2017 Kia Forte Review

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John Voelcker John Voelcker Senior Editor
June 21, 2017

The Kia Forte looks more handsome and finely detailed for 2017, as well as even better-equipped for the money, although its tight packaging and lackluster safety scores will likely remain concerns.

The 2017 Kia Forte includes a family of compact cars, with a pair of different body styles and some revised powertrains. An extroverted design, a nimble driving personality, and a value-centric feature set are common points among them, and what helps this nameplate stand out in a tightly competitive segment of the market.

This year, the entry-level LX and top-of-the-line EX trim levels are joined by an intermediate S model as well. The slow-selling Forte Koup two-door has been dropped. 

Kia appears to be looking for a little more synergy between the Forte and its successful Optima mid-size sedan and Sorento and Sportage crossovers—bringing a new direct-injection engine to some of the lineup, a sportier Forte S version, and a new package of active safety features to the lineup. While it offers good value for money, it lacks strong standout features (beyond interior storage and display interface), and that lack keeps the stylish Forte from greatness.

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We give the 2017 Forte a rating of 6.5 out of 10; it rates well for its roomy interior and high fuel economy, but loses some ground on comfort and performance against rivals that are newer from the ground up. (Read more about how we rate cars this year.)

Striking shape

As Kia’s compact-car family, the Forte is offered in sedan and Forte5 (five-door hatchback) forms. It's the sedan design that gives the Forte an advantage, as it's hard to get right in this size of vehicle. With its last redesign, the Forte gained a little bit of width and length, but not height; and that works especially well in the handsome, elongated roofline and profile of the sedan. For 2017, the Forte gets a new front bumper, as well as a “tiger nose” grille that sits visually a bit lower and blends right into the headlamps, as in the larger Optima sedan. Taillights have also been redesigned and have optional LEDs

The Forte’s interior feels simpler and more straightforward than those of Kia’s larger vehicles; it’s a sporty look, with a clean layout, effective infotainment systems, displays that have a hooded array of analog gauges and just a hint of sport-sedan style.

For 2017, the 1.8-liter inline-4 is now gone from the lineup. The Forte still offers two different engines; they’re both 2.0-liter inline-4s, but that’s where the similarities end. Forte LX and S models get a 2.0-liter iron-block 4-cylinder, while EX models come with a 2.0-liter four that has an aluminum block and direct injection. The Forte gets a 6-speed automatic transmission for most of the lineup, although a 6-speed manual transmission is standard on the base LX (with the automatic optional). Fuel economy ratings are slightly better this year, but only average for the segment.

Average drivetrain

In recent drives, the front-wheel-drive Forte's drivetrain manages to remind us of some of the better 1990s-era compact cars, with its 4-cylinder engine quite rev-happy and mostly vibration-free, yet quite noisy at times. It also handles reasonably well, though it's hardly a match for sporty rivals like the Mazda 3 or Ford Focus. The suspension tunes out some pavement coarseness, but irregularities still ring into the cabin, and there’s more of a din at highway speeds than is now typical for this class.

The Forte remains a compact sedan with rather long, low roofline, and that brings some compromises to back-seat space especially. Entry and exit are definitely a little more difficult in back than it is for models with more formal rooflines, like the Jetta, but legroom is decent. One sore point in past drives—especially to our taller testers—has been the front seats that are rather skimpy on bolstering.

Although the Forte might not be quite there in ride refinement, it’s come a long way compared to the Forte models of just a few years ago in cabin trims, materials, and details. You’ll find higher-grade plastics; climate control knobs are large and feel sturdy; and in upper trims the center-console storage is covered. For 2017, the Forte gets upgraded upholsteries, special black cloth seats with contrast stitching in the Forte S.

Value for money

The 2017 Kia Forte packs in some new active-safety features, including autonomous emergency braking, rear cross traffic alert, front collision warning, lane change assist, and dynamic bending lights. The Forte has been below par in safety compared to other models in its class. Last year Kia improved the Forte's frontal impact score to four stars, and its IIHS small overlap rating up to “Marginal,” yet it remains one we wouldn’t recommend to the safety-focused.

