DRIVER’S SEAT

Review of Kia Forte EX


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2014 Kia Forte EX: So unlike previous models as to almost deserve a new name.

Price: $25,515 as tested ($19,400 for an EX base). The premium package added $2,600 for sunroof, leather trim, heated front seats and outer rear seats, while the driver’s seat is power-operated, which seems unfair.

Conventional wisdom: Edmunds.com liked the “spacious interior; many upscale features available; strong engines on EX and SX trims; easy-to-use controls; lengthy warranty coverage” but not the “fuel economy … ; unrefined ride quality at times; middling frontal-impact safety scores.”

Marketer’s pitch: “Loved by those who love technology” Which maybe explains the $2,300 price tag for the EX technology package, including xenon headlights, HD radio, dual-zone climate control and navigation.

Reality: Call it “Fifte”? Not sure whether the techno features are that advanced or lovable, but the entire car itself definitely a level above the previous incarnation.

Better and better: The Forte is one of a pair of lower-end sedans getting a boost from their producers for the 2014 model year. Next week we’ll try out the other entrant, the Mazda3.

I had tested a 2011 Forte way back when, and I thought I was missing something. Despite a Recommended rating from Consumer Reports and good reviews from Edmunds.com, I found it boring.

Since 2009, Kia and its comfort-oriented cousin Hyundai have boosted the styling and performance of many models. Now their offerings in almost every category deserve a closer look. So the Forte is another refrain in the same song: Accent, Santa Fe, Sportage, Rio5, Soul, and Sorento — and now this week the new 2015 Sedona minivan is making some noise in New York.

Outside: A new look brings it more in line with the Hyundai-Kia aerodynamic approach. But somehow the Forte has it all over its Hyundai cousin.

On the road: The handling? Pretty good. Not all-out fun, but the Forte is much improved. Unlike Edmunds, I found the ride on par with other sedans.

The powertrain: Some definite hesitation was evident from the 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and the six-speed automatic transmission, usually in fourth gear on a small hill near my house when the engine was not yet up to temperature. But, otherwise, the 173 horses motivate the car fairly well.

The seats: Even the leather is comfortable, although after 11,000 miles, the well-broken-in test vehicle may have softened up

Friends and stuff: A nice, big console bin keeps CDs and other items close at hand. The back seat is fairly roomy for the legs and feet, but headroom is compromised by the aerodynamic design. And the rear door is cut at such an odd angle, I’d worry about being whacked by it. (The de Sade rear door, though, seems to be a common feature on small, aerodynamic sedans these days.)

In the rear, not only does the console compromise the center seat by cutting into foot room, and but the seat perches well above the others. And we already mentioned it’s the only one not heated, so for heaven’s sake, get that poor kid an extra scoop of ice cream or something.

A tray in front of the gearshift, ostensibly for cell phones, is so big that it almost fits CDs; they’ll squeeze in but the little door won’t close.

Play some tunes: I’ve had an ongoing issue with Kia’s upgraded sound system skipping the first few notes of songs whether I played a CD through or skipped from song to song. On the Forte, the system did fine when I played the whole CD straight through, but did have problems when I would fast forward.

Plenty of buttons underneath the display allow the driver to control functions without having to enter Touchscreenland, always a good thing.

Attention, bargain shoppers: It’s worth noting that a base LX can be had for a mere $15,900, but I’m sure that’s almost a different car entirely. Still, Mrs. Passenger Seat loved the Kia Soul, and after doing some, research I decided the Base’s thinner, taller tires would probably work better in the snow. We had to forgo some of the toys, but we’re pretty pleased with the result. Your mileage may vary.

The Forte has the same setup, with 195/65 series tires on the EX model and 205/55 series on the LX – narrower and taller on the cheaper model.

Fuel economy: 31 mpg in a country road-heavy mix of driving.

Where it’s built: Hwsang, South Korea

How it’s built: Though the 2014 Forte doesn’t get a reliability prediction from Consumer Reports because it’s a new model, the previous two model years have received above average and excellent ratings.

In the end: I’d have to put the new Forte on a must-see list if I were shopping for a smaller sedan.

Next week: The 2014 Mazda3.

Scott Sturgis, a freelance auto writer, can be reached at mrdriversseat@gmail.com.


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