• Review 2020 Kia Forte

First Drive: 2020 Kia Forte/Forte5

More space, sportier performance

Jim Kenzie By: Jim Kenzie October 4, 2019


    • What’s Good: Stylish and spacious, and Forte5 even more so; excellent driving dynamics; well-finished interior.
    • What’s Bad: Driver’s side-view mirror still just plain wrong; rear turn signals still mounted too low; Manual shift pattern on DCT transmission on GT still backwards; most of the common CVT issues have been handled, but a few quirks might show through.


VICTORIA B.C.—In an increasingly crowded traffic environment, you might think the most space-efficient, not to mention most logical, automobile configuration — obviously, the station wagon — would prevail.

Not so’s you’d notice.

The second-most space-efficient, not to mention second-most logical, automobile configuration — the hatchback — is hanging in, and, at least in some markets, is showing some growth.

Last year about this time, we told you about the new Kia Forte, a compact sedan that offers space, good performance, fine handling and an upscale look and feel.

This year, we have the new hatchback version of this car, called Forte5 as if it had five doors.

(If you don’t go in and out of it, it ain’t a door.)

You’d think this model would be all that the sedan is and more, given the added practicality of the hatchback body style.

And you’d be bang on.

It is on sale now, starting at $22,245.

If that sounds like a big jump over the base price of the 2020 Forte sedan ($17,695), you’re right.

But the sedan range begins with a base LX trim level with a manual transmission, neither of which is offered in the hatch.

The closest comparator is the Forte sedan EX with automatic, which starts at $20,995.

So, it’ll cost you $1,250 for the extra functionality. Your call.

Review 2020 Kia Forte

The Forte5 isn’t just the sedan with the back end chopped off. It’s effectively all-new aft of the front doors.

It’s actually 130 millimetres shorter than the sedan, all of that coming out of the rear overhang.

It is also a smidge — I think five mm constitutes a smidge — taller. The extended roofline yields better headroom for rear-seat riders.

There’s actually slightly less cargo space in the hatchback when the rear seats are up than in the sedan — 428 litres versus 502. But the taller hatch opening means loading stuff in there will be much easier.

And when you fold down the rear seats, you effectively triple that carrying capacity.

Yes, it still has the rear turn signals mounted far too low to be easily seen by other traffic, especially since that other traffic is increasingly likely to be far-too-tall SUVs.

And yes, the continuously variable transmission (Kia calls it “Intelligent” Variable Transmission) still occasionally has a mind of its own, shifting when it doesn’t seem to be the right time or place.

But Forte still rides, handles and performs with the best in its class, and retains the upscale look and feel of its sister ship.

Incidentally, our Forte sedans are built in Mexico, the hatchbacks in Korea.

New for Kia for 2020 is the Forte GT, available in both sedan and hatchback body styles. The GT sedan starts at $28,995, and the hatch at $27,395.

The GT models gain a bunch of external upgrades, notably 18-inch alloy wheels, dual muffler outlets with rear bumper diffusers and red accents in the “dark chrome” grille.

Inside, there are sportier ventilated bucket seats up front, and a handsome leather-covered steering wheel with a flat bottom to improve thigh clearance when you are hooning around on your favourite stretch of twisty two-lane blacktop.

Review 2020 Kia Forte

Because the big news is in the go-faster and handle-better departments.

The GT gets a 1.6-litre turbocharged four, developing 201 horsepower at 6,000 r.p.m. and 195 lb.-ft. of torque from 1,500 to 4,500 r.p.m., improvements of 37 and 48 per cent respectively compared to the 2.0-litre.

That’s a very low peak torque rev point, thanks largely to what Kia refers to as a “mixed flow” turbocharger, which builds boost quickly with little of the dreaded turbo lag.

To it is bolted a seven-speed dual clutch manumatic transmission with paddle shifters for those who wish to stir the cogs themselves.

Too bad they still get the manual shift capability wrong; it should, nay must, be back for upshifts and forward for downshifts.

GT models get a multi-link rear suspension in place of the twist-beam setup on non-GT Fortes, and its brakes are upgraded with one-inch-larger front discs. Tires are upsized as well.

All this makes for a much sportier drive.

The Forte GT feels faster than the numbers indicate. Zero to 100 km takes a couple of ticks over seven seconds.

But few of us use a stopwatch at every stoplight Grand Prix. What we feel is how the car reacts to our inputs, and this one reacts like a champ.

Throttle inputs are eagerly answered. The dual-clutch gearbox shifts immediately and seamlessly, as they do.

The firmed-up underpinnings and, especially, the independent rear suspension provide excellent handling.

Kias tend to be more firmly sprung than most in this segment, and the Forte GT more so than most.

I have yet to try it on Ontario’s pockmarked roads, but here on the Island, it rode smoothly.

I guess I have to mention that it comes with all the de rigueur nanny systems, but, as usual, my first act behind the wheel is to shut most of them off. I do leave rear-cross traffic alert and directional-stability control active, because you just never know.

The drive-mode-select function allows you to tailor the car’s various mechanical systems to your taste or mood of the moment.

I can’t see many people choosing a car like this, then driving around in ECO mode. The car actually records pretty decent fuel consumption under any but the most aggressive of driving styles.

“Normal” is, well, for normal driving, and offers a good middle ground.

The eager engine and that sporty suspension, however, will encourage you to try Sport mode, which yields firmer steering, crisper handling and more energetic throttle response. If you are attracted to a car like this, you will probably leave it in Sport.

In sum, the Forte5 and Forte/Forte5’s GT models further expand the compact Kia’s bandwidth in a couple of directions.

More space; sportier performance.

My pick? Easy; why not go for the best of both in the Forte5 GT?

Jim Kenzie is a Toronto-based writer and a freelance contributor for the Star.

2020 Kia Forte / Forte5

Body Style: Four doors, five passengers, compact sedan / hatchback.
Drive Method: Front-wheel drive.

Price: Forte sedan: LX M6 — $17,695; LX CVT — $19,295; EX — $20,995; EX Premium — $24,295; GT — $28,995. Forte5 hatchback: EX — $22,245; GT — $27,395; GT Premium — $29,995.

Engine: Forte / Forte5 — 2.0-litre in-line four-cylinder, double overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, variable valve timing, direct injection, modified Atkinson cycle. Regular unleaded fuel.Forte GT / Forte5 GT — 1.6-litre in-line four-cylinder, double overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, variable valve timing, turbocharged direct injection. Regular unleaded fuel.

Transmission: LX MT trim level — six-speed manual; all others except GT — continuously variable (CVT) automatic; GT — seven-speed dual-clutch manumatic.
Power/torque, horsepower / lb.-ft.: 2.0-litre — 147 @ 6,200 / 132 @ 4,500 r.p.m.; 1.6-litre turbo — 201 @ 6,000 r.p.m. / 195 @ 1,500 — 4,500 r.p.m.
Fuel consumption, Transport Canada City/Highway, l/100 km: 2.0-litre M6 — 8.6 / 6.4; 2.0-litre CVT — 7.7 / 5.9; 1.6-litre turbo DCT — 8.9 / 6.9.
Competition: Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Toyota Corolla.