- What’s Good: Value for money is outstanding.
- What’s Bad: The amount of power is good, but it would be nice if it were better.
Go ahead – find an SUV on the market that has heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, a heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, a wireless phone charger, and more, for $30,000 with fees included.
You can’t. It doesn’t exist.
And herein lies the ongoing case for the compact sedan. Sure, it doesn’t have all-wheel drive or a huge amount of ground clearance. But we Canadians seem to have collectively forgotten that not everyone needs those things. Front-wheel drive with a good set of winter tires will get city drivers through all but the very worst days, and on those, most people probably shouldn’t be out on the roads anyway.
If this sounds like you then read on – the new third-generation 2019 Kia Forte makes an awfully strong case for itself. And in a segment where it’s competing with sales behemoths like the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, that’s no small feat.
An Acceptable Engine Made Better
Let’s get this out of the way right off the top: there’s only one engine so far on the 2019 Forte sedan, and it’s not the souped-up version that came with higher trim levels in the previous generation. In fact, it has the same specs as the one that was relegated to the entry-level LX trim just a year ago: a 2.0-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder that makes 147 hp and 132 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,500 rpm. It is a new engine, however, and it runs on the Atkinson cycle for better fuel efficiency.
There never was a turbocharged mill on the sedan; that was available on the Forte5 only, and it will still be there when the next generation of the hatchback starts arriving in showrooms this fall. It’s possible that a more powerful engine will be introduced eventually, but whether it’s coming or not, it isn’t here now.
The amount of power the Forte has is therefore best described as fine. It will get you to the grocery store and back. But if you generally want something with a little bit more pep, you’ll be better off looking elsewhere.
That said, unless you’re looking for the cheapest-of-the-cheap model and end up with the six-speed manual, you’ll be getting Kia’s first in-house-built continuously variable transmission, which is an interesting one. This works in the same way as every other CVT in that it’s a pulley system that does away with gear ratios, but Kia has opted to drive it with a chain instead of a push-belt, giving it a stepped feel that simulates an automatic transmission, and wrapped the whole thing in a bunch of soundproofing. I sometimes find that the throttle input I’m giving doesn’t completely line up with the response I’m getting, but otherwise I entirely forget that I’m driving a car with a CVT. I’m prone to complaining about such things, so colour me impressed.
Plus, there are obvious benefits in fuel economy. The new Forte rates according to Natural Resources Canada at 7.7 L/100 km in the city, 5.9 on the highway, and 6.9 combined. Among cars in this size bracket that are gasoline-powered, only the Toyota Corolla Hatchback does better.
Steering and handling are responsive and above average for the class. Ride quality and the interior noise levels are closer to par – both are on the rougher side, but so are our roads these days, and in these respects the Forte is not much different from its competition.
Subtle Styling Changes
Kia’s updates to the Forte’s exterior styling for the new generation are subtle but important. If you weren’t looking for them, you could easily miss them. But details like the reshaped hood creases, larger front air intakes, and subtly curved lower door panels go a long way toward giving it a more upscale look.
The inside, on the other hand, could perhaps have used a little more attention. This may be my own bias: the heavily rounded-off treatment on just about everything in Kia’s interiors has never really worked for me. Button redesigns are a welcome improvement, though, and the entire space carries an air of build quality that’s getting harder for competitors to match. (Imagine saying that about a Kia 20 years ago.)
Features are the Selling Point
The infotainment system that Kia and Hyundai share is a good one. It’s got Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a ton of radio presets with recording functions for satellite radio stations on the EX Premium and Limited trims, and this top-of-the-line Limited test unit connects it all to a 320-watt Harman-Kardon sound system.
A downside of the redesign, at least for someone built with short arms like me, is that the touchscreen has been pulled out of the dash and into a top-mounted tablet-like position. It looks nice, but the functions that sit further to the right side are harder for me to reach.
The kicker on the Forte, though, is the breadth of its feature offerings. On this EX Limited, which at $30,000 is as expensive as it gets, you’ll find: front seats that are heated (which is standard across the board) and ventilated, upholstered with synthetic leather and adjustable eight ways for the driver; heated rear seats; a heated and leather-wrapped steering wheel, heated side mirrors, and a leather-wrapped shifting knob (also standard on every trim); 17-inch alloy wheels; LED exterior lighting; a power sunroof; a wireless phone charger; adaptive cruise control; high-beam assist; blind spot detection; lane-keep assist; a driver attention alert system; advanced forward collision avoidance assist; and rear cross-traffic alert.
To my mind, the EX trim, which only gives up a few of these niceties and is priced from $22,769, hits most of the marks and is a clear value leader.
My colleagues in the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada rated the Kia Forte as the Best Small Car in Canada for 2019. I certainly think it’s up there. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the brief time I spent in the new Volkswagen Jetta at AJAC’s TestFest event thanks to its infotainment and drive dynamics, and I’d like to get to know it better before making any sweeping claims. Plus, a new Toyota Corolla is coming for 2020 that could throw a wrench into all of this.
Still, for now, I’d say that anyone shopping for a compact sedan absolutely should take the new Kia Forte for a test drive, and I expect that more than a few of those who appreciate great value packaging when they see it will decide to take one home.