|2010 Kia Forte
By Danny Chang
- Stylish design inside and out for a compact
- Rich features
- Great steering feel
- Good MPG
- Underwhelming acceleration
- Rear headroom a little tight
Kia has made great strides over the past few years on the design of their cars. While they have always looked better than their Hyundai cousins, the styling still left something to be desired, just look at the Amanti. Then came the Kia Sorento, a design inspired by (or copied from) the first Lexus RX. The Rio subcompact was a good effort as well, and then they launched the distinctive Soul. While the Forte sedan is not as dramatic as the Soul, it is very easy on the eye and is arguably one of the best looking compact cars on the market today.
I took the Kia Forte on a weekend trip up to wine country, Sonoma and Napa valley just north of San Francisco. The tester was a 2010 Kia Forte EX in a Dark Cherry exterior and a Coffee-colored interior. In addition to power door locks and windows, it had the optional leather seat package and sunroof. The EX slots in between the base-level LX trim and the SX trim, which has standard telescoping steering column and red-stitched sport cloth seats. It was powered by a 2.0-liter 16-valve DOHC CVVT four cylinder engine that puts out 156 HP at 6200 RPM. Married to a 4-speed automatic transmission, the four banger struggles a bit in off-the-line acceleration but was surprisingly powerful when passing cars on the freeway. Most impressive of all is the steering feel of the Forte. It’s not the usual light-as-a-feather steering you expect from a compact sedan, but is quite heavy and provides fairly good road feel.
It used to be that with any compact car that costs less than $20k, one does not expect too much in the way of build quality. However these days, the bar has been raised by the imports and the domestic cars have really stepped up. I was really impressed by the build quality on the Forte. The doors close with a solid thud and the door handles feel and look expensive. The car felt solid on the road, there was no noticeable squeaks. The windows are quite flush with the door frames and road noise was minimal. There is a good level of detail in the headlight and taillight units. Interior materials felt rich and the level of detail on the buttons and controls is quite good. The ride is smoother than one would expect on a sub $20,000-car. The Forte’s build quality represents a big leap over the Spectra it replaces and is a real challenger to other cars in this segment.
Interior Comfort and Ergonomics
The interior of the Forte feels more expensive than it is. The plastics had fairly good texture and felt expensive to the touch. The only exception is the faux aluminum silver plastic panels in the center console and down by the gear shifter. Actually now that I think about it, the shiny black panels running down the middle of the center console looks and feels a little cheap too. Otherwise the layout of the controls is generally well thought out.
The steering wheel-mounted controls have ample functions and include phone controls. I managed to pair my iPhone with the car but had trouble initiating calls with these controls, however. When I connected a call using the phone controls, however, the sound quality was fine.
The stereo controls were fairly straight forward and worked fine for the myriad Sirius channels. The iPod connector worked great and you are able to control the iPod using the stereo buttons. The monochrome orange display was sufficient but harder to read in direct sunlight.
The leather seats were supportive enough and the car was spacious in the front. Rear leg room was somewhat lacking but I did manage to fit a rocking chair back there just fine. The EX also has two cup holders in the fold-down armrest in the backseat.
To be perfectly frank, I was a little disappointed in the acceleration of the Forte. I thought the 2 liter with 156 horses would be a little faster off the line because of the small size and the low weight. However the Forte doesn’t produce 156 until 6200 RPM, and by then the engine is screeching with a high pitch that doesn’t inspire much confidence. Highway acceleration, however, is better. I felt confident passing cars on the 101 heading up to wine country as well as on the two lane roads in Napa. The brakes worked just fine on the Forte and the car never strayed from a straight line in braking. All in all the Forte is responsive enough for a commuter car. It will work perfectly fine on city streets and also on highways. There are other compact cars that will feel more responsive such as the Mazda 3, but the Forte gets decent MPG of 25 city and 34 highway.
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