forte feel more substantial, too.
By the numbers, the Forte is 179.5 inches long, up a little more than an inch, and rides on a 106.3-inch wheelbase, up 2.0 inches. It's lower by an inch, to 56.5 inches, and in practice the subtle reshaping of the passenger cabin makes more of an impact on its handsome styling than it does on its usable room. Front passengers won't come up short in any way: the front seats have a good range of adjustment, and give even very tall drivers enough headroom. The extra width and a gently curved center console fall out of the way of knee space. The driver-side power and seat ventilation that come on the Forte EX are useful and eye-catching at order time, but we'd like a little more bolstering on the bottom cushions for better long-distance support.
The back seat is typical for compact cars, with not quite enough head room for six-foot passengers, but plenty of others. The front seats leave plenty of foot room, and the door openings make entry and exit easier than in some of the more sporty compacts we've driven this year.
Storage space is very good, with a 14.9-cubic-foot trunk larger than almost all the competition, save for the Honda Civic. The trunk lid's cut wide, for easy loading, and the rear seats fold down almost flat for the rare occasion when the trunk is taxed. There's a useful bin hiding under a sliding screen in front of the shift lever, and a fair-sized glovebox and center console bin.
It's a straightforward layout without a major flaw--and it's much better presented than even the last Forte. There's an elevated sense of quality in this compact car, from the soft touch of the plastic and the mix of materials chosen, to the added sound deadening that tamps down powertrain and road noise to better than average levels.
2014 Kia Forte
The NHTSA's three-star front-impact score is concerning; the Forte comes with standard Bluetooth, but a rearview camera is an option only on the EX.
Kia had said that one of its primary goals is to bring all of its cars up to five-star ratings, but those results weren't accomplished for the Forte.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) awards it four stars overall, with an unsatisfying three-star rating for front impacts, but a five-star rating for side impacts.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the Forte 'good' ratings in most categories, but it achieves a worrisome 'poor' rating in the new small overlap frontal test.
2014 Kia Forte
The Forte offers some features unavailable in other compacts, like heated rear seats, and a new smartphone-driven nav system is the wave of the future.
Over its short life, the Kia Forte has elbowed its way into the compact-car scene by adding a few more standard features and longer warranties to its list of equipment. The same is true for the 2014 model, though for the time being, the former SX model has hit the pause button.
The Forte LX is the base model, and prices are expected to come in just below $16,000. At that price, the Forte will offer standard power windows, locks, and mirrors; an AM/FM/XM audio system; Bluetooth; steering-wheel audio and phone controls; and air conditioning. Adding the Popular Package option brings 16-inch wheels; keyless entry; and cruise control; the Eco package tops it off with ISG stop/start control.
The Kia Forte EX is expected to carry a base price of less than $19,000 before destination, and gets a good assortment of premium features and options. It comes standard with keyless entry; a rearview camera; a cooled glovebox and a center armrest with a sliding lid. Premium Package options include a 10-way power driver seat; heated seats--all of them; driver-seat ventilation; leather upholstery; a power sunroof; pushbutton start; and 17-inch wheels. A Technology package gains LED taillights; a color LCD readout tucked between the gauges; and automatic climate control.
Navigation is also an option on this version, which comes standard with Kia's new version of UVO. Initial versions of UVO have been based on an early version of the Microsoft autos software that governs Ford's SYNC system. The new Kia system (iOS for now only, with Android in the works) is a lighter and more effective system that leverages the driver's smartphone for live information access, tapping Google for mapping information and the data stream for streaming audio. It also offers nice touches like service scheduling and a parking reminder--and it's free. We're convinced this is the future of infotainment systems of almost all flavors, and all the Kia system lacks is true mirroring--the ability to mimic a smartphone display directly on the infotainment screen.
2014 Kia Forte
EPA ratings are slightly below the Forte's corporate cousins; the Eco's actually the least efficient on the highway, though it's tops in combined gas mileage.
While many of today's compact cars offer ad-friendly 40-mile-per-gallon fuel-economy ratings, the Kia Forte hasn't quite pushed its way into that top tier.
The Forte has now received official EPA ratings for the 2014 model year, at least for the sedan model. The numbers range from 24 miles per gallon city to 37 miles per gallon highway, depending on the engine and transmission specified.