The 2014 Kia Forte sedan is longer, wider, lower and sleeker than its predecessor, which makes it sound like something from a 1950s or 1960s American car advertisement.
The Forte’s predecessor arrived at about the time when desirable compact car rivals hit the scene, so sales have been generally disappointing. Kia thus is presenting the third-generation front-drive Forte to compete with cars such as the Ford Focus and Hyundai Elantra.
The Forte fits between Kia’s subcompact Rio and the automaker’s Optima mid-size sedan.
While Kia may not use 1950s “longer-lower-wider” advertising for the new Forte, its all-new slightly longer, lower and wider chassis does allow more room than the outgoing model’s. And its “cab-forward” front-end styling provides better visibility.
The front window rake helps provide a sporty look, but the emphasis with the Forte is on practicality, not sportiness.
The quiet “driver-centric” cabin is impressively roomy, both front and rear, with soft touch points. Wide door openings make it easy to slide in and out. Front seats are supportive in curves, and gauges can be quickly read. Climate controls are large. Other dashboard controls are small, but clearly marked for easy use. All-around vision from the driver’s seat is good, with large outside mirrors helping rear vision.
Interior materials are upscale, and front console cupholders are easily reached. There are a good number of storage areas, including fairly deep pockets in doors and a seemingly mile-deep console bin with a cover.
Models are the base LX, which lists at $15,900 with a 1.8-liter, 148-horsepower four-cylinder engine and a six-speed manual transmission and $17,400 with that engine and an efficient six-speed automatic with a manual-shift feature.
The higher-line Kia Forte EX I tested comes with a 2-liter, 173-horsepower four-cylinder, but only with the automatic. It stickers at $19,400.
The 1.8-liter four-cylinder is the same one used in the Hyundai Elantra (Hyundai and Kia are affiliated). While the sophisticated 1.8 should provide sufficient acceleration for many, the equally sophisticated 2-liter, 173-horsepower four-cylinder would be my engine of choice. It provided quick 65-75 mph passing on highways and seemingly loafed at 2,100 r.p.m. at 65 m.p.h. The engine is just moderately noisy during hard acceleration.
Safety features include a bunch of air bags, electronic stability and traction control, along with vehicle stability management and hill-start assist control.
South Korea’s Kia is following the example of early Japanese cars by offering lots of standard equipment in autos with reasonable prices. Even the base LX Forte has standard air conditioning, steering wheel audio controls, power windows and door locks, tilt-telescopic wheel, split-folding 60/40 rear seat, dual 12-volt power outlets, power heated outside mirrors, variable intermittent wipers and automatic-off headlights,
But you must pay more for desirable extras. The LX has a $900 “Popular option” package that contains 16-inch alloy wheels (up from 15-inchers) with wider tires, remote keyless entry with trunk opener, cruise control, tweeter speakers, sliding front armrest, rear center armrest with cupholders, soft-touch front upper door panels, outside mirrors with turn signal indicators and illuminated ignition keylock cylinder.
A “Eco” package has Kia’s Idle stop and go system and dual-zone automatic temperature control with rear-seat ventilation.
The higher-line EX is well-equipped with comfort and convenience items. They include standard remote keyless entry with trunk opener, 60/40 rear-camera back-up display, a cooling glove box, power folding side mirrors and a UVO in-vehicle infotainment system with eServices that can now be integrated with an optional navigation system.
If you really want a “loaded” Forte, opt for the $2,600 Premium Package. It contains a power sunroof, leather seat trim, pushbutton start, 10-way power adjustable and ventilated driver’s seat, heated front seats, heated steering wheel and heated rear seat bottom, illuminated outside door handle pockets and an immobilizer system to discourage thieves.
Then there’s the $2,300 Technology Package with dual-zone automatic climate control with center console rear vents, navigation system with HD radio technology and a “supervision” meter cluster with a 4.2-inch color with LCD display to provide trip and ancillary vehicle information to the driver. Xenon HID headlights brighten the darkness, and LED taillights make them easier for following drivers to see.
The Forte is enjoyable to drive. There’s a new McPherson strut front suspension, and on-center steering feel is improved with larger bushings and and revised front suspension geometry.
The electric power steering is quick and rather firm. It’s replaced the hydraulic system, and optional Flex Steer lets a driver control settings for Comfort, Normal and Sport modes, which vary steering effort at the touch of a button.
The ride is firm, but compliant. Handling is good. Improving it for the EX are optional 45-series tires on 17-inch wheels. The brakes have a nice feel, and there’s a brake-assist system for surer stops with the anti-lock four-wheel-disc brakes.
The large trunk is wide but has a rather high opening, and its lid is held open by hinges instead of hydraulic struts. At least it has a handy interior pull-down handle. Rear seatbacks fold flat to significantly increase cargo room.
The hood has a padded interior to assist noise control, but is held open with a prop rod that’s awkward to use, instead of struts.
My likeable new Forte test car was economical and easy to live with.
Pros: Nicely redesigned. Stylish. Fuel-thrifty. Roomy. Refined. Attractive base prices.
Cons: Alluring options increase prices. Rather high trunk opening.
Bottom Line: Offers a lot for the money.
Dan Jedlicka has been an automotive journalist for more than 40 years. To read more of his new and vintage reviews, visit: www.danjedlicka.com.