Buying Used: 2014-18 Kia Forte
Typical Used Prices: 2014 - $9,500; 2018 - $14,500
THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Good: Mid-size cabin room, smooth operator, rare two-door coupe model
- What’s Bad: Lacklustre fuel economy, poor factory-supplied tires, oil consumption
The compact Elantra became the standard-bearer for Hyundai in much of the world and came reasonably close to unseating the Honda Civic as the bestselling car in Canada.
The Kia Forte is the Elantra’s lesser-known twin, an economy-car slacker that seemed content to be in the shadow of its more successful brother.
Expressed another way, the Forte is Stevie Baldwin to Hyundai’s Alec Baldwin.
Even though the two cars shared much of the same genetic material, the Forte never quite captured the attention of car buyers, with dealers selling just one Forte for every three Elantras purchased by Canadians. Kia tried to change that by redesigning the Forte for 2014.
Reshaping the second-generation Forte resulted in a longer, lower profile that complimented the car’s more fluid design. The wheelbase was stretched by 5 centimetres, while overall length grew by 3 cm and height was trimmed by the same amount. The Forte returned in three forms: a four-door sedan, a swoopy Forte5 five-door hatchback and two-door “Koup.”
The sedan’s body shell was 37 per cent stiffer in torsional rigidity and, being composed of 63-percent high-tensile steel, up to 127 kg lighter than the old Forte. The suspension was made up of the usual suspects: struts up front, a torsion-beam rear axle and coil springs all around. Revisions to the suspension geometry and bigger bushings improved steering feel, coupled with the new electric power-steering system.
The Forte’s bigger footprint doesn’t disappoint inside; comfort front and back is very good thanks to well-bolstered seats and generous legroom. It’s so spacious its interior dimensions place the Forte’s cabin in the mid-size car category, according to EPA standards. Six-foot-tall adults should be happy sitting in back, even in the two-door Koup.
“The fact that I had so much room to be comfortable while sitting in it sealed the deal,” wrote one discriminating shopper online. Why? “At 6-foot-8-inches and 260 pounds, I needed to be able to fit comfortably.”
Everything is laid out logically in terms of the controls and the Forte’s tech features are easy to use. The touchscreen interface, surrounded by useful buttons, is one of the friendliest layouts out there. We’re not as in love with the plasticky dashboard design as some – I think Hyundai does it better – but the materials appear to hold up over time and that’s likely more important.
DRIVETRAINS AND UPDATES
For an inexpensive car, Kia didn’t scrimp on the engine choices. There are three four-cylinders: base models use the Elantra’s familiar 1.8-L rated at 148 horsepower and 131 lb-ft of torque, the Forte EX gets a direct-injected 2.0-L with 173 horsepower and 154 lb-ft of grunt, while SX performance versions of the Forte5 and Koup make use of a turbocharged 1.6-L four good for 201 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque.
A conventional six-speed automatic transmission is available across the model lineup, while a six-speed manual gearbox could be found on the base LX and in versions of the Forte5 and Koup in keeping with Kia’s Euro-flavoured branding.
In U.S. government crash testing the Forte sedan and hatchback both earned an overall score of four out of five stars, with five stars for side impact protection, but only three stars for overall frontal impact protection. IIHS testing revealed that the 2014 Forte scored the lowest rating of “Poor” in its small-overlap frontal offset test – a deficiency that was corrected in later model-years.
The 2017 model year brought an extensive mid-cycle refresh. In addition to restyled facias outside, the car got some important mechanical upgrades in the form of two new engines, in part to address the disappointing fuel-economy numbers owners had reported.
The base 1.8-L four-cylinder was replaced with a 2.0-L four utilizing the gas-saving Atkinson cycle, which keeps the intake valves open longer for better thermal efficiency. Power and torque (147 hp and 132 lb-ft) are nearly identical to the previous engine, though fuel economy is noticeably better. EX models gained a more powerful direct-injection 2.0-L engine (164 hp and 151 lb-ft), but the output is down in comparison to the outgoing 173-hp four.
An optional seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission replaced the six-speed automatic in sporty SX models, transmission technology that’s lauded for its quick gear changes – although reliability has been less than stellar in some applications (looking at you, Hyundai Tucson).
Finally, driver-assistance features became available for 2017, including blind-spot and rear cross-traffic alerts along with forward-collision warning, automated braking with pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning and other features bundled in the Technology package. Sadly, the two-door Koup was discontinued in 2017.
DRIVING THE FORTE
A 2014 Forte sedan equipped with the larger 173-hp 2.0-L four cylinder took 7.3 seconds to reach 97 km/h, a commendable result for a compact economy car. Base models with the smaller 1.8-L four took more than 9 seconds with the automatic transmission.
A 2017 Forte with the fuel-efficient 147-hp 2.0-L four took a ho-hum 8.7 seconds. Opt for the 201-hp turbo engine and highway velocity comes up in 6.9 seconds – performance that seems a little underwhelming given all the sturm und drang that a turbo is supposed to bring.
Likewise, the Forte’s handling characteristics are less than exhilarating even for an inexpensive car. One magazine described the body control as abysmal, so loose that the dampers felt like they’d already travelled 200,000 km. One reviewer described its road manners as “nautical.” The car’s structure is sufficiently rigid, but the hardware underneath is tuned for comfort rather than speed.
Comfort is always seen as a big plus in an economy car, but it had better not lose sight of its defining trait: economy. The Forte generated some criticism from drivers who found the car’s thirst for fuel a little disappointing. Typical reported gas mileage hovered around 9.5 litres/100 km (29 mpg), which is not awful, but class leaders like the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla can do considerably better.
Forte owners revel in the car’s roomy cabin, big trunk, intuitive controls, availability of a compact coupe (a rarity) and high feature content for the money. On the downside, fuel economy is unsatisfactory and the standard tires are noisy and stiff. Some owners replaced their tires early with premium rubber from Michelin and Continental, which instantly improved the noise level, ride and handling.
On the reliability side, the second-generation Forte exhibited a number of teething problems in the 2014 model year. Chief among them were puzzling water leaks that showed up in the earliest builds.
“I discovered mysterious wet spots and mould growing in my car underneath the driver’s seat. I also discovered mould in the trunk in multiple locations,” posted one owner online. Reportedly, poorly sealed taillight assemblies are the source of water leaks that spread through the trunk and into the cabin.
Some high-mileage examples have exhibited alarming oil consumption, as much as one or two litres of oil in a matter of weeks, according to some unlucky owners. Transport Canada has been investigating engine issues in Hyundai and Kia vehicles for some time (contact the department).
“My car was at 130,000 km when it started burning about a litre of oil every 1,600 km. It only holds four litres so oil changes at 8,000 km was leaving my car with no oil. They say that’s normal and the warranty won’t fix it,” reads an online complaint. Forte owners should check their dipstick regularly.
Kia is recalling certain 2012 to 2014 Forte models for the brake pedal stopper pad that can deteriorate, allowing the brake light switch plunger to remain extended when the brake pedal is released. This condition keeps the brake lights illuminated continuously. Curiously, other owners have reported headlights and taillights burning out far more frequently than normal.
Other reported mechanical issues include a knocking steering column that may be traced to a worn flex coupler in the assembly, and low-profile Nexen tires that bulge and fail far too soon. The 2017 and newer Forte’s four-cylinder engines use ignition coils that may wear out prematurely.
While the mechanical setbacks are not insignificant, the vast majority of Forte owners are pleased with their second-generation cars. Used Fortes sell at a significant discount, though it may be smart to avoid the inaugural 2014 models and high-mileage examples.