2010 Kia Forte SX Review - No Complaints, Only Compliments - VIDEO ENHANCED


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2010 Kia Forte Sedan

SEE ALSO: Kia Specs, Prices and Comparisons-Kia Buyers Guide

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS

2010 Kia Forte SX

If you think "affordable compact sedan" translates to "boring transportation appliance" or "austerity on wheels", not necessarily so. Especially if the car in question is a 2010 Kia Forte SX like the one with which I've spent the past week.

Kia is not the best-known automaker around, although that is changing. The Korean-based manufacturer is one of the few to be gaining market share. It's doing this the old-fashioned way - by building cars that provide value to their owners.

Like its now-sister company Hyundai, Kia's early offerings reinforced the "cheap Korean car" stereotype. But since being absorbed by Hyundai in 1998, things have changed. Build quality has improved, to the point that it is fully competitive with any comparable Japanese or European brands. And styling has gone from Korean home-market peculiar to European-influenced flair.


Click PLAY to watch the Kia Forte sedan promo video

The Forte (two syllables) features styling developed by Kia's chief design officer Peter Schreyer, recently with Audi, and is offered in LX, EX, and SX trim levels. It's at the roomy end of the compact segment, so five people inside is not cruel and unusual punishment. If the LX seems a bit austere -- manual windows, optional air conditioning, and no cruise control -- it does have such amenities as a satellite radio-ready AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system with auxiliary jack and USB port, Bluetooth connectivity, a tilt-adjustable steering wheel, and a full complement of safety equipment, including four-wheel antilock disc brakes with brake assist, electronic brake force distribution, electronic stability control, traction control, a tire-pressure monitoring system, and the full complement of airbags. Not bad for a sub-$14,000 base price. Power is from a 2.0-liter, 156-hp four-cylinder engine, matched to a standard five-speed manual or optional four-speed automatic transmission.

The EX uses the same engine and manual but offers a five-speed automatic as well. Plus air conditioning, power windows, mirrors, and doorlocks (with remote entry), cruise control, and upgraded interior trim. For those who want something a little sportier, check out the SX. The two-liter is replaced by a 173-hp 2.4-liter engine, with six-speed manual or the five-speed automatic transmission, sport-tuned suspension, larger and upgraded wheels, tires, and brakes, a tilt- and telescope-adjustable steering column, and sportier interior trim all part of the package.

I've just spent a week with an SX equipped with the automatic, the "Leather Package" (leather seat trim and heated front seats), and a sunroof. So-equipped, it does a credible job as an upscale sport compact with entry-luxury overtones. And although my personal tastes run to manual shifting, with a clutch, the 2.4-liter engine's copious torque meant that it worked just fine with the automatic, which was easily manually shiftable -- but that was never a necessity. Add the pleasantly Euro-influenced styling, roomy interior, good soundproofing, and a suspension that strikes a fine balance between sporty handling and comfort, and the result is a car that more than holds its own against the established players in the affordable sporty compact game.

APPEARANCE: If the styling on some of the established names in the compact class tends toward baroque, the Forte is an antidote. Clean lines and simple geometric shapes give it a fresh look that should wear well. The integrated modified, chrome-trimmed trapezoidal grille and long, faired-in headlights establish a contemporary appearance. Look for more of this in future Kias. There is no pretension to being anything but a transverse-engined front-wheel drive sedan, with a short, rounded hood that is pleasantly offset by the angled character lines dividing it from the lower front fenders. From the side, a sporty wedge profile is established by the rising line of the fenders and windows, with a dip at the front of the side windows for visibility. The high tail looks sporty, may help the aerodynamics, and adds luggage space. Five-sided wraparound taillights and an undercut tail panel give the rear a distinctive look.

