The Kia Forte could never claim to be the best compact car, but its low price and a long list of equipment made it an interesting alternative choice to the stalwarts of the compact class. This approach has worked well with the Forte becoming one of the brand’s best selling models. Kia wants to change the fortunes of the Forte with third-generation by not fully relying on price and value. I spent a week in the top-line EX Launch Edition to see how it fares.
The new Mazda3 is considered by many to be the sexiest compact car on sale. Running a close second is the Forte. Elements of the Stinger are used throughout such as power bulge on the hood, headlights that extend into the fenders, and sculpting along the side. The only place where the design falters is in the rear with a set of triangular pods housing the reversing lights and turn signals. They ruin the elegant and upscale look Kia is trying to go for.
The Forte’s interior at first glance may look somewhat plain, with only a set of circular vents and a strip of faux metal trim running across the dash being the interesting bits. But Kia has done its homework in building a high-quality interior. Almost all of the plastics used are soft-touch and feature different textures to make the vehicle look and feel more expensive than the actual price. Clever touches such as dual-zone climate control being standard on all models and a two-tier bin allowing you and a passenger to place their phones also set the Forte apart.
The EX features leatherette upholstery, a 10-way power seat for the driver, and heat/ventilation for those sitting up front. I found the seats to be very easy to find a comfortable position, along with providing excellent support for long trips. The back seat is mixed with a decent of legroom, but headroom being somewhat at a premium due to an optional sunroof for those above six-feet.
All Fortes come with an 8-inch touchscreen as standard with Kia’s UVO infotainment system. Navigation is only available on the EX if you order the Launch Edition package. The current incarnation of UVO is starting to look somewhat old in terms of the interface. It cannot be beaten for the overall ease of use with large touchpoints, simple menu layout, and physical shortcut buttons underneath the screen. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration is standard across the board.
Power comes from a 2.0L four-cylinder engine pumping out 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque. The base FE gets a six-speed manual, while higher trims use a CVT. The powertrain goes about its business surprisingly well around down with the engine providing decent pull and the CVT mimicking an automatic transmission. But this powertrain falters when you need to get up to speed quickly. The engine runs out of steam when going above 60 mph and there is a noticeable drone coming from the CVT.
Fuel economy in the 2019 Kia Forte EX is rated at 30 City/40 Highway/34 Combined. My average for the week landed around 33.
The Forte really shines when it comes to ride quality. Despite having a slightly stiffer ride compared to the last-generation model, the sedan glides over most bumps with no issue. Road and wind noise were about average for the class, and could easily be drowned out by turning up the volume slightly. Handling is about average for the class with a slight amount of body lean and steering providing decent weight.
To sum up, the large effort Kia has put into the 2019 Forte shows. The combination of styling, a long list of features, balance between ride and handling, and a surprising base price make it a real threat in the compact car class. The only item that needs to be addressed is the engine - ten extra horsepower and torque could make the difference.
How I would configure a 2019 Kia Forte
- While the EX Launch Edition does provide some desirable features such as adaptive cruise control, QI wireless charging, and a Harman/Kardon audio system, I would drop down to the mid-level S. At $20,290, you’re getting a lot of equipment such as 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, forward collision warning with automatic braking, and keyless entry. I would add the $1,200 S Premium Package to get LED headlights, automatic high beams, and a power sunroof. With destination, the price comes to $22,415.
Alternatives to the 2019 Kia Forte
- Hyundai Elantra: Mechanically similar to the Forte, albeit with a face that will scare small kids. Two turbo engine options - one focused on the economy while the other is for sport - might be attractive to some.
- Honda Civic: Drives slightly better than the Forte and offers more body styles. But lower reliability scores and confounding infotainment systems may cause you to look elsewhere.
- Chevrolet Cruze: While it lacks a number of features found on the Forte, it does offer a slightly smoother and quieter ride. Plus, dealers are starting to push a lot of cash on the hoods to get them moving.
Disclaimer: Kia Provided the Forte, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas
Engine: 2.0L Multi-Port DOHC Inline-Four
Driveline: Front-Wheel Drive, CVT
Horsepower @ RPM: 147 @ 6,200
Torque @ RPM: 132 @ 4,500
Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 30/40/34
Curb Weight: 2,903 lbs
Location of Manufacture: Pesqueria, NL, Mexico
Base Price: $21,990
As Tested Price: $26,220 (Includes $895.00 Destination Charge)
EX Launch Edtion - $3,210.00
Carpeted Floor Mats - $125.00