It's got keyless entry and start, puddle lights, and automatic folding side mirrors that illuminate and fold out as you approach. The driver's seat is heated and ventilated with power adjustment and two-position memory; the cabin is bathed in dual-zone automatic climate control. It's got two LCDs on the dash powered by a fantastic infotainment system.
No, this isn't a luxury sedan. It is the 2014 Kia Forte EX and it's come a long way, baby.
Inside and out, fit and finish are quite good all around the Forte. The small sedan manages to be sporty, but not gaudy. The dashboard sports carbon fiber look-alike trim that's paradoxically fake and plastic, but also tastefully done. I'm still scratching my head about that one. You'll find no LED speaker grilles, no chintzy fake metal or glossy black plastic in this Kia's cabin. The Forte is doing its part to show the brand as grown-up.
However, there are places where the cost cutting is evident; where the economy car roots show through. For example, although both front buckets can be heated, only the driver's seat is ventilated and chilled. Likewise, only the driver's seat is power-adjustable with memory. And let's not forget that although the dashboard's plastic trim looks nice, it's still just plastic. I get it; sacrifices must be made to keep the price below $25K.
Overall, though, my first impression of this 2014 Kia model was a good one.
Uvo eServices infotainment
For the first time, you can have both navigation and the Uvo voice command system. Previously, this was a one-or-the-other affair.
The color touch screen and the Uvo-powered infotainment system are standard features, as is the Uvo eServices telematics system that's baked in. Also standard are most of the available audio sources, including Bluetooth for hands-free calling and audio streaming, USB for mass storage, iPod, and Zune (yep, Zune), a 3.5mm analog auxiliary input, SirusXM satellite radio, and AM/FM radio. There's also a bit of internal storage that's usable as a digital jukebox, allowing music to be copied from USB media for later playback. Kia doesn't list the capacity of this jukebox, but it seemed like less than a gigabyte.
After you pair the system with your Bluetooth-connected smartphone, eServices gives access to features such as remote vehicle diagnostics, roadside assistance, and cloud-based POI syncing of your address book.
What intrigued me the most about the Uvo system was not its connected features -- which don't seem as well fleshed out as those of other telematics systems, like OnStar -- but the extensive voice command options that are baked in. At the touch of a button you can ask the system to change the audio source, play a specific song, artist, or genre of music, call up a podcast or audiobook on a connected iPod, or dial anyone in your phone's address book.
The navigation portion of the system comes as part of a $2,300 EX Tech package that also brings HID headlamps, LED taillights, dual-zone climate control, and HD Radio tuning to the party.
The navigation system is SD card-based, with the card accessible via a slot on the dashboard for updates and upgrades. The maps are still only 2D, like in every other Hyundai/Kia model that I've tested, but the system is very snappy and responsive.
There's a new split-screen interface for navigation that takes advantage of the larger dashboard screen. Personally, I found the default onscreen interface to be a bit too busy, displaying way more data than I needed to get from point A to B and obscuring important turn information. Fortunately, much of this information can be turned off for a simpler view. For example, the system featured traffic data and would present me with an onscreen prompt if delays were reported on my route with options to ignore or reroute. Unfortunately, this is San Francisco, so those prompts came every 10 minutes or so and I elected to simply disable this bit.