2021 Kia Forte

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Robert Duffer Robert Duffer Senior Editor
January 26, 2021

Buying tip

The manual transmission might spare you some money up front, but it’ll cost you at the pump.

features & specs

FE Manual
29 city / 40 hwy
31 city / 41 hwy
27 city / 37 hwy

The 2021 Kia Forte is a value-packed compact sedan, one that’s a half-step behind the class leaders.

What kind of vehicle is the 2021 Kia Forte? What does it compare to?

The 2021 Kia Forte compact sedan competes in a shrinking segment with robust contenders in the Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Mazda 3, and Toyota Corolla. 

Is the 2021 Kia Forte a good car?

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Yes. The stylish looks, roomy interior, standard safety and convenience features, and overall value offset its mixed crash-test results and mediocre powertrains to earn a TCC Rating of 6.2 of of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

What's new for the 2021 Kia Forte?

Redesigned for 2019, then updated in 2020 to include GT and GT-Line trims, the 2021 Forte stands pat, though some options on higher trims are now standard.  

With available 18-inch wheels and a low, raked profile channeling the Kia Stinger performance sedan, the 2021 Kia Forte looks good on the inside and out. Available accent stitching, soft-touch panels, a flat-bottomed steering wheel and a silver on black design theme with circular outboard vents improve upon the economy car’s past.

But the powertrain options betray the good looks and compelling features. The base 147-hp 2.0-liter inline-4 is meant for efficiency, not power, as long as you spend up for the continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT); it gets 4 mpg better than the standard manual transmission to an EPA-rated 35 mpg combined. An uprated 201-hp 1.6-liter turbo-4 fills the bay of the GT model, but the unpredictable 7-speed dual-clutch transmission would make us opt up for the manual.  

The Forte’s roominess and clever packaging puts it on par with the Honda Civic, but the base FE model’s bench seat limits the versatility offered in 60/40-split folding rear seats in LXS, GT-Line, EX, and GT trims. The 15.3 cubic feet of trunk space is pretty good for a compact sedan, but a hatchback would do it better.

The safety scorecard on the Forte is mixed, with the NHTSA giving it only four stars on front crash prevention. On the other hand, the IIHS rated it a Top Safety Pick, and it comes with essential driver-assist features such as automatic emergency braking. 

Kia loads the 2021 Forte with compelling standard features, such as keyless entry, an 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, and an excellent 5-year/60,000-mile warranty. 

How much does the 2021 Kia Forte cost?

The base FE model with a 6-speed manual transmission costs $18,885, and the available CVT adds $900. The price spread remains reasonable until the EX and GT, which tops the range with the turbo-4 at $24,385.

Where is the 2021 Kia Forte made?

In Mexico. 


2021 Kia Forte


The 2021 Kia Forte’s sharp looks hide its economy car roots.

Is the 2021 Kia Forte a good-looking car?

The Forte is one of the better looking compact cars available. The long wheelbase and raked windshield take design cues from the Kia Stinger, and the 18-inch alloy wheels on the sporty GT trim lend the small car presence. It’s a 7, with a point for the sharp exterior and another point for a manicured interior.

The top GT model looks best with its black exterior accents and rear spoiler but it also costs the most. The GT-Line adds many of the cosmetic flourishes of the GT without the price, such as the lip spoiler, fog lights, and the GT’s sport grille and side sills. Inside the GT-Line, the flat-bottom steering wheel complements sport bucket seats with synthetic leather and contrast stitching. 

Inside, an 8.0-inch touchscreen highlights a clean cabin design with simple climate control and subtle but stylish elements such as circular vents and available matte silver trim. Cloth seats come along with plenty of plastic panels, but available soft-touch dash and red contrast stitching provide some visual pop to the dark tones.

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2021 Kia Forte


An available turbo-4 GT model puts some pep in the step of the 2021 Kia Forte.

The 2021 Kia Forte comes with two engines and two transmission options for each engine. Performance is not the strength of the base Kia Forte FE. That sluggish 147-hp 2.0-liter inline-4 rates at a 4. On the other end of the Forte spectrum, the GT would rate a 6. But only with the manual transmission. If we could remove a point for the dual-clutch yoyo, we would. 

Is the 2021 Kia Forte 4WD?

No. It’s front-wheel drive only, and the GT provides all the torque steer as a reminder. 

How fast is the 2021 Kia Forte?

The inline-4 makes 147-hp and 132 lb-ft and, with the continuously variable automatic transmission, it’s reluctant to accelerate with any urgency; pushing it seems to fill the cabin with self-loathing. If you drive gently, it responds gently in kind. A 6-speed manual comes standard, though the $900 upgrade to the CVT comes with a 4-mpg increase at the pump. 

Kia reserves a sense of sport for the range-topping GT. New for 2020, it uses the 1.6-liter turbo-4 from the Elantra N-Line to make 201 hp and 195 lb-ft, which is good enough in the Forte to hit 60 mph in 6.7 seconds. The manual is optional here for $600 more, and without testing that specific manual, we’re confident in saying it’s better than subjecting yourself to the whims of the unrefined and unrepentant 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. In Sport mode under heavy throttle it shifts predictably, but in most normal driving situations it yoyos around the 2,000 rpm vicinity, rocking indecisively between gears. 

An independent rear suspension in the GT replaces the torsion beam elsewhere in the lineup, but the MacPherson struts up front and the lightweight nature of the car can’t offset its reluctance to hold turns at speed. There’s considerable lateral motion during swift lane changes.  

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2021 Kia Forte

Comfort & Quality

Spacious and optionally stylish, the 2021 Kia Forte rises about its budget-car past.

The 2021 Kia Forte has a decent-sized trunk with 15.3 cubic feet of space that expands with 60/40-split folding rear seats on all but the base FE model, which has a bench seat. Still, the cargo volume earns the Forte an extra point to a 6. 

The Forte trails the Jetta and Civic for spaciousness, but not by much. Four adults fit easily, with 35.7 inches of leg room for rear passengers. Up front, 6-way manual adjustable seats provide enough variability for most body sizes.  

The GT-Line, EX, and GT trims cover the cabin in premium materials such as soft-touch dash, leather-wrapped steering wheels, red contrast stitching, and matte plastic chrome pieces, but the budget car’s roots lurk in the stripped down version of the base FE model. The GT’s sport bucket seats have side-hugging bolsters neither too firm nor too soft.

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2021 Kia Forte


Mixed crash-test results muddle the safety scorecard on the 2021 Kia Forte.

How safe is the 2021 Kia Forte?

The lightweight compact avoids crashes better than it withstands them. Equipped with automatic emergency braking that avoided collisions in IIHS testing, the Kia Forte earned a Top Safety Pick award. Yet the NHTSA gave it four stars out of five in its crash tests, where it underperformed in front impact tests and rollover tests. 

The mixed results qualify it for a 6 here, buoyed by good standard and available safety equipment for a budget-minded car. 

Active lane control, automatic emergency braking, and a driver-attention monitor come standard. GT Line and higher trims come with blind-spot monitors, but even on the top GT model, adaptive cruise control costs extra. 

The headlights rated “Poor” in IIHS testing, except for the LED projectors that come standard on the top GT model.


2021 Kia Forte


Good standard features and a great warranty make the 2021 Kia Forte a deal.

Kia provides peace of mind in the 2021 Forte with an excellent 5-year/60,000-mile warranty, standard safety features mentioned above, and essential comfort and convenience features, such as an 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. Those attributes each earn a point to get to an 8 here. 

The best part is it starts under $20,000, including destination. 

Which 2021 Kia Forte should I buy?

The base FE is the budget buy at $18,885, but for only $1,700 more with the CVT, the GT-Line adds a refined touch and cosmetic flourishes for $21,485. GT-Line upgrades to 17-inch alloy wheels, a rear spoiler, black gloss sills, and black side mirrors, while on the inside red stitching accents soft touch dash and synthetic leather sport seats with 6-way adjustability. It wears the GT part without the performance or the $2,300 upcharge with a leather-wrapped flat-bottom steering wheel, selectable drive modes, blind-spot monitors, and 60/40-split rear seats. 

How much is a fully loaded 2021 Kia Forte?

Kia plays a trick by including the manual on the base model and charging more for the CVT, but on the top GT model with the turbo-4 it costs $600 more for the 6-speed manual over the dual-clutch automatic to $24,385. The GT adds 18-inch alloy wheels, an independent rear suspension, LED headlights, ambient lighting inside, a leather-wrapped gear shifter, power sunroof, Harman Kardon audio, wireless phone charger, and parking sensors.

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2021 Kia Forte

Fuel Economy

The 2021 Kia Forte optimizes fuel use, except with a manual transmission.

Is the 2021 Kia Forte good on gas?

Yes. The lightweight construction of the compact combines with an efficient but weak base engine to get an EPA-rated 31 mpg city, 41 highway, 35 combined in the base FE trim. LXS, EX, and GT-Line trims fare well, too, at 29/40/33 mpg. That’s good enough for a 6. 

The GT with the turbo-4 and dual-clutch automatic transmission gets 27/35/30 mpg. 

Gone are the days when a manual transmission was more efficient. The 6-speed manual is a budget play on the base FE, but it’ll cost you at the pump by losing 4 mpg across the board. In GT modes, the manual means fun, so the 2-mpg penalty over the dual-clutch isn’t as pronounced.

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Expert Rating
Rating breakdown on a scale of 1 to 10?
Styling 7
Performance 4
Comfort & Quality 6
Safety 6
Features 8
Fuel Economy 6
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