SEATTLE, Wash. -- Forte (say: FOUR-tay) is a word which denotes one's strong point, a strength or special talent.
Kia, the inventive automaker out of South Korea, uses this word as the label on a shapely new four-door sedan for the compact class stocking a respectable powerplant, noteworthy safety systems as standard equipment and value-packed price points honed to a competitive edge.
Tagged as a 2010 model, the Kia Forte in notchback sedan configuration calibrates to a generous scale in a stylish and sleek package with surprising space in the five-seat cabin and plenty of spark stemming from a sophisticated four-pack engine.
Trim nomenclature for the new car includes a base-level Forte LX price leader, the deluxe EX edition with luxury gear added and top-tier SX stocking a more powerful engine and sport-tuned hardware.
Each Forte model looks downright handsome with a prominent face, chiseled contours on the body and wheelwell flares that turn into sculpted shoulders.
The shapely design will no doubt provoke a second peek, should you find a Forte on the street.
At least, that's what occurs during our initial encounter along Olive Street in downtown Seattle where prototypes of the new Forte await some drive tests over on Whidbey Island in Pudget Sound.
Rather than hurriedly hopping aboard for a charge up the I-5 freeway, we delay the departure in favor of closer scrutiny of Forte's crisp and clean styling.
Our sheetmetal exam begins at the prow with Forte's distinctive face.
It's marked by a thick and flat bumper in body-colored tint thrust ahead of the chrome-rimmed grille, which tucks horizontally between narrow headlamp clusters shimmering like jewels from multiple round lenses.
Two distinct creases at top edges of the headlamps attract the eye and lead it up the hood to define front fenders accentuated further by arching swells wrapping around frontal rims of the wheelwells.
The flared rims sweep rearward across flanks to form sloping shoulders set below a broad expanse of windows in side doors with center pillars fading to black to simulate the profile of a sporty coupe.
At the stubbed tail of Forte there's a subtle spoiler lip topside arching between vast clusters of corner lamps and a thick and smooth wrap-around bumper in the body color.
Pop open the driver-side door and scoot into the bolstered bucket, which nestles next to a floor-mounted center console and faces a molded steering wheel and the dashboard instrument group with big round analog gauges including a tachometer.
Decor for the cabin consists of subdued colors with fabric upholstery on seats and soft-touch plastics for hard-case surfaces such as the dashboard and console or map pockets on side doors.
Layout of the cabin appears conventional with two buckets up front and a bench for up to three riders in back.
However, the personal space for heads and shoulders and legs is definitely not conventional for a car in the compact mold -- the cabin seems tall and broad with generous room to stretch out.
The extra room comes about because this vehicle rides on a new structure that's larger than the structure for Spectra, Kia's previous compact-class sedan. There are two linear inches added to the wheelbase length, with the body stretching wider by 1.6 inches and about an inch more drawn to the overall length of Forte.
Official EPA measurement of Forte's interior volume totals to 97 cubic feet, which is considerably more room than indicated from scores of other compact-class sedans -- it's even better than several mid-size models.
Now check the list of standard equipment on Forte and you'll see that this car also exceeds convention for the caliber and quantity of on-board safety equipment.
Measures for passenger safety in the cabin extend from the sturdy safety-cage construction to front seatbelts with load-limiting and pretensioning apparatus, backseat restraints with anchors to mount a child's seat, smart multi-stage frontal air bags and side air bags for the front seats along with curtain-style air bags tucked in the ceiling for outboard seats on two rows.
Forte also stocks active safety systems designed to avoid accidents, including a rack and pinion steering system and an anti-lock brake system (ABS) with brake assist system (BAS) and electronic brake force distribution (EBD), plus a traction control system (TCS) and an anti-skid device via the electronic stability control (ESC) system.
There's even a Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) on tap.
Popping the hood reveals that Kia's treatment for the front-wheel-drive (FWD) Forte encompasses an impressive and powerful base engine, along with engineering innovations which combine to make the car quiet and easy to drive.
Forte LX and EX use an in-line four-cylinder aluminum engine which displaces 2.0 liters and has dual overhead cams with CVVT (continuously variable valve timing) for high-tech metering of the fuel burn.
The plant produces 156 hp at 6200 rpm plus 144 lb-ft of torque at 4300 rpm.
A four-speed electronically controlled automatic works with this engine, as well as a five-speed manual.
Forte SX gets a 2.4-liter four-in-line aluminum engine which also has twin-cams and CVVT valve controls.
Output rises to 173 hp at 6000 rpm with torque of 168 hp at 4000 rpm.
With the larger engine, transmissions bump up to a six-speed manual or five-speed electronic automatic.
Mechanical hardware for keen handling includes a rack and pinion steering system with engine speed-sensing power assistance and the tweaked and tuned suspension system.
Forte's independent front suspension consists of MacPherson struts a stabilizer bar followed by a torsion beam rear suspension with struts and coil springs.
Then the manufacturer supports this product with an impressive warranty program which extends well beyond protection for most other vehicles -- the powertrain is insured for ten years or 100,000 miles and there's a five-year or 60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper shield against defects plus unlimited mileage for a five-year roadside assistance program with emergency towing and even lockout service.
And Kia racks the MSRP chart quite low for Forte -- down to $13,695 for Forte LX with a manual shifter.