2010 Kia Forte: Kia's Growing Up

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This summer, a new Kia came to town. Following the hot and hip Kia Soul, the brand’s bread-and-butter compact sedan was updated. Instead of carrying on the Spectra name, this all-new and much improved model took the Forte name, hopefully losing some baggage along the way.
Forte deserves its new name. The model now takes fresh exterior and grown-up interior; the ongoing maturation of the company can be seen in the transition from Spectra to Forte. Since entering the U.S. market in 1993 with bargain-basement, marginally competitive products, Kia has made great strides in closing the gap against established makers. We’ve said this before, and we’ll probably say it again, at least until the Chinese brands start playing the in the States and Hyundai-Kia stop being the newest kids on the block.
Kia continues improving features, style, and content availability. The Forte offers crisp, modern style in a nicely sized package. Exterior cues include slim headlights and taillights, not unlike Acura TSX and nicely done. Not too big, not too small, and besting 30mpg highway, Forte competes against the likes of Toyota Corolla, Mazda3, Chevrolet Cobalt, Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golf, and Honda Civic. The sedan’s tailored look also makes for a nice complement next to the more fun-loving and cheery Soul. Both are inviting, happy, and willing to play, but Forte has a more adult attitude.Kia_10_Forte_c.jpg


No Longer Price-Only Competitor
Forte offers a solid list of available features, a list biased toward what makes daily life easier. Though Kia doesn’t have Ford’s Sync or offer a navigation system like Honda Civic, standard equipment includes Sirius radio, USB iPod port, Bluetooth phone connectivity, power mirrors with integrated turn indicators, and steering-wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls. Leather-trimmed and heated front seats are available on the top SX. One weak spot is the cruise control; our test car had some difficulty maintaining speed and was rough in regaining lost speed. Kia checks boxes, but execution of some features is not quite as refined as more established players.
Kia’s confidence in Forte is reflected in a pricing structure in sync with competition. This entry will not, and should not, sell on price alone. Our test car, and EX with the $600 Fuel Economy Package, was priced at $18,090, including destination. Forte is offered in base LX, mid-level EX, and top-end SX trim levels. The pricing structure keeps it cheaper than Honda Civic, in the Toyota Corolla’s neighborhood, but more expensive than the Chevrolet Cobalt.
Fuel Economy Package: A Taste of the Cost of Meeting CAFE
The Fuel Economy Package, available only with the 2.0L I4, bumps the automatic transmission from four gears to five, uses motor-driven power steering, an alternator management system, and silica tires to goose fuel economy by 2mpg in both city and highway situations (to 27/36mpg).
While the 2.0L seemed well mated to the five-speed automatic, the Fuel Economy Package is indicative of the kinds of increases customers will find as companies struggle to meet more stringent CAFE, and must do so through technology. The better fuel economy won’t earn you back $600 package price over a normal four or five-year ownership cycle. Consider: When driving 10,000 highway miles, the savings from 34 to 36mpg is 17 gallons of fuel. At $4 a gallon, you’d save $68 over 10,000 miles. Over 50,000 miles, you’d save $340, still noticeably less than the $600 the package cost. Not to mention that we’re not at $4 a gallon right today. Still, it is in keeping with consumer concern for improved fuel economy to offer the package. It also illustrates that cars will be more expensive to meet upcoming CAFE regulations; the extra cost of this Fuel Economy Package is due to more expensive mechanicals more than marketing gimmick.
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Confident Driver
Overall, the Forte drove and handled as expected. That it is stronger, less noisy, and more responsive than the outgoing Spectra was expected. The 156HP engine is adequate, but just. Kia offers the car with a 173HP 2.4L I4 as well. The 2.0L is responsive and makes the most of the power it has. In the world of compact sedans, Forte’s driving dynamics fit in. Aside from wanting more power and a less intrusive cruise control, the Forte is predictable and responsive. The Mazda3 still offers a more rewarding, involving drive experience. Mazda3 looks more aggressive, too, and you could say that Forte’s exterior doesn’t steer you wrong. The small sedan drives like it looks, a little grown up and conservative, at least in comparison to the Mazda3.
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The interior is a better place to be in than the Spectra and even the Soul, with comfortable seats and plenty of cubby space, but we suspect that Chevrolet and Ford will put it back in its place with the next-generation Cruze and Focus. Forte is closer to Corolla in execution of interior materials, but the older Corolla still has a somewhat more refined interior design. The Kia’s three-gauge-binnacle instrument panel design is a little more Mitsubishi than Toyota.
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Kia’s Forte is among the models helping to remake Kia’s image. Its new character speaks to getting ahead and is a step along Kia’s path to finding their own language. Inside and out, top to bottom, the Forte proves Kia commitment to learning and growing as a company, to become a first-level global player and not simply a second-tier value brand.

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