The 2015 Kia Forte is the Korean answer to such powerhouse compacts as the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Ford Focus. To accomplish its mission of world domination, Kia equips the Forte with a long list of standard and available features, including some features -- such as a heated steering wheel and a heated rear seat -- not offered by the competition. It then tosses in a trio of body styles that include a coupe (spelled Koup), sedan and 5-door hatchback.
The Forte is larger than most small cars, filling the space between a compact and a midsize sedan. Its exterior styling is impressive, and its interior is comfortable, if not posh. Kia's lineup of frugal 4-cylinder engines provides plenty of go power while returning excellent fuel economy. There's even a manual-transmission option, a feature that's fast fading from the automotive landscape.
Versatile, sporty and fun to drive, the Forte trio deals the final one-two knockout punch with an extremely affordable starting price and a standard 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty.
What's New for 2015?
Fuel economy is up for 2015, and the EX's once-standard UVO telematics and rear backup camera are now part of the optional EX UVO package.
What We Like
Sharp styling and plush interior; lengthy list of standard features; options not available on competitors' models; wide range of body styles
What We Don't
Road noise is prominent at highway speeds; steering feels vague, despite optional variable-effort FlexSteer system; stark black interior lacks visual excitement; no high-end audio option
Depending on model and trim, the Forte offers three very different 4-cylinder options. Base sedan models are powered by a 1.8-liter engine, good for 145 hp and 130 lb-ft of torque. When equipped with the 6-speed manual transmission, fuel economy figures are 25 miles per gallon in the city and 37 mpg on the highway, while the 6-speed automatic attains figures of 26 mpg city/39 mpg hwy. Next up is the 2.0-liter engine found in the EX trims. It produces 173 hp and 154 lb-ft of torque. When equipped with the automatic transmission, the 2.0-liter earns an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-estimated 25 mpg city/36 mpg hwy in the sedan and 25 mpg city/34 mpg hwy in the Koup. Models equipped with the manual transmission return a slightly lower 24 mpg city/33 mpg hwy. Finally, there is the SX trim's turbocharged 1.6-liter 4-cylinder, good for an impressive 201 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque. Manual- and automatic-transmission cars earn the same EPA-estimated 21 mpg city/29 mpg hwy.
Standard Features & Options
The Forte is offered in three models, Sedan, Koup and Forte5 hatchback, and three trims: LX, EX and SX.
The Forte LX Sedan ($16,690) includes a 6-speed manual transmission, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, radio with AM/FM/CD/MP3/SiriusXM Satellite Radio capabilities, auxiliary and USB inputs, Bluetooth, power windows, power locks, power mirrors, 15-inch steel wheels with covers, air conditioning, heated side mirrors, a trip computer, a rear defroster, a tilt-telescopic steering wheel and a 60/40-split folding rear seat.
The Forte EX Sedan ($20,190) adds a 2.0-liter engine, an automatic transmission, 16-in alloy wheels, fog lights, auto-off headlights, power-folding side mirrors, a cooling glovebox, a 6-speaker stereo upgrade, FlexSteer adjustable steering settings, a sliding front armrest, a rear folding armrest, remote keyless entry and cruise control.
The Forte EX Koup ($20,190) has the same equipment as the sedan.
The Forte5 EX Hatchback ($20,490) includes the same equipment as the EX sedan plus a rear wiper/washer.
The Forte SX Koup ($21,390) adds a 1.6-liter turbocharged engine, 18-in alloy wheels, LED taillights, puddle lights, dual exhaust with chrome-tip finishers, UVO telematics with a rear backup camera, metal pedals, and Smart Key keyless entry with push-button starting.
The Forte5 SX Hatchback ($21,690) includes all the same equipment as the SX Koup.
Optional equipment for the LX sedan includes the Popular package, featuring keyless entry, cruise control, door-mounted tweeters, upgraded cloth seating and more. The UVO package adds 16-in wheels, a rear backup camera and the UVO telematics system.
The EX and SX have most of their options bundled into packages. Some of the more desirable features include leather seating, a heated rear seat, navigation radio, a heated steering wheel, a 10-way power driver's seat, a ventilated driver's seat, a power sunroof, 17-in alloy wheels, UVO telematics with a rear backup camera, HID headlights and dual-zone automatic climate control.
The 2015 Kia Forte sedan, Koup and Forte5 come equipped with six airbags, including full-length side-curtain airbags, 4-wheel anti-lock brakes, hill-start assist, electronic stability and traction control, and a tire-pressure monitoring system.
To date, the federal government has only performed side-impact and rollover tests on the Forte, for which it scored five and four stars (out of five total), respectively. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives the Forte Good marks in all but its small-overlap front crash test, which earned it a Poor rating.
Behind the Wheel
Our Forte sedan was equipped with the direct-injected 2.0-liter engine that produces 173 hp, which was more than enough grunt to get us moving through the wide-open spaces outside of Scottsdale, Arizona. Though we would have liked some extra power for passing slower traffic, at least the 6-speed transmission offered appropriately spaced ratios for the task at hand. Incidentally, this Kia produces more power than its Honda and Toyota competitors. The transmission occasionally hunted and upshifted early, however, suggesting that the car is tuned for favorable fuel economy, not outright performance. If you're seeking a more sporty drive, opt for the SX's turbocharged engine and 6-speed manual transmission. Both are a cut above what we've experienced in previous Kia products, although the manual is still not as refined or precise as a Mazda or Honda manual.
We felt that the electric steering system's FlexSteer setup offered varying levels of numbness; the comfort setting was too light, the sport setting too tight, and the medium setting passable in terms of effort but lacking feel overall, which sometimes led the car to wander in its lane at highway speeds. Some road noise becomes apparent at highway speeds, but at least the Forte's amenities make it a pleasant place to spend a few hours at a time, even if we sometimes felt a bit lost in the all-black cabin.
Other Cars to Consider
Honda Civic -- Though not nearly as well equipped as the Forte, the Honda Civic still remains one of the safest choices in the segment. You'll also pay a premium for the name: While the Kia Forte starts at under $17,000, the Civic has a $19,000-plus starting price.
Toyota Corolla -- Another crowd-pleasing choice, the Corolla's pricing is closer to that of the Forte and offers a total of three trim levels. The Toyota lacks many of the standard items found on the Kia, however.
Ford Focus -- The Ford Focus features a wider price range for its three trim levels, plus it offers the high-performance ST trim. The Focus also has a much nicer interior, is much quieter on the highway, and offers a premium Sony audio system.
Of the three models, we think that the Forte5 makes the most sense. It has the sleek styling of the Koup with the practicality of five doors. Of the trims, we would opt for the EX and add the Technology package. This combo creates a nicely equipped compact with plenty of power and good gas mileage while still keeping the bottom line around $25,000.