The Kia Forte is totally new for the 2019 model year, and as a result of its redesign, it's now more competitive than ever. If you're looking for something small yet spacious, comfortable and fuel-efficient, Kia's redesigned Forte can square off with the best of 'em.
But unlike larger Kia four-doors -- namely the Optima and especially the Stinger GT -- the Forte is forgettable to drive. That's a glaring omission in an otherwise well-rounded package. But is it bad enough that you should overlook this otherwise competent sedan?
Gobbles miles, sips fuel
The Forte is a confident road tripper, as I experienced on a weekend drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco and back. Thanks to a comfortable driver's seat and quiet cabin, I had no trouble piling on the miles.
Power comes from a naturally aspirated, 2.0-liter I4 engine, making 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque, which is about average in this class of compact sedans. Thanks to its responsive, well-tuned continuously variable transmission, the Forte can dart up an onramp or pass a slow-moving semi truck just fine. The Forte actually gets Kia's first implementation of a CVT, and it's a great first effort.
A lot of compact cars are using smaller displacement, turbocharged engines for better fuel efficiency, but Kia's 2.0-liter mill is a formidable miser. The EPA rates the Forte EX at 30 miles per gallon in the city and 40 mpg highway, and my observed economy after 825 miles was smack dab in the middle at 35.3 mpg. Kia makes an even more efficient version of the Forte -- the FE -- which earns EPA ratings of 31 mpg city and 41 mpg highway. Only the Honda Civic bests the Forte FE as far as gas-only cars go. If you want something more efficient in this class, you have to go hybrid or get a Chevy Cruze Diesel.
Commuters will appreciate the Forte's adequate acceleration and great fuel economy, but I wish the overall package was more appealing for driving enthusiasts, too. There's not a lot of feedback through the steering, and its action is pretty light and vague. Similarly, while the ride quality is comfortable, it's a bit floaty while cornering. Many other cars in this class offer better on-road character.
That said, a wealth of driver-assistance tech makes the Forte easy to live with on long trips. The Forte EX comes with collision-mitigation braking, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and lane-keeping assist. Adaptive cruise control is available, though sadly not spec'd on my test car.
The Kia Stinger is one of the best car designs to come along in years, so it makes sense that the Korean automaker would imbue the new 2019 Forte with styling cues from its bigger brother. As a result, the third-generation Forte is the best-looking one yet -- in fact, I think it's the second-best-styled compact sedan on the market, only beaten by the new-for-2019 Mazda3.
The Forte's expressive headlights are complemented by a distinctive grille underlined by aggressive air intakes in the front bumper. The rear is even better-looking than the front. My Forte EX comes with LED taillights connected by a reflective-lens trim piece, and I even like the triangular, faux air vents at the corners of the bumper.
Material quality inside is some of the best in the segment, with thoughtful sculpting on the dash. Compared with its larger Optima sibling, the Forte is only a step down in terms of size -- the overall quality is about the same.
The center stack's 8-inch touchscreen houses the easy-to-use UVO infotainment system that can run Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Spacious rear seats offer 37.5 and 35.7 inches of head- and legroom, respectively. That's 0.4 more than the Civic Sedan's rear headroom, but 1.7 inches less than the Honda's rear legroom. The Forte also offers a generous 15.3 cubic feet of trunk space. Not only is that near the top of the compact class, but it's also 0.2 cubic feet more than the midsize Toyota Camry.
How I'd spec it
The base 2019 Kia Forte starts at $17,690, but I'd start with the top EX trim. For $21,990 you get 17-inch wheels, keyless entry with push-button start, dual-zone climate control, a power driver's seat, leatherette upholstery, plus heated and ventilated front seats. My Forte EX tester is equipped with $125 floor mats as the only option, bringing the as-tested total to $23,010 including $895 for destination.
That's a decent amount of equipment, but I'd add another $3,210 for the EX Launch Edition package, which intensifies the exterior with Fire Orange paint, LED headlights, a rear spoiler and a graphite finish on the 17-inch wheels. The package also adds embedded navigation, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, wireless phone charger, adaptive cruise control, rear parking sensors, automatic high beams and a TFT instrument cluster display bumped from 3.5 inches to 4.2.
Most crucially for what I need in a car, though, the Launch Edition also includes a sunroof and a 320-watt, eight-speaker Harman Kardon premium audio system. The seven-speaker stereo in the standard EX is fine, but the Harman Kardon system's added subwoofer makes for a much better aural experience.
I'd pick out a few dealer-installed accessories, too, such as the cargo mat for $95, the $50 cargo net and the cargo hook for $30 (because hooking bags of groceries inside a trunk is imperative for preventing a jumbled mess), bringing my total to $26,270 out the door. Even in this fully loaded spec, the Forte is still a ton of car for the money.
The Kia Forte presents a strong case for itself in the compact segment. It's good looking, spacious, fuel-efficient and comfortable to drive long distances. Unfortunately, it's boring to drive, bested by cars such as the Honda Civic, Mazda3 or Toyota Corolla Hatchback, all of which are competitive in every other regard, as well.
But most compact sedan-buyers place little importance on the fun-to-drive factor. Instead, they care about fuel economy, cabin tech and refinement, which is good news for the 2019 Kia Forte. It provides all those things, and for tremendous value. This is one of the best bangs for your buck in the compact space.