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2021 Volkswagen Golf vs. 2021 Kia Forte: Which Is Better?

There’s a lot going on in the compact sedan class, and the 2021 Volkswagen Golf and 2021 Kia Forte take different approaches, with the VW appealing to the hot-hatch crew and the Kia making its case as the value choice. Which is better?

Quick Facts

  • 2021 Kia Forte comes with a class-leading warranty.
  • 2021 VW Golf gets no changes for this model year, though there is no longer an all-electric e-Golf or a sporty Golf R

2021 Volkswagen Golf

2021 Volkswagen Golf Front Right Side in WhiteBase price: $24,115 / Read our 2021 Volkswagen Golf Review

What we like: Hatchback size and space; fun to drive; fuel-efficient; roomy back seat.

What we would change: Add all-wheel drive option; add trims; last seventh-generation VW Golf.

Overview: This is the last, seventh generation of the hot hatch that has set the benchmark for the VW Golf before the new generation arrives in 2022 form. Yet, the Golf still shines as a compact European 5-door hatchback that is as fun to drive as it is practical. Only one trim is available for the Golf: the TSI which comes with a pushbutton start, leatherette upholstery, heated front seats, a panoramic sunroof, heated windshield washer nozzles, and 16-inch alloy wheels.

The only option on the 2021 Golf TSI is to swap to an automatic transmission. With the base manual transmission, the Golf TSI starts at $24,115. When equipped with the 8-speed automatic, the 2021 VW Golf is priced at $24,915.

The Golf’s cargo capacity is impressive. There’s 16.5 cubic feet of space behind the rear seats, and a whopping 52.7 cubic feet when the back seat is folded flat. The Golf is like a mini minivan, with plenty of space in back for a mountain bike or your grandmother’s old trunk.

What’s new for 2021: The Golf carries over for this year, but drops two models, the all-electric e-Golf and the hot Golf R.

Features and technology: The Golf comes pretty well stocked with features and technology inside. It offers soft-touch materials and rich door panels. There’s plenty of space in the back for adults, and it feels like it should be more expensive than it is. You get only one engine option: a turbocharged 1.4-liter 4-cylinder engine that makes 147 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque paired (as standard) to a 6-speed manual transmission. You can opt for an 8-speed automatic should you so desire. On the safety front, a forward-collision warning (with automatic emergency braking) is standard, along with a blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert.

What does the future hold: The VW Golf will be all-new for 2022.  Find a 2021 Volkswagen Golf for sale near you 

2021 Kia Forte

2021 Kia Forte Front Left Side in BlueBase price: $18,855 / Read our 2021 Kia Forte Review

What we like: Roominess; impressive number of standard features; good continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT); class-leading warranty.

What we would change: Bland looks; replace some plastic with more soft-touch surfaces; improve reliability.

Overview: Just because a car is an entry-level compact sedan, does not mean it needs to be dull, particularly in this very competitive segment, and the 2021 Kia Forte presents a compelling case for itself, with a roomy interior, ample standard features list, a choice of transmissions, and even an uplevel GT trim that brings a turbocharged engine and a more sophisticated suspension. If anything, the Kia’s exterior is not the most exciting thing, but the interior, aside from some hard plastics, is perfectly pleasant and amply equipped. The Kia comes with a manual, but there’s also a CVT that is surprisingly good at mimicking the shifts of an automatic. While resale values have not been strong, buyers can at least take some solace from Kia’s class-leading warranty.

What’s new for 2021: For 2021, most of the changes to the Kia Forte involve equipment being added to different trim levels. For example, the EX trim now includes a powered sunroof, wireless charging, and the Harman Kardon upgrade stereo system. It also gets Uvo telematics through a smartphone app, which can set cabin temperature, or dial roadside assistance and 911. The GT trim with an automatic transmission now gains blind-spot monitoring, and models with a manual transmission get Michelin summer tires. The GT Line Premium also includes a power-adjustable driver’s seat.

Features and technology: The 2021 Kia Forte is offered in five different trim levels, although the basic trim is impressively equipped. Prices range up to $23,655 for the GT with an automatic. Most noticeably, every Forte includes a standard 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system that includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration. There’s also a fair amount of active safety equipment, including forward-collision mitigation, lane-keeping assistance, and driver attention monitoring. It also has an adjustable steering wheel, 6-way manually adjustable front seats, A/C, a USB port, Bluetooth, and a 4-speaker audio system. The next LXS trim includes different wheels and the CVT, plus some nicer plastics and split-folding seats.

The GT Line adds 17-inch wheels, keyless entry and ignition, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and a 6-speaker stereo. The GT Line Premium includes the 8-speaker Harman Kardon audio system, two USB ports, wireless charging, and a 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat. The EX adds even more features, and there’s also a GT2 package for the GT trim that includes Michelin Pilot Sport summer tires and a more sophisticated transmission.

What does the future hold: As the tweaks for 2021 mostly include upgrades to packages, we expect more of the same. We would like to see more soft-touch surfaces across the model range, however. Find a 2021 Kia Forte for sale near you 

Golf vs. Forte: Strengths comparison

Golf benefits: More fun to drive; more luxurious interior.

Forte benefits: Lower starting price; longer warranty; bigger trunk.

2021 Volkswagen Golf vs. 2021 Kia Forte: Which is better?

Starting well under $20,000, the 2021 Kia Forte is a great choice for a low price, with plenty of features and perfectly respectable driving manners. But that low price asserts itself, with some hard plastics and looks that are not terribly exciting. If you’re looking for something with a bit more oomph, check out the very good 2021 Volkswagen Golf. Find a 2021 Volkswagen Golf for sale or Find a 2021 Kia Forte for sale

Popular Powertrains 2021 Volkswagen Golf 2021 Kia Forte
Engine 1.4-liter turbo I4 2.0-liter I4
Horsepower 147 hp @ 5,000 rpm 147 hp @ 6,200 rpm
Torque 184 lb-ft @ 1,400 rpm 132 lb-ft @ 4,200 rpm
Transmission 8-spd automatic 6-spd manual
Fuel Economy 32 mpg (28 city/35 hwy) 31 mpg (27 city/37 hwy)
Also Available 2.0-liter turbo I4; 6-spd manual; 7-spd DCT 1.6-liter turbo I4; CVT
Warranty 4 years/50,000 miles 5 years/60,000 miles
Powertrain warranty 4 years/50,000 miles 10 years/100,000 miles
NHTSA Safety Rating 5 stars 4 stars
Max Seating Capacity 5 5
Wheelbase 103.8 inches 106.3 inches
Overall Length 167.6 inches 182.7 inches
Width 70.8 inches 70.9 inches
Height 58.2 inches 56.5 inches
Turning Diameter 35.8 feet 34.8 feet
Headroom, Front 38.4 inches 38.8 inches
Headroom, Rear 38.1 inches 37.5 inches
Legroom, Front 41.2 inches 42.2 inches
Legroom, Rear 35.8 inches 35.7 inches
Shoulder Room, Front 55.9 inches 56.1 inches
Shoulder Room, Rear 53.9 inches 55.3 inches
EPA Passenger Volume 93.5 cubic feet 96 cubic feet
Cargo Volume 53.7 cubic feet 15.3 cubic feet

Abigail Bassett
Abigail Bassett is a freelance journalist based in L.A. and she's covered automotive topics for a variety of well-known outlets including Fortune, Forbes, CNN and Motor Trend. She's also a television and video host and regularly covers breaking news, social justice, technology, health and wellness, and science in addition to her car coverage. When she's not working on her next project she's... Read More about Abigail Bassett

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