Kia is determined to make its Forte compact sedan an even more tempting choice for those considering a Honda or Toyota, and this year's redesigned model does just that. The 2014 Kia Forte has been widened, lowered and lengthened, and we think the refreshed exterior style has some nice appeal.

Neither the base LX nor upmarket EX skimp on features, but extras such as HID headlights and sunroof come bundled with optional EX packages only.

Well-Equipped Within

The interior of the 2014 Forte earns points for its roominess and quality of materials, giving the cabin a more expensive vibe. But with black or gray your only choices for interior color, the excitement of the outside doesn't spread to the inside. There's enough room for five in the Forte, and all the models get plenty of modern tech features, from satellite radio to steering-wheel-mounted audio controls to Bluetooth connectivity.

Between the two trim levels, we recommend you give the EX serious consideration. It comes with Kia's next-generation UVO system with eServices that lets your smartphone hook up with the infotainment interface. The EX also offers optional heated front and rear seats for a more upscale driving experience.

On the Road

For power, it's a choice between two inline 4-cylinder engines. The LX gets a 148-horsepower 1.8-liter, while the EX gets the more potent 173-hp 2-liter. Both engines are smooth and responsive, but we prefer the larger 2-liter for more passing power. All Fortes are front-wheel drive with either a manual or automatic transmission in the LX or automatic in the EX.

In terms of straight-line performance, the 2.0-liter will get you from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 7.3 seconds and has a top speed of 130 mph. Not bad for a compact commuter.

Driving on the interstate generated more road noise than we would have liked. And the Forte's electric Flex-steer setup can be loose, causing the Forte to wander on the highway.

But we saw pleasing fuel economy on our test drive with as much as 37 miles per gallon on tap with the smaller engine paired with the 6-speed manual transmission. Officially, the 1.8-liter engine rates at 25 mpg city/37 mpg hwy, while the 2.0-liter yields 24 mpg city/36 mpg hwy.

A Value Play

Base prices range from just under $16,000 for the LX. Even the EX can fit into a $20,000 budget, making it an attractive bargain. The Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Ford Focus are all worth a look when comparison shopping.

The Final Say

Overall, the Forte is an attractive and well-equipped daily driver. If it were our choice, we'd go with the bigger 2.0-liter engine, since it doesn't really take away from fuel economy. Traditional Honda and Toyota buyers may not be ready to make the switch, but if it's more important to you to get the most sedan for the money, you can't ignore the 2014 Kia Forte.

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Jessica Shea Choksey is an automotive journalist and former writer/reporter for the PBS/Discovery Channel television series "MotorWeek." She began her career in journalism as an editor for numerous magazines and publications mainly outside of the automotive field. Jessica currently resides with her family, in Southern California.

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