The 2021 Kia Forte can be a simple, affordable, and economical compact sedan. For the money, there are plenty of features. The cabin is relatively roomy. Its base powertrain is competent, if a little uninspired, and the inclusion of standard Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone integration is a definite plus. It also offers all the advanced safety gadgetry that buyers demand in a modern vehicle.
Yet the Forte can be much more. Its contemporary styling is inspired by the sleek Stinger, Kia’s rear-wheel-drive sports sedan, and should still feel fresh for years to come. And the GT variant has a more sophisticated suspension than the rest of the lineup to complement the 201 horsepower from its exclusive turbocharged engine.
There are several great competitors, like the Honda Civic and Mazda3, but the Forte has its own strengths.
What’s New for 2021?
The leaning-toward-luxury EX trim gains features that were previously optional, including a powered sunroof, wireless charging, navigation, and a Harman Kardon audio system. EX also comes with functions accessible through a Kia owner’s smartphone app, such as remote cabin temperature settings, Connected Routing, engine idle notification, 911 Connect, and roadside assistance.
All GT versions now have blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert. GT models with the manual transmission also receive Michelin Pilot Sport summer tires.
And the Premium package for the GT Line trim (not to be confused with the GT trim) now includes a 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat. See the 2021 Kia Forte models for sale near you
What We Like
- Quick steering
- Good value
- Great warranty
- Standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay
- Ventilated seats available in upper trims
- Exciting turbocharged GT model
What We Don’t
- Continuously variable transmission drones under acceleration
- Mediocre handling in the non-GT versions
The base engine in the 2021 Forte is a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter inline-4 making 147 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque. This drives the front wheels through a standard-issue 6-speed manual transmission in the entry-level FE. An automatic continuously variable transmission (CVT) is optional at this point, but standard in the next three higher trims.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates fuel consumption for the FE model at 27 miles per gallon in the city, 37 mpg on the highway, and 31 mpg in combined driving (manual) or 31 mpg city/41 mpg hwy/35 mpg (auto). The rest of the range with this engine achieves 29 mpg city/40 mpg hwy/33 mpg combined.
The Forte GT has a turbocharged 1.6-liter inline-4 engine generating 201 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque. The standard transmission here is a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, with a 6-speed manual transmission available as an option.
Fuel consumption estimates are 27 mpg city/35 mpg hwy/30 mpg combined (auto) or 25 mpg city/32 mpg hwy/28 mpg combined (manual).
Standard Features and Options
The 2021 Kia Forte compact sedan comes in FE, LXS, GT Line, EX, and GT trim levels.
FE ($18,855) is the base model but offers several standard features, including an array of driver assistance safety technology. This includes forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking and driver attention monitoring. The FE also has 15-inch steel wheels, cruise control, air conditioning, rear A/C vents, cloth upholstery, power windows/locks, steering wheel with height/reach adjustment, Bluetooth, 8.0-in infotainment screen, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone integration, and a 4-speaker audio system.
A 6-speed manual transmission is standard at this FE level. The CVT in other trims is a $900 option here.
LXS ($19,755) adds the CVT as standard, plus selectable driving modes, 16-inch alloy wheels, and a 60/40 split-folding rear seat. This model also has some additional styling elements such as a chrome exhaust tip, gloss black bumper and grille accents, and soft-touch plastics in the cabin.
GT Line ($21,455) brings a sporty appearance inspired by the higher-performance GT model, rear spoiler, 17-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, LED daytime running lights/taillights, heated side mirrors, keyless entry/ignition, sport seats, leather-wrapped/flat-bottomed steering wheel and leather-wrapped shifter (both with contrast stitching), perimeter approach lighting, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, lane-change assistance, and a 6-speaker audio system.
GT Line is eligible for a Premium package ($1,700) that adds a 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, powered sunroof, dual illuminated vanity mirrors, LED interior lighting, satellite radio, two USB ports, wireless charging, and a 320-watt/8-speaker Harman Kardon audio system.
The well-appointed EX ($24,055) has that 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with lumbar support, simulated leather upholstery, heated/ventilated front seats, two USB ports, dual-zone automatic climate control, satellite radio, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and some chrome exterior details.
The Forte GT ($23,655) boosts performance with the turbocharged engine and a standard dual-clutch automated transmission. The optional 6-speed manual transmission costs $600.
