Kia has thoroughly refreshed its second-generation Forte5 for 2017, and it even looks better than the already stylish outgoing version. I’ve long found the Forte an attractive compact, whether in five-door hatchback, four-door sedan, or two-door coupe guise. The coupe, or rather Koup, was discontinued at the end of 2016, so you’ll be forced to get more practical in this Forte5 or the Forte sedan if you’re planning on taking home a 2017.
The Forte5 featured here is in top-tier SX trim, which is exactly how I’d option this car out if my name were on the ownership papers. I’d only be stumped about whether to stick with its standard six-speed manual or upgrade to the seven-speed dual-clutch automated gearbox with paddles. I drove the manual in the Forte SX’ brother from another mother, otherwise known as Hyundai Elantra Sport, and can attest it has the kind of short-throw performance feel that enthusiast purists want, but the quicker shifts and paddle action from the Forte SX’ autobox made this car a lot of fun too, plus you get the obvious convenience factor.
Even better, the Forte5 SX’ 1.6-liter turbo four-cylinder engine churns out a zesty 201 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque, which puts it a solid 37 horses and 35-lb-ft further ahead than the already sufficiently potent base 2.0-liter four. That’s a lot of pull, resulting in a zingy hot hatch that’s plenty entertaining.
Honda’s Civic Si and VW’s Golf GTI immediately come to mind as competitors, and while I hesitate to claim one over the other, especially because these Japanese and German models are iconic sport compacts and this much more competent Forte 5 SX is still in the process of building its legend, Kia is almost in the same league as far as non-gearbox related driving dynamics go. The little turbo four provides plenty of jump off the line, superb acceleration as speed ramps up, and the gearbox works wonders with nice crisp shifts and well spaced intervals.
Likewise the chassis knows what to do with all that power, sorting out all but the most unsettling patchwork pavement competently despite a rudimentary torsion beam axle in back, the big 18-inch alloys on 225/40 Nexens aided by some stiffer sport tuning that still allows some give for a comfortable ride. Braking is strong too, Kia adding 0.8-inch larger 11.8-inch front discs and 10.3-inch rotors in the rear for greater stopping power.
It all works best when the selectable driving modes are turned to Sport instead of Normal or Eco, although the latter results in a potential 25 mpg in the city, 30 on the highway and 27 combined with this auto, or 23 city, 29 highway and 25 combined with the manual.
While good fuel economy numbers reduce ongoing costs, Kia is better known for value at the time of purchase. Case in point, this Forte5 SX starts at just $23,800 plus freight and fees yet comes loaded up like a premium compact, with the list of standard features not yet mentioned including auto on/off headlamps, LED positioning lights, fog lights, LED light bar taillights, LED turn signals in the side mirrors, dual stainless exhaust pipes, not to mention unique front and rear fascias, a rear rooftop spoiler, plus piano black side mirror housings and door handles for a little extra style, and that’s just outside.
Proximity-sensing access gets you inside, where you’ll find pushbutton ignition, a flat-bottomed leather-wrapped tilt and telescopic multifunction sport steering wheel, a leather shift knob, alloy pedals, a Supervision gauge cluster with a 4.2-inch color TFT multi-information display, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, dual-zone auto climate control, 7.0-inch color touchscreen infotainment with a rearview camera, a soft-touch synthetic dash top and door uppers, leather upholstery, a 10-way powered driver’s seat with two-way memory, 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks, etcetera, etcetera.
On top of that a $3,600 Premium Tech package adds HID headlamps, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, navigation, voice activation, UVO eServices, AM/FM/MP3/USB/aux with satellite and HD radio, a powered glass sunroof, three-way heated and ventilated front seats, plus blindspot monitoring with lane change assist and rear cross-traffic alert.
It looks and feels like a little luxury car inside too, which all comes together to form that value proposition noted a moment ago. No wonder the Forte is selling so well in a car market that has experienced steady erosion over the past couple of years. Some of its competitors are even being cancelled altogether, but the Forte is currently on target for its best sales ever.
From personal experience of driving and reviewing five Fortes since introduced for 2010, I can honestly say it’s about time the market caught on to how good this compact model is. I can speak similarly for most of the brand’s current offerings, Kia a mainstream volume brand that delivers much more than its value-oriented pricing suggests, and backs up its entire line with one of the better warranties in the industry at five years or 100,000 miles.
Even more brag-worthy, Kia landed on top of the entire auto industry in J.D. Power and Associates’ most recent 2017 Initial Quality Study, while its 2017 Vehicle Dependability Study score placed it in the top five of all mainstream volume brands. What’s more, a new top-five standing in Consumer Reports’ latest Annual Reliability Survey is news worth sharing too. In other words, anyone still having qualms about driving a Kia had better give their head a shake.
Unless you prefer the high-speed stability of a fully independent suspension and don’t mind paying extra for it, the new Forte5 SX is a hot hatch you should consider. It looks great, is impressively finished, comes loaded with features, adds two years of free warranty, and most importantly in this class, it’s loads of fun to drive.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press Copyright: American Auto Press