Otherwise, the Forte remains a small sedan with an extremely robust feature set and a high feature content for the money. Even base Forte LX models have included keyless entry, air conditioning, power windows and locks, a rearview camera, steering-wheel audio controls and Bluetooth audio. The 2017 Forte EX gets newly standard heated (in front) leather seats, dual-zone climate control, rear vents, and keyless ignition.

The 2017 Kia Forte S and EX models come with a 7.0-inch touchscreen, as part of a new UVO3 system that has Android Auto and Apple CarPlay functionality, to access your smartphone functions through the vehicle’s interface and allow easier text-messaging and streaming-music functions.


2017 Kia Forte


The 2017 Kia Forte gets a mild styling update, with the latest Kia front styling among other tweaks; we like the shape, though it's less striking these days.

The 2017 Kia Forte sedan gets a mild design update, adopting a more shapely front end and redesigned headlights. But its elongated roofline, arched profile, and sculpted side sheet metal are far less distinctive now than when the car launched. Virtually every small sedan has adopted the same shape to reduce aerodynamic drag in the interests of boosting fuel-efficiency ratings.

We'd call the Forte sedan one of the best-looking models in its class from the outside. The rake of the front end is almost sports-car-like, while the roofline arcs gracefully, with the stubby, near-vertical trim piece at the back of the side glass visually bracketing the passenger space. Side glass now dips ahead of the sideview mirrors—as is quite common in the latest batch of compact sedans—while the rear end narrows and works reasonably well with the chamfers of the taillights. The thin lip of chrome around the back doesn't add up to anything nearly as distinctive as what's in front, but in all it's a good-looking, perfectly proportioned small sedan.

We still consider the exterior styling to be one of the Forte's strengths, but it's less striking today despite getting the proportions right—a tough call on compact sedans, but still worth a 6 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars this year.)

There's also a five-door Forte hatchback that remains a carryover model, though a new Forte 5-door has been revealed at auto shows and is likely to go on sale for the 2018 model year.

Inside, the Forte feels simple and straightforward, with a design and details likely modeled after those in sport sedans. A split console design cuts down on what could be a bulky center panel. 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.

The cockpit is finished in higher-grade plastics—with large analog hooded gauges, for instance—plus sturdy, round climate-control knobs and covered console storage. The clean layout and effective infotainment systems finishes a look and feel that's tastefully simple yet just a bit upscale.

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2017 Kia Forte


The 2017 Kia Forte offers unremarkable performance and handling; it's the opposite of sporty, despite the addition of a new "S" model this year.

The 2017 Kia Forte may look like a sport sedan from some angles, but it's not one by any stretch of the imagination. It's a respectable contender in a tough segment of the car market, and this year, it's got mechanical upgrades to go with the restyled front end.

The result is solid economy-car performance—including reasonably good steering and handling, general powertrain perkiness, and reasonably good gas mileage. But you won't find it class-leading in any performance categories. (Read more about how we rate cars this year.)

A new standard 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine, rated at 147 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque, replaces the previous 1.8-liter inline-4. A 6-speed manual is standard, though the vast majority of buyers will likely opt for the updated 6-speed automatic transmission.

The second engine option is a direct-injected 164-hp 2.0-liter 4-cylinder, rated at 151 lb-ft of torque. The larger engine offers more relaxed tuning, but neither is among the quickest or most powerful for compact sedans. And we found the updated automatic transmission to be slow and deliberate in its shifts, with short pauses as if to think about what to do before executing the shift. It's easy to get used to, but it all gives the impression of a car that's at the opposite end of the scale than sporty—despite the "S" model name on the mid-level version we tested briefly.

You can get LX models with a choice between a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic, while the EX is only offered with an automatic. The Forte's drivetrain manages to remind us of some of the better 1990s-era compact cars, with its 4-cylinder engine quite rev-happy and mostly vibration-free, yet also quite noisy at times. And the direct-injected models share the distinctive ticking noise at idle that most of those kinds of engines exhibit.