Other performance upgrades include a sport-tuned fully independent front and rear suspension, larger front brake discs, and thicker anti-roll bars. The GT shares a sporty appearance package with the GT Line trim, adding a high-flow active dual-exit exhaust with chrome finishers, self-leveling LED headlights, automatic high beams, red stitching for the flat-bottomed steering wheel and sport seats, ambient cabin lighting, and GT-specific 18-in alloy wheels with a 2-tone finish.
The GT doesn’t necessarily build on everything in the EX, however. For example, it reverts to air conditioning. The sunroof is optional in the GT, along with the simulated leather upholstery, power-adjustable driver’s seat, heated/ventilated front seats, and a few other details. One specific option for the GT is a pedestrian detection function for the forward collision mitigation system.
Spend $2,000 for the GT model’s GT2 package (only eligible with the automatic transmission) to gain the Harman Kardon premium audio, powered sunroof, adaptive cruise control, forward collision mitigation with pedestrian detection, rear parking sensors, heated/ventilated front seats, power-adjustable driver’s seat, wireless charging, LED interior lighting, and a 4.2-inch color driver information display.
Every new Forte comes with standard driver assistance features such as forward collision warning, lane departure warning, lane-keeping assistance, and driver attention monitoring. Adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams, and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert are accessed higher up the trim level ladder.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gave the Forte an overall score of four stars out of a possible five. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) made the Forte a Top Safety Pick when the LED headlights and all the front crash prevention features are included.
Behind the Wheel
There’s nothing particularly striking about the way the regular Forte drives. Acceleration is fine, taking about 8.2 seconds to get from standstill to 60 mph. This isn’t as fast as the Honda Civic, which gets there in 6.8 seconds with its optional turbocharged engine, but it’s comparable with competitors like the Volkswagen Jetta and faster than its corporate sibling, the Hyundai Elantra.
Upper trims also come with three different drive modes: Normal, Sport, and Smart, each of which adjusts the transmission’s responses accordingly.
Steering is light and a bit twitchy, which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing if the suspension had been tuned to be more flowing.
Kia’s decision to use a CVT is understandable (it’s inexpensive) but a little disappointing, as transmission drone under hard acceleration (a typical CVT downside) can become irritating. That said, it’s easy enough to ignore during everyday driving, and its shortcomings are outweighed by the benefits in fuel economy.
It’s no luxury car, but the Forte’s cabin is pleasant nonetheless. The different surfaces used — matte/gloss plastic and brushed aluminum — all work well together. A large 8-in infotainment screen is standard, as are Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility.
Naturally, the Forte GT upgrades the driving experience. Its turbocharged engine brings performance on a level with the Honda Civic Si. The Forte GT is well worth a test drive for an enthusiast who needs a practical, affordable car.
Other Cars to Consider
2021 Hyundai Elantra — As the Forte’s corporate cousin, the Elantra’s engine choices are similar, including the turbocharged unit.
2021 Toyota Corolla — This generation of Toyota Corolla was all-new last year. It has many standard active safety features, plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The range also includes an affordable hybrid variant that averages 52 mpg.
2021 Honda Civic — Honda durability and resale values are enticing, as are the Civic’s advantages in terms of power, acceleration, and fuel economy. The Civic also offers sporty coupe and practical hatchback body styles.
2021 Kia Soul — The Kia Soul brings hatchback practicality and a generous helping of character. It has the same powertrain choices as the Forte, but not the turbo engine/manual transmission combination.
Questions You May Ask
How big is the trunk of a 2021 Kia Forte?
It’s 15.3 cubic feet. Considering the Honda Accord’s trunk space is only bigger by 1.4 cubic feet (and that’s generous for the midsize sedan class), this is impressive.
Does the 2021 Kia Forte offer all-wheel drive?
No. Every version employs front-wheel drive, even the sporty GT model.
Are Kias good cars?
We have no reservations recommending any Kia. The whole lineup is excellent. Kia started out in the United States as a budget-conscious choice but has since gone from strength to strength while still offering excellent value for money. And a powertrain warranty of 10 years/100,000 miles is highly reassuring.
It’s unlikely that many buyers will want a manual transmission in a base Forte, so it’s worth stretching to LXS trim in any case. After that, the final choice is more dependent on personal requirements and budget size. Find a Kia Forte for sale