COMFORT: Interior styling is a bit more intricate than the exterior, but does not distract from function. The semi-floating instrument panel features a small brow over a three-ring, backlit instrument cluster, and a prominent center stack that's placed slightly closer to the front passengers, for ease of use. As mentioned previously, amenity levels are high even in the base LX model. Except for manual seat and steering wheel adjustment, the SX has everything expected in an entry-luxury car, especially with the "Leather Package" specified. Seat comfort is good for the class, and the leather-rimmed, tilt- and telescope-adjustable steering wheel has cruise and auxiliary audio controls. Audio and climate controls are self-explanatory, and all models get full audio input including an auxiliary jack and USB port, and two power points. The rear seat holds three medium-sized adults, although two are better as it is, like most cars, so contoured. 60/40 split folding is useful when cargo duty beckons. A relatively large (for a sedan) trunk opening helps, too, as does the good trunk capacity. A space-saver spare lived under the trunk floor.

SAFETY: All 2010 Kia Fortes, even the LX, get a comprehensive suite of safety features including front and rear crumple zones, dual advanced front and seat-mounted front side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, front active headrests, four-wheel antilock disc brakes with brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution, electronic stability control and traction control, and a tire-pressure monitoring system.

RIDE AND HANDLING: The Forte is built with a rigid unibody structure and a relatively long wheelbase. This helps ride and handling and stability in addition to increasing interior room. The suspension is basic in apparent design, with independent MacPherson struts in front and a torsion beam axle in the rear. On paper, that looks "cheap". On the road, it works just fine, as Kia knows how to tune a suspension for a good combination of comfort and sporty handling. The SX gets a firmer spring and shock damper calibration, but it's a long ways from race-replica stiff, more "sport touring". Which is perfect for the real world. Engine speed-sensitive power steering is never too light. Some compact sedans are mere transportation appliances, devoid of driving pleasure. The Kia Forte is most definitely not one of those.

PERFORMANCE: The simplest way to increase power is to increase engine displacement. And a 2.4-liter engine in a car of the Forte's size counts as a "big block." If, in the past, Korean engine technology was a little lacking, that's not true now. Both Forte engines are contemporary aluminum alloy, dual overhead cam, 16-valve designs with continuously-variable cam phasing. With 173 horsepower at 6000 rpm in regular tune, and 168 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm -- or 165 hp and 161 lb-ft at the same engine speeds in California emissions-spec SULEV tune -- the 2.4 is one of the strongest powerplants in its class. I assume that since my test car was registered in California it had the SULEV spec engine. No worries on power even there - it was most impressive in its torque, at all engine speeds. Which meant that as much as I may have preferred a six-speed stick, the five-speed automatic was no problem at all. Since there was no need to rev it in order to have enough power for quick acceleration, it felt like a luxury car engine with great reserve power. Or think high-end audio with "overhead". All automatic Fortes have a green "Eco" light on the dash that lights up when the car is being driven efficiently, and it was usually lit -- with no real attempt to be light on the throttle on my part. Result - good performance AND good fuel economy, something Korean cars have not been known for previously. EPA mileage is 23 mpg city, 31 highway. I got 29 overall. No complaints, only compliments.

CONCLUSIONS: No complaints, only compliments, Kia has a formidable competitor in the sporty compact sedan class with its Forte SX sedan.

SPECIFICATIONS
2010 Kia Forte SX

Base Price			$ 18,195
Price As Tested			$ 20,490
Engine Type			aluminum alloy dohc inline 4-cylinder
				 with continuously-variable cam phasing
Engine Size			2.4 liters / x cu. in.
Horsepower			173 @ 6000 rpm (165 @ 6000 SULEV)
Torque (lb-ft)			168 @ 4000 rpm (161 @ 4000 SULEV)
Transmission			5-speed automatic (6M standard)
Wheelbase / Length		104.3 in. / 178.3 in.
Curb Weight			2868 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		16.6
Fuel Capacity			13.7 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87 octane unleaded regular gasoline 
Tires				P215/45R17 84H Goodyear Eagle LS
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc,
				 ABS, EBD, ESC, TCS standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
				  torsion beam axle with coil springs
Drