Look, we all want a fancy performance car, but sometimes you have to stick to a budget. Me? I'd love a Kia Stinger, but it's a little out of reach financially. Thankfully, Kia now offers a bit of budget performance with Stinger style in the form of the 2020 Forte GT.
The GT distinguishes itself from the rest of the Forte lineup with a sharper design. I like the fastback silhouette that resolves with a small lip spoiler, as well as the black mirror caps, redesigned grille and sleek headlights. I also dig the red trim on the rear diffuser and think the subtle red highlights and GT badge in the grille look nice. The whole look is distinctive without being ostentatious.
The GT gets a performance bump over other Fortes, too, thanks to a 1.6-liter turbocharged I4 engine with 201 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. That's a pretty significant increase over the 147 hp and 132 lb-ft available in other Forte models, and the hits keep on comin' with your choice of either a six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, as well as a louder exhaust.
No, 201 hp and 195 lb-ft aren't gobs of power, but these compare nicely to the front-wheel-drive Forte GT's closest competitor, the Honda Civic Si. The Volkswagen Jetta GLI gives you 228 hp, but you'll pay nearly $4,000 more for the privilege.
The GT gets a new multilink rear suspension, replacing the standard Forte's torsion-beam setup. This makes the GT a much more competent performer than any other Forte. And with stickier Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires and upgraded, 12-inch front brakes, the Forte GT is more than happy to be driven hard.
Normal, Sport and Smart driving modes allow you to switch up the experience slightly. Sport mode improves throttle response and the steering gets a bit heavier, though the 12.7:1 ratio remains unchanged. Overall, I'd like a bit more feedback through the steering, and I really wish my test car had the manual transmission, though this seven-speed dual-clutch unit does its thing just fine.
The added performance doesn't hurt the Forte's fuel economy too much; the GT DCT is rated at 27 miles per gallon in the city, 35 mpg highway and 30 mpg combined. After a week of not-slow driving, I'm seeing a respectable 31.4 mpg.
As pleased as I am with the Forte GT's on-road manners, I'm less stoked with its standard roster of driver-assistance tech. Yes, you get forward-collision warning, lane-departure warning and a driver attention monitor standard, but blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and adaptive cruise control are all pay-to-play options. Meanwhile, the Civic Si offers all of these creature comforts standard (minus the attention monitor). Usually it's Kia that offers the best value in terms of safety equipment for the money, so I'm sort of surprised the company isn't going all-out here. Thankfully, at least, all the aforementioned systems are super easy to use.
As for in-car tech, Kia's Uvo infotainment system is housed on an 8-inch touchscreen with standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The interface is pretty straightforward and the screen is responsive, but I'm not a huge fan of the layout. I can customize a menu with all my favorite features, but that menu is only accessible from the home page. Why can't that just be the home screen? What's more, I always have to go back to the home screen to activate Apple CarPlay, which is kind of annoying.
Charging is handled by two USB-A ports and a 12-volt outlet up front, as well as an additional USB-A jack in the center console. Rear passengers don't get anything, sadly. There is an available wireless charging pad, though, and it's elevated so you can keep your keys or other small items underneath.
Inside, I'm impressed with the GT's fit and finish. The cabin isn't full of plush leather or anything like that, but there are a few interesting design elements like red accents, a soft texture patter on the doors and some brushed aluminum along the dash. I do appreciate that the seats can be both heated and cooled, the latter of which isn't possible in the Civic Si, and the chairs strike a good balance between supportive and comfortable.
The 2020 Kia Forte GT starts at $23,455 including $965 for destination, and if you want the manual transmission, add $1,565 to that price, though you also get a few of the otherwise-optional driving aids (not adaptive cruise control). Add $200 for the Michelin tires and you're at $24,255 including destination. That's about $2,000 less than a loaded Civic Si, though you do get adaptive cruise control. The Hyundai Elantra Sport is another good option, but I like the way the Forte looks a lot more.
The Forte GT is good at what it does: offering a few thrills for a low price and looking good all the while. It's a surprisingly fun and stylish little sedan. It's no Stinger, but it's far more than just a consolation prize.