Auto review: Are you brave enough to buy the 2019 Kia Forte?

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

September 10, 2018

       

The 2019 Kia Forte

PITTSBURGH ó Brands and their mystique hold power over consumers, promising a lifestyle benefit even if itís not entirely true. After all, you can wear Nike sneakers or an Under Armour t-shirt, but they wonít make you any more fit. Similarly, buying a Ralph Lauren outfit that mimics the look of old money wonít make your bank account any fatter, although it fools the unsuspecting.

Which brings us to the 2019 Kia Forte sedan.

During this modelís introduction last week in Pittsburgh, a BMW 5 Series pulled up alongside this new compact four-door. But hereís whatís so surprising: If you didnít know the price difference between the two cars, you wouldnít think the Forte started at one-third of the price of the BMW. The 2019 Forteís styling is so sophisticated, you could mistake it for something spendier.

The fourth-generation Forte owes its exterior ťlan to Kiaís European styling studio, which endowed the Forte with its sporting look, one that bears some resemblance to the Optima, although Kia is hoping youíll see Stinger influence in its looks. Thatís stretching a point.

Peek inside and youíll find a modern interior that exchanges the previous modelís dowdiness for a sophisticated minimalism that lends the cabin a spacious feel. A fixed 8-inch screen that controls Kiaís intuitive infotainment system anchors the center of the horizontally oriented instrument panel. A row of buttons underpins the screen, giving you quick access to the radio, navigation or other functions. Below that resides the dual automatic climate control, which is standard, and a rarity in this class.

The Forte EX test car featured a two-tone leather/pleather interior, along with stitched trim along the instrument panel ó an upscale touch.

Thereís ample room for four full-size adults. Legroom is generous up front, and above average for a compact in the rear. The seating position in the second row is pleasingly high, although those with long torsos may find headroom tight in the back. Cargo space is generous at 15.3 cubic feet.

Given that the Atkinson Cycle engine is rated at 147 horsepower, you wouldnít expect the Forte to be as sprightly as it proves to be, although overall acceleration is merely average. Interestingly, the Forteís Sport driving mode, offered alongside Normal and Smart driving modes, learns your driving style and switches between normal and sport modes automatically. Kiaís new continuously variable automatic transmission, its first, provides an ideal balance between performance and fuel economy, returning 33 mpg during the test drive.

Unlike most continuously variable transmissions (CVTs), the Kiaís unit was developed in-house and employs a chain belt to improve efficiency, so thereís little of the delay you typically experience with CVTs. Thereís little waiting for the CVT to decide which gear ratio to choose. Also, it can be shifted manually, which works very well. Only on extreme uphill climbs will you remember itís a CVT. Otherwise, its performance is so adept, youíll forget itís a CVT. Itís easily the best one on the market.

As impressive as the Forte is, itís the ride and handling that is its biggest surprise. Thanks should go to Albert Biermann, who once spent his days running BMWís M division. You can sense his DNA in this carís feel. OK, itís not a sports car, but the front-wheel-drive Forte possesses exceptional compliance and composure. Perhaps this is why Kia chose Pittsburgh to show off its newest compact star. Ride quality is exceptional for the class. Bumps are noticed, but not felt, except for the very worst of them. There are no excess body motions after traversing bumps, no undue rebound. Even body lean is modest. Couple that with its exceptionally quiet ride, engine and exhaust, and youíll find a car thatís capable yet quiet.

And the EX is stuffed with goodies, like heated and cooled front seats, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, multiple USB ports, wireless charging pad and adaptive cruise control.

In fact, the Kia Forte almost everything was either pleasing or better than expected. Itís too bad that brands can blind us to the true value of a product. Thereís little doubt that if youíre considering a Toyota Corolla, Chevrolet Cruze or Nissan Sentra youíd be better off buying the Kia Forte. But you wonít of course. A Kia? What would the neighbors say?

Donít let the brand name put you off; the 2019 Kia Forte is one of the best compact sedans you can buy. Look for it when it goes sale shortly.

óóó

Stats

Base prices: $17,690-$25,200

Engine: Double-overhead-cam 2.0-liter four-cylinder

Horsepower: 147

Torque: 132 pound-feet

EPA fuel economy (city/highway): 30/40 mpg

Wheelbase: 106.3 inches

Length: 182.7 inches

Cargo capacity: 15.3 cubic feet

Curb weight: 3,792 pounds