2018 Kia Forte Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
May 25, 2018

The 2018 Kia Forte leaves eco-performance to rivals; it focuses on safety and luxury touches.

The 2018 Kia Forte is a compact sedan or hatchback that competes with heavy-hitters of the industry. The Forte trades on its roomy interior, good fuel economy, but cars like the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla have a longer history and name recognition with economy shoppers.

The Forte nevertheless gives compact-car shoppers a good choice, if it’s top safety ratings and easy to use infotainment they seek.

Sold in Forte LX, Forte S, and Forte EX trims for the sedan and LX, EX, and SX trims in the hatchback, we give the lineup a 6.5 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars this year.)

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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. The hatchback’s stubby rear end has more drama, for sure. 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.

Performance is run of the mill with either of the Forte’s 4-cylinder engines. Base inline-4 models have better fuel economy than the higher-output versions with direct injection. Acceleration is smooth but predictably, relentlessly average. A 6-speed manual transmission can be fitted, but given the Forte’s straightforward economy-car handling, we’d stick with the 6-speed automatic. If you’re stuck on a manual, can we show you something in a Ford Focus or Mazda 3?

There’s ample space inside the 2018 Forte, but passengers deserve better than its short, low-set seats. Four adults can fit, no problem, but head room suffers thanks to a low roof and where it’s ordered, the thick-mounted sunroof. Small-item and trunk space are great, and the Forte goes to some effort to present high-quality plastic trim and to reduce road noise.

Safety scores are very good, and the Forte can be fitted with the latest safety gear on most of its trim levels. A rearview camera still is an option on the base LX, though power features, air conditioning, and a CD player are included. Spend a little more and the Forte can be had with leather upholstery, navigation, touchscreen infotainment that rightly leans on your smartphone for data, and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay for app content.

6

2018 Kia Forte

Styling

Sedan or hatchback, the 2018 Kia Forte makes no ripples in the economy-car slipstream.

Mildly updated last year, the 2018 Kia Forte wears a clean sheet metal suit that still is among its strengths. It’s less striking now, in the era of the latest Honda Civic.

We give it a 6 for styling, with an extra point for its still-shapely body. (Read more about how we rate cars this year.)

Last year’s update brought new headlights and a more shapely front end to the Forte. The arched profile, lightly sculpted sides, and long roofline remained intact. They’re not as distinctive now as they were when the shape was new in 2014; they’re quite close, in fact, to the Forte’s cousin, the Hyundai Elantra.

We still think it’s among the better-looking economy cars. That roofline arc still is graceful, and the band of grille and headlights makes a distinctive visual statement. The sports-car-like rake of the front and rear ends caps the design. It's a good-looking, well-proportioned small sedan or hatchback.

Kia used to sell a two-door Forte Koup, but it was scuttled after the 2016 model year.

The Forte’s cabin has a straightforward layout, with some details that look more organized and more neatly detailed than in rivals. A bank of controls emerges from the Forte’s smooth dash, wearing nicely grained plastics and light touches of metallic trim. The gauges sit in a hooded binnacle, and sturdy, round climate-control knobs punctuate the dash. The overall look is tasteful, simple, and just a bit upscale.

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5

2018 Kia Forte

Performance

With unremarkable handling and acceleration, the 2018 Kia Forte sets the median for economy-car performance.

The 2018 Kia Forte is no sport sedan, despite the hints of liveliness in its shape. A respectable economy sedan, it offers solid performance that falls behind the best vehicles in its size and price class.

We call it average, and give it a 5. (Read more about how we rate cars this year.)

Kia sells the Forte with either a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder, or a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder. We can explain. The standard inline-4 has 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque. It replaced an older 4-cylinder in the 2017 model year, and pairs with either a 6-speed manual or a 6-speed automatic.

The optional 4-cylinder is a new design, with direct injection and power output of 164 hp and 151 lb-ft.

In either form the Forte has performance that reminds us of the better ‘90s economy cars, fairly rev-happy and with lower noise and vibration than we’ve observed in small cars with bigger engines. Still, neither offers the output or the excitement of a Civic or a Focus.

The automatic transmission is tuned to soften shifts, not to crack them off quickly. Deliberate and slow, it does all it can to boost the Forte’s fuel economy ratings.

Straight-line performance is unremarkable, but the Forte handles decently. Steering weight is driver-selectable, but doesn’t really affect its quickness. The Sport mode does help the somewhat wandery rack keep a straighter track down interstates.

What the Forte lacks is the sophisticated chassis tuning of a Mazda 3 or Ford Focus. The ride can get choppy like those stiffly tuned cars, but the Forte doesn’t have their eager steering or planted feel. It doesn’t have the spark that makes those cars feel special, even in their least expensive versions.

Forte hatchback

The Kia Forte is available as a hatchback with a choice between the uprated 2.0-liter inline-4 from the sedan or a 1.6-liter turbo-4 in top trim. The turbo-4 is rated at 201 hp and is mated to a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic or a 6-speed manual transmission.

Predictably, the more potent version is the quicker pick, but it lacks the sharply tuned suspension to make the most of its power. It's more fun than the rest of the Kia lineup, but it may not unseat rivals from Ford or Honda as the hottest hatch on lots.

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6

2018 Kia Forte

Comfort & Quality

Passenger space is economy-car snug, but storage abounds in the 2018 Kia Forte.

With good cargo space, the 2018 Kia Forte merits a 6 for comfort and quality. The letdown? Average back-seat room. (Read more about how we rate cars this year.)

For a compact car, that’s no surprise. Kia puts the space where it counts most of the time, in the front seat. There, drivers will find their seat has short, low cushions in need of thicker bolsters. The space surrounding the front passengers is fine, though the sunroof trims too much head room, front and back.

Both front seats can be heated or cooled, if equipped.

The Forte’s rakish roofline cuts into head room in the back seat as well. The low-mounted seats are a good try at mitigating the situation, but most tall back-seat passengers will find their knees sit well above the cushions. There’s enough shoulder space for two, not the three passengers promised on the spec sheet, and the low roof makes it tough for tall people to climb in back easily.

Once all passengers are aboard, the Forte couches them in beyond-economy trim. The materials are fine, and ride and noise isolation are much better than in previous versions.

Interior storage is a high point. A bin hides under a rollaway cover ahead of the shifter, there’s a tray for the key fob, and the 14.9-cubic-foot trunk is among the largest in its class. The trunk lid's cut wide, for easy loading, and the rear seats fold down, almost flat, when needed.

The hatchback does better carrying cargo by offering 23.2 cubic feet of cargo room with the seats up, more than 53 cubes with the rear seats tumbled forward.

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8

2018 Kia Forte

Safety

A rearview camera needs to be standard; otherwise the 2018 Kia Forte has upped its safety rating with good crash-test performance.

Crash-test scores improved greatly with the latest version of the Kia Forte, and advanced safety features are widely available, but a rearview camera still is an option.

We give it an 8 for safety. We add points for crash performance and technology. We deduct one for the lack of a standard rearview camera. (Read more about how we rate cars this year.)

The NHTSA says the Forte gets five stars overall, but in subtests, it earns four stars for front-impact protection and rollover resistance.

The IIHS gives the Forte “Good” scores in all crash tests and for its headlights, which earns it a Top Safety Pick+ award.

A rearview camera is standard on the S and EX trim levels, but part of an optional package on the base Forte LX model. Other safety technology comes in reasonably priced packages or as standard equipment: forward-collision warnings and automatic emergency braking, for example, can be fitted to Forte S and Forte EX sedans.

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6

2018 Kia Forte

Features

The 2018 Kia Forte has an economy-car-lean features list, but its infotainment system wins kudos for value.

The 2018 Forte backs up Kia’s reputation for vehicles packed with value, but some features still are omitted.

We give it a 6 here, with an extra point for its nifty and thrifty infotainment system. (Read more about how we rate cars this year.)

Every 2018 Forte from the base LX on up has power features, keyless entry, an AM/FM/CD player, satellite radio hardware, Bluetooth connectivity, 15-inch wheels, and steering-wheel audio controls.

Forte S sedans get a retuned suspension, 16-inch wheels, a rearview camera, and a rear spoiler. Forte EX sedans now have heated front seats, leather upholstery, automatic climate control, and keyless ignition.

Forte hatchbacks are offered in LX, EX, and SX trim levels. Base LX hatchbacks largely mirror their sedan counterparts. EX hatchbacks add heated front seats, leather, a 7.0-inch touchscreen, and keyless ignition. All-in for an SX adds sportier pieces inside such as pedals and a sport steering wheel; chromed tailpipes, 18-inch wheels, and darker windows outside.

Option packages add features such as rear heated seats, cooled driver seat, a sunroof, 17-inch wheels, navigation, and a power-adjustable driver seat.

Kia’s UVO infotainment system taps smartphone data plans to power its mapping and streaming services. It mirrors those functions on its screen, but also offers its own services such as parking-space reminders. The latest version also is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

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8

2018 Kia Forte

Fuel Economy

The 2018 Kia Forte sips fuel, but sips more of it than some competitors.

Gas mileage isn’t as strong as in the Honda Civic or Chevy Cruze, but the 2018 Kia Forte earns very good EPA ratings.

It’s worth an 8 on our fuel-economy scale. (Read more about how we rate cars this year.)

The most efficient models are the Forte LX and S sedans with the 2.0-liter engine and 6-speed automatic transmission, which are rated at 29 mpg city, 37 highway, 32 combined.

Manual-gearbox Forte LX sedans do worse than those with the 6-speed automatic. They’re rated at 25/34/28 mpg.

The Forte EX and its direct-injection gas engine earns EPA ratings of 25/33/28 mpg.

Hatchbacks are rated similarly, 25/34/28 mpg with the 6-speed automatic. Opting for a manual or 7-speed dual-clutch automatic drops those ratings from there: 23/29/25 mpg and 25/30/27 mpg, respectively.

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$16,800
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6.5
Overall
Expert Rating
Rating breakdown on a scale of 1 to 10?
Styling 6
Performance 5
Comfort & Quality 6
Safety 8
Features 6
Fuel Economy 8
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