The Kia Forte stays competitive for 2017 with revised front-end styling, a more fuel-efficient engine and greater tech connectivity.
What is it?
The Kia Forte sedan is a compact car that runs a line through the middle of the small-sedan market. You’d look to the Forte Koup (two-door coupe) or Forte5 (five-door hatchback) for turbocharged performance; the sedan’s specifications hew more toward economy.
Pricing and trims
For 2017, Forte sedans come in three trim levels – LX, S and EX – and base prices range from $17,340 to $22,050, after the $850 destination charge is added.
The mid-level S is new for 2017, and it includes a firmer suspension and other niceties on top of the base LX. Both the LX and S come with a new 147-horsepower, Atkinson-cycle 2.0-liter four that replaces last year’s 1.8-liter. The EX continues with its 164-horsepower, 2.0-liter GDi four.
The range-topping EX has standard leather seats with heat for the fronts, dual-zone automatic climate control, rear vents and push-button start.
The tested Forte added the $4,490 EX Premium Plus Package for a total of $26,540.
Active safety wasn’t on the 2016 Forte sedan’s menu, and its Insurance Institute for Highway Safety small overlap front crash rating of Marginal pegged it as an als0-ran to the Honda Civic, which is an IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus.
The 2017 Forte sedan adds the option of front crash mitigation, but you must first specify the priciest EX trim and then select the $4,490 EX Premium Plus Package, making the lowest-priced Forte sedan you can buy with active safety is among its most expensive configurations at $26,540.
We’d like to see Kia expand the availability of these important safety features to all the Forte’s trims. The entry price for a Honda Civic with active safety, for example the LX with CVT and Honda Sensing, is exactly $6,000 lower, at $20,540.
The tested EX’s standard 2.0-liter GDi four is good for 164 horsepower, which feels ample enough. More impressive is this engine’s smoothness; it doesn’t goad you to rev it up, and it can get loud, but it generally feels content in its work.
The six-speed automatic transmission innocuously does its job, and the three drive modes – Normal, Eco and Sport – have a notable effect on performance. Eco feels like you’ve loaded up the Forte with weighty cargo, and Sport became our preferred mode, with its sharper takeoffs and gear-holding revviness.
Ride and handling
The Forte EX’s tailored lines would seem to confer a similarly sharp driving experience, and that’s true to some extent. Steering is direct with good communication, the brakes can be finely modulated and body roll is generally clipped.
It’s over humpy terrain that the Forte EX reminds you that it’s not a sports sedan, as its rebounds to the top of its suspension travel can seem pendulous. Those outsized rebounds remind you to keep in check, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
City maneuvers were made easier by the Forte’s tight 34.8-foot turning radius.
The Forte’s front seats are pleasantly firm and supportive. Taller drivers will appreciate the thigh support given by a lower cushion that tips up an impressive amount. Likewise, shorter drivers will get the same beneficial range of motion with the rear cushion height, and all will enjoy wide-open visibility out front and to the sides.
The Forte’s 35.9 inches of legroom is solidly compact-class, but there’s enough room all around for two six-footers if there’s cooperation from those up front.
The Forte’s generous 14.9-cubic-foot trunk capacity is one of its strengths. The Honda Civic has exactly three cubic feet less capacity, and the compact Forte beats the mid-sized Accord‘s trunk size by 1.5 cubic feet.
Infotainment and controls
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is coming to the Forte in 2017 – our early-build test car didn’t have it. It did hav Kia’s UVO connective services, which can correspond with a smartphone app to aid with functions like voice commands, maintenance alerts and a Pandora interface.
The navigation functions included with the $4,490 EX Premium Plus Package helpfully displays the current speed limit and can split the touchscreen into different functions.
Maintaining parity in the fiercely competitive compact-car segment requires regular refreshing, and the upgrades the Forte delivers for 2017 – a more fuel-efficient base engine, sharper front-end styling and connectivity with Apple and Android – keep it current.
The ideal Forte sedan would be a mix of the S and EX – the S’s firmer suspension and jazzier trim coupled with the EX’s more powerful engine and active safety availability. Heck, we’d even throw in the base LX’s six-speed manual to see just how closely the Forte’s driving experience could match its tensile exterior lines.
But as it stands, the Forte EX is a class act. It looks good, feels comfortable, drives well and is a competitive segment player. We’d look to the Forte Koup or Forte5 for the sportiness the Forte EX sedan lacks, but those looking for rational transportation may find any of the three Forte sedans to be a satisfying choice.
2017 Kia Forte EX
Base price: $21,200
Price as tested, including $850 destination charge: $26,540
EX Premium Plus Package: $4,490
- Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB)
- Blind Spot Detection System (BSD)
- Navigation System w/ 7” color touch-screen display
- Power Sunroof
- Heated and Ventilated Front Seats
- 10-way Power-Adjustable Driver’s Seat w/ Memory Seating
- Smooth engine
- Supportive driver’s seat
- Large trunk
- EX’s suspension response could be more controlled
- Innocuous driving experience
- Selective and pricey active safety availability