If you're looking for an excellent compact car, both the 2014 Kia Forte and the 2014 Mazda3 should be on your shopping list. Not only are both cars newly redesigned, but each one is among the best compact car choices, offering strong fuel economy, good equipment and competitive pricing. So which is better? We're here to help you decide.

2014 Kia Forte Changes

The compact Kia Forte is completely redesigned for the 2014 model year. Offered as a sedan, a 5-door hatchback (the Forte5) or a 2-door coupe (the Forte Koup), the Forte boasts totally new looks inside and out, along with new engines and a wide range of new equipment.

2014 Mazda3 Changes

Like the Forte, the Mazda3 is fully redesigned for the 2014 model year. It's offered as a sedan or a 5-door hatchback, and it boasts a series of major updates ranging from more efficient engines and new features to new styling and a handsome new interior.

Reliability

Although it can be hard to predict reliability for newly redesigned cars like the latest Kia Forte and Mazda3, J.D. Power takes a swing at it. Based largely on data from previous models, J.D. Power gives all cars a "power circle" rating that consists of a score from one to five, with five being the best.

When it comes to the Forte, J.D. Power awards a 3-out-of-5 power circle rating, which indicates average performance. Shoppers especially focused on reliability will therefore be more interested in the Mazda3, which earned a 4-out-of-5 rating. However, it's important to remember that these numbers are just estimates, which means real-world reliability may vary.

In terms of warranty length, the Mazda3 offers fairly typical coverage. The compact car's bumper-to-bumper warranty lasts for three years or 36,000 miles, while the powertrain warranty is good for five years or 60,000 miles. Meanwhile, the Kia Forte offers the best warranty in the business, boasting five years or 60,000 miles of bumper-to-bumper coverage and an impressive 10 years or 100,000 miles of powertrain coverage.

As a result, we think reliability is a dead heat. Yes, it's likely that the Mazda3 will be more reliable than the Kia Forte, but the Forte's longer warranty means repair work will be free for years after the Mazda's warranty has expired.

Fuel Economy

For many shoppers interested in a compact car, fuel economy is among the most important items to consider. If that sounds like you, you'll probably prefer the Mazda3 to the Kia Forte.

Both models offer a similar setup: a base engine for frugal drivers and an optional powerplant for shoppers interested in a little more muscle. The Forte, however, goes a little further, with one extra upgradable engine for shoppers especially interested in performance.

Mazda3 models equipped with the base engine -- a 155-horsepower 2.0-liter 4-cylinder -- get 30 miles per gallon in the city and 41 mpg on the highway with an automatic, and roughly the same figures with a manual. That's much better than base-level Forte models, which return 25 mpg city/36 mpg hwy with the car's standard 148-hp 1.8-liter 4-cylinder mated to either the manual or automatic transmission.

For drivers interested in more muscle, the Forte EX's 173-hp 2.0-liter 4-cylinder is a strong engine, and it returns a commendable 24 mpg city/36 mpg hwy. Drivers who upgrade to the Mazda3's 184-hp 2.5-liter 4-cylinder can get 28 mpg city/39 mpg hwy, which are far better numbers even with the extra power.

While the 2.5-liter 4-cylinder tops the Mazda3's range, the Forte offers an even more powerful engine in SX models. It's a 201-hp 1.6-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder, and in the Koup it returns 22 mpg city/29 mpg hwy with the 6-speed manual, and an extra mpg more on the highway if you choose the automatic transmission. In the hatchback, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggests 21 mpg city/29 mpg hwy regardless of your transmission choice.

Based on EPA numbers, there's a clear winner here when it comes to gas mileage: the 2014 Mazda3.

Safety

In government crash tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), both 2014 Mazda3 body styles achieved a perfect 5-star overall rating. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the Forte. While NHTSA has not yet tested the 2-door Forte Koup, both sedan and hatchback models earned only four stars overall in the agency's crash tests.

Further crash-testing from the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) delivered similar results. While the Mazda3 earned a Top Safety Pick rating from the group, the Forte fell short due to its Poor score on IIHS's new small front-overlap crash test. Admittedly, many small cars have had difficulties with this test, though the Mazda3 wasn't among them.

When it comes to safety equipment, the Mazda3 is miles ahead of the Forte. That's not to say that the Forte is missing any features, as it comes standard with anti-lock brakes, traction and stability control, front-side airbags and side-curtain airbags. But the Mazda3 also offers luxury-car-like optional safety features on top of those items, ranging from a lane-departure warning system and rear cross-traffic alert to a blind spot monitoring system, adaptive cruise control and even an automatic braking system that can stop the car in the event of an impending crash.

As a result, the Mazda3 is the clear winner when it comes to safety.

Technology

As you may have guessed from the Mazda3's long list of available safety features, the small Mazda is far more tech-friendly than the small Kia.

Safety features are one reason. We rarely see features like a blind spot monitoring system on cars in this segment, let alone options such as adaptive cruise control, automatic braking and rear cross-traffic alert. The Forte doesn't have any of these items, even on the options list.

But it's not just safety where the Mazda3 stands out. Upscale models include an i-ELOOP regenerative braking system that boosts gas mileage. There's an available head-up display. There are bi-xenon headlights and convenience features, such as automatic wipers and automatic high-beam control, which dims your lights when another car is approaching on a dark road.

All of this isn't to say that the Forte has trouble competing when it comes to technology. On the contrary, the compact Kia offers more stuff than nearly any other vehicle in its class, boasting available ventilated seats, a heated steering wheel, a navigation system, LED taillights and the brand's excellent UVO infotainment system. In fact, few other cars can compete with the Kia when it comes to equipment and technology, but the Mazda3 is one of those cars. And that's why the Mazda3 is our choice for shoppers who love gadgets.

Value

Although the Mazda3 leads in most of the above categories, it's a bit more difficult to assess which car is the better value. The Forte's base price is around $1,000 less than the Mazda3's, and while the Kia's safety record, fuel economy numbers and technology might not be quite as impressive as the Mazda's, the Forte still stacks up well when compared to other cars in its class.

If you're solely interested in features for the money, the Kia Forte is almost certainly a better value than the Mazda3. Despite a lower starting price, the base-level Forte LX features more equipment, including a split folding rear seat, two extra stereo speakers, satellite radio and Bluetooth.

It's the same story as you continue up the line. While a Forte EX automatic costs exactly the same amount as a Mazda3 i Sport automatic, the Forte holds a long list of items over the Mazda, including a leather-wrapped steering wheel, alloy wheels, a backup camera and the brand's infotainment system. Drivers looking to add options to the Forte can also get a few features not available on the Mazda3, including heated rear seats and a heated steering wheel.

If you're more interested in safety or fuel economy than equipment -- or if you're looking for a high-end Mazda3 with all the gadgets -- you'll probably think the Mazda is the better value. It's the same situation if you prefer driving experience above all else, as the Mazda3 is undoubtedly the class leader in sporty driving feel.

AutoTrader's Advice

There's no doubt that the 2014 Mazda3 and the 2014 Kia Forte are two of the best cars in the compact-vehicle world. The Mazda3 boasts luxurious technology, endless safety and convenience features and top-notch safety and fuel economy numbers. The Forte offers an excellent value, a lot of equipment, handsome styling and an impressive warranty. But for our money, it's the Mazda3 every time.

The fact is simple: The Mazda3 is the best compact car on the market. Sure, the base model is a little more expensive than the base-level Forte, but the Mazda compensates for that price jump with far superior fuel economy, an excellent interior and a better safety record. Move up through the Mazda3 trim levels and you'll also find some unique features that no other compact car can offer. Best of all, the Mazda3 is rewarding to drive, and that means you can have fun on the road while you're enjoying all the other benefits of your excellent new car. No, the Forte isn't bad, but the Mazda3 is great.

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Doug DeMuro has a wide range of automotive industry experience, from work at a Ferrari dealership to a manager for Porsche North America. A lifelong car enthusiast, Doug's eclectic vehicle purchases include a Porsche 911 Turbo, an E63 AMG wagon, an old Range Rover and a Mercedes Benz G-wagen.

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