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Review: 2014 Kia Forte5 / Koup- Two doors or five, Kia raises the bar

Strikingly handsome compact offers superior performance and unexpected luxury

The Toronto Star for Wheels.ca

HUNTINGTON BEACH CALIF.?In the car business, replacing a failure is easy: just don?t do that again.

Replacing a success is somewhat more difficult, because expectations are higher. That?s the challenge facing Kia these days.

The number-two Korean car maker ? for the past six years, part of a conglomerate with its larger Hyundai sibling ? can?t sneak up on anybody anymore.

Fresh European styling, led by chief stylist (now-president) Peter Schreyer, advanced technology usually shared with Hyundai, and unbeatable levels of equipment for the price (power folding mirrors and a heated steering wheel in a compact car?) mean the market now expects a lot from Kia.

This has also led the company to continuous year-over-year growth, not just in Canada but around the world.

Can it keep up the momentum?

Into the mix come two- and four-door hatchback versions of the compact Forte line, joining the new four-door sedan that debuted last year.

Both are available now, starting at $19,495 for the base-level LX four-door hatch, and $20,995 for the mid-range EX two-door. (The two-door is not offered as an LX; both body styles can also be had in up-level SX trim.)

Kia insists on calling the two-door the Koup ? really folks, we could do without the cutesy spelling.

And the four-door hatchback is billed as the Forte5, seemingly forgetting the fact that if you don?t normally go in and out of it, it ain?t a door.

Nomenclature aside, there?s a lot to like in these new offerings.

The styling has been refreshed, with yet another variant on Kia?s signature tiger-nose grille, a much thinner design that is standard on Koup and on the up-level SX hatch.

Inside, upgraded materials such as carbon fibre-look trim improve the cabin ambiance. If you go far enough up the food chain, such things as a cooled driver?s seat and full Navi are available, in addition to that heated wheel and those folding mirrors.

Another reflection of Kia?s standard equipment strategy is that air conditioning, Bluetooth, satellite radio and alloy wheels are standard on all models.

LX and EX models use a 2.0-litre four-cylinder, which gains direct fuel injection, resulting in 17 more horsepower (to 173) and 10 more lb.-ft. of torque (to 144) over the former iteration. These numbers also put Forte in good shape against the competition.

The SX has a 1.6-litre direct-injection twin-scroll turbo, essentially the same as in the Hyundai Veloster turbo. With 201 horses and peak torque of 195 lb.-ft. at a very low 1,750 r.p.m., this is among the most powerful compacts available.

Two transmissions, manual and automatic, are offered in each combination, except the EX hatch ? that?s auto only.

Both transmissions are six-speeds ? one or two ratios more than most in this class ? and both are made in-house.

Turbo models also benefit from sportier suspension settings and transmission ratios, larger front brake rotors, quicker steering and fatter tires.

There is even an SX turbo with a manual gearbox and cloth seats for the purist sporty driver.

You would expect cars with more power to have worse fuel consumption. Forte doesn?t lead in Transport Canada numbers, but it holds it own against similarly powered entries.

And because the torquier engines don?t have to work as hard to move you down the road, you may find real-world consumption is close to a wash.

Through the luck of the draw, I scored a Koup EX with the naturally-aspirated engine and manual transmission for the morning drive, and a turbo manual hatch in the afternoon. (Having driven an automatic Forte sedan before, I can tell you: the automatic works just fine.)

First, the Koup.

The interior is a pleasant place to be. I found the seats comfy and supporting ? important given the fabulous twisty roads laid out for us, inland from the coast towards the Anza Borrego Desert.

The gruffness that accompanies most direct-injection engines, including other Hyundai/Kia mills I?ve driven, seemed missing here, or at least muted.

Or possibly drowned out by the fact I had my window down. It may have been cold to the natives, but after the winter we?ve had, 18C felt downright tropical.

The shifter itself felt light and direct, but it took some time to acclimatize to the clutch take-up ? my first few shifts weren?t much to be proud of. Kia might benefit from tearing down a Volkswagen GTI tranny and clutch to see how they do it.

The engine provides good acceleration, and never gets overly rowdy as revs rise.

Ride is good, steering nicely precise, and the car felt well-planted in the corners.

It also felt very solid, despite frame-less windows that often rattle on bumpy pavement.

Rear-seat room is decent, given that this can hardly be a prime purchase criterion with a coupe. A young family with a toddler could make do with this car.

But said family would be much happier with the four-door hatch ? for ease of access to that rear seat if nothing else.

The turbo engine provides remarkable scoot, and again, noise levels are well-controlled.

All EX and SX Fortes get something Kia calls Flex Steer. At the push of a button, you can choose from three levels of steering resistance: Comfort (think Chevy Chase?s mid-?70s station wagon in Vacation), Normal and Sport (a bit firmer).

I?m all for choice, but you?ll soon decide which setting you like and never touch that button again.

Kia figures about 60 per cent of Forte buyers will opt for the sedan, with 20 per cent each for the hatch and coup?.

This makes no sense whatsoever.

OK, coup? buyers are going for style. Can?t argue there.

But choosing a small sedan, when the hatch is more usable and at least as good-looking ? that strikes me as dumb.

Forte is up against some tough competition in this, Canada?s largest car-market segment. Honda Civic has been the segment?s best-seller since the last Ice Age, Mazda3 wins all sorts of awards, and you can never count out Toyota Corolla. Heck, every car maker has a good entry here.

But if you don?t at least put Kia Forte on your shopping list, you may be missing something.

Transportation for freelance writer Jim Kenzie was provided by the manufacturer. Email: wheels@thestar.ca.

Review: Kia Forte Koup / Forte5

Price: Forte5: $19,495 to $23,795; Koup: $20,995 to $23,695.

Engines: 2.0-L inline four, 1.6-L twin-turbo inline four

Power/Torque: 173 hp/154 lb.-ft. (2.0L), 201/195 (1.6L)

Fuel Consumption L/100 km: 9.0 city, 6.1 hwy. (2.0L), 9.4, 6.8 (1.6L)

Competition: Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Mazda3, Nissan Sentra, Toyota Corolla, Volkswagen Jetta.

What?s Best: Strikingly handsome inside and out, out-performs virtually everyone in this segment, available luxury features unheard of in this class.

What?s Worst: Model nomenclature varies from silly to misleading, clutch take-up on manual transmission not class-leading, fuel-consumption numbers may scare some people off.

What?s Interesting: Kia and Hyundai may be brothers under the skin, but sibling rivalry can be the fiercest.

  • Review: 2014 Kia Forte5 / Koup-  Two doors or five, Kia raises the bar Subject: Kenzie Kia Forte5 and Koup pics - Wheels - Norris McDonald - 1 of 6 On 2014-03-30, at 11:53 PM, Jim Kenzie wrote: Mine Kenzie Forte Koup RF 34.jpg
  • Review: 2014 Kia Forte5 / Koup-  Two doors or five, Kia raises the bar Subject: Kenzie Kia Forte5 and Koup pics - Wheels - Norris McDonald - 5 of 6 On 2014-03-30, at 11:54 PM, Jim Kenzie wrote: Supplied - note; the four-door hatch I tested was actually blue, like the coupe and the previous pic. I include this shot just because it looks cool, and we were in Surf City... Kenzie Forte5 RR 34 supplied.jpg
  • Review: 2014 Kia Forte5 / Koup-  Two doors or five, Kia raises the bar Subject: Kenzie Kia Forte5 and Koup pics - Wheels - Norris McDonald - 3 of 6 On 2014-03-30, at 11:53 PM, Jim Kenzie wrote: Mine Kenzie Forte Koup dash.jpg

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