The Forte isn't all that quick, even in EX form, but it handles reasonably well, with some models getting three modes of steering boost, selectable via a button on the steering wheel. Users can choose from Normal, Sport, or Comfort modes, which add or subtract weight while leaving the quick responsiveness alone. We expect a car like the Forte to feel at home in the base two modes, but the sport mode proved useful to help it track cleanly on the highway.

Overall, the 2017 Forte continues to lack the firm resolve of a Ford Focus or a Mazda 3. There's somewhat more body motion that you might expect from a sportier small car, yet at the same time choppy pavement can ring in loudly—and we remain to be convinced that the Forte serves up any more comfort in return. It's perfectly adequate, but it's not terribly special.

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2017 Kia Forte

Comfort & Quality

The 2017 Kia Forte is roomy for most adults, its interior finishes are pleasant, useful storage abounds, and its infotainment interface is among the best—but it can get noisy.

We give the Kia Forte a 7 out of 10 for comfort and utility. The front seats are supportive and cargo space is good, but back-seat space is just average. (Read more about how we rate cars this year.)

The 2017 Kia Forte offers decent room for four adults front and rear, though head room in the rear will be tight for taller adults—a result of the rakish roofline that reduces aerodynamic drag. The caution is that with the available sunroof in the EX, head room can be quite tight. The longer body and cabin make more of an impact on its handsome styling than it does on its usable room.

Taller drivers may find the lower cushions slightly short, while other would prefer more bolstering; our test drivers were split on this issue, unusually. Seat comfort is average, and while the driver-side power and seat ventilation that come on the Forte EX are useful and eye-catching at order time, the effort might better have been spent on lifting that average rating.

The back seat cushion sits low, meaning taller rear passengers will sit in a knees-up position (for those buyers who ever put more than one commuter into their compact sedan). In back, the doors are cut in to open wide, yet the swoopy roofline can get in the way of easy of entry and exit.

The cabin appointments and materials of the 2017 Forte convey an elevated sense of quality. From the soft touch of the plastics to the pleasing mix of materials here, it looks upscale, with flat-black plastic surrounds on some models the only sour note. But once underway, the Forte lacks some of the isolation from rough road surfaces and general noise that vastly improved competitors have brought to the compact sedan class in recent years.

One high point is storage space, which is very good indeed. 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. There's even a little tray perfectly sized to hold the key fob. And we continue to view Kia's infotainment system as among the best and most intuitive in the business.

As for trunk space, the Forte's 14.9 cubic feet beats almost all competitors. The trunk lid's cut wide, for easy loading, and the rear seats fold down, almost flat, when needed.

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2017 Kia Forte


The 2017 Kia Forte gets decent safety ratings and now offers active-safety features, though a rear-view camera still isn't standard on every model.

The 2017 Kia Forte sedan has acceptable safety ratings and decent active-safety features.

Using our new scale, it rates a 7 out of 10, gaining points for crash-test scores and for a fairly inexpensive series of collision avoidance tech, but losing points for visibility and the lack of a rearview camera as standard. (Read more about how we rate cars this year.)

The Forte sedan's overall NHTSA score is now up to the top level of five stars after a structural refit two years ago that boosted its frontal-crash score from a worrisome three stars to an acceptable four. The IIHS rates the 2017 Forte as a Top Safety Pick+ when it's fitted with the optional automatic emergency braking.

The two much lower-volume Forte variants, both still on a previous generation platform, haven't been recently rated by either organization. 

Relative to key rivals, the Forte sedan is no more than average in crash-test results and occupant safety. A rear-view camera is standard on the S and EX trim levels, but part of an optional package on the base Forte LX model.

Kia has recently added a list of active safety systems, including forward-collision warnings, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, blind-spot monitors, and rear-cross traffic alert. As well as the usual roster of airbags and stability systems, the Forte also includes four-wheel disc brakes—not a feature to be taken for granted in this class.

Outward vision isn't all that great compared to other compact sedans—another consequence of the stylish design—although you now get a rearview camera across the model line. In previous years, we'd suggested that based on safety ratings alone, we're wouldn't necessarily have pointed safety-conscious families to the Forte. That's now no longer the case.

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2017 Kia Forte


The 2017 Kia Forte offers good value for the money, though active-safety systems remain options, including a rearview camera on the base model.

The 2017 Kia Forte continues Kia's reputation for value-packed vehicles, offering considerable features for the money, worth a 6 on our scale. (Read more about how we rate cars this year.)

All Forte versions include keyless entry; air conditioning; a rearview camera; power windows, locks, and mirrors; satellite radio (with three months' free trial service); Bluetooth hands-free calling; and steering-wheel audio controls.

This year, Kia has upgraded the standard cloth trim and added a new Forte S model between the base LX and the top-of-the-line EX versions. While its on-road behavior remains a way from sporty, the S model adds "sport tuning" for the suspension, 16-inch alloy wheels, a rear spoiler, a chrome exhaust tip, LED positioning lights, and a standard rear-view camera.

The EX now has leather upholstery and heated front seats as standard, plus items like a cooled glovebox, dual-zone full automatic temperature control, rear vents, and a push-button start with Smart Key. Options include a UVO infotainment system that can use a smartphone to tap into Google Maps), a true on-board navigation system, ventilated driver's seat, LED taillights, and a garage-door opener.

The Forte offers relatively few stand-alone options, simplifying ordering, but a number of packages wrap together sets of features that add convenience and luxury. The Popular Package to the LX brings 16-inch wheels; keyless entry; and cruise control; the Eco package tops it off with ISG stop/start control. And the Premium Package on the EX includes a 10-way power driver seat; four heated seats; driver-seat ventilation; leather upholstery; a power sunroof; keyless ignition; 17-inch wheels; and a new standalone navigation system.

A Technology package gains LED taillights; a color LCD readout tucked between the gauges; and automatic climate control. And the UVO system is one that leverages the driver's smartphone for live information access, tapping Google for mapping information and your smartphone's data stream for streaming audio. It also offers nice touches like service scheduling and a parking reminder.

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2017 Kia Forte

Fuel Economy

One model of the 2017 Kia Forte sedan gets a 32-mpg combined rating, but this isn't among the more fuel-efficient compact sedans.

The 2017 Kia Forte sedan, with a revised engine and some other updates, manages to improve its EPA fuel-economy ratings slightly despite changes to test calculations for this year that slightly penalize most cars. But it's not among the most fuel-efficient of all compact sedans; that honor is split by the Chevrolet Cruze and Honda Civic lineups.

Across the entire Forte lineup of sedan, Forte 5 hatchback, and Forte Koup two-door, ratings range from 23 to 29 mpg on the city cycle, 29 to 38 mpg on the highway cycle, and 25 to 32 mpg combined. The most efficient model is the 2017 Forte sedan with the 2.0-liter engine and 6-speed automatic transmission (29 city, 38 highway, 32 combined).

Alll models with the 1.6-liter turbo 4-cylinder are at the low end of the scale, with combined ratings from 25 to 27 mpg. Manual-gearbox versions of the turbo engine do worse than those with the 6-speed automatic.

The Forte Eco version of previous model years has been dropped, and the fuel-saving stop-start system that was due to be introduced will not be arriving in the Forte. (Read more about how we rate cars this year.)

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The Car Connection Consumer Review

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July 13, 2017
2017 Kia Forte LX Manual

I would consider another car.

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I got a Kia because the basic manual only cost me 14,020 and 13,720 with my trade in. I was able to purchase this car out right. I have buyers remorse. First the Manual does not come with Cruise Control. I did... + More »
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June 24, 2017
2017 Kia Forte S Automatic

Overall a good buy

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Excellent gas mileage. Good handling and lines. Nice clean, simple interior. Surprising room. Cons for me: Car weight creates issues in high wind. Can not see hood. And no real cabin noise reduction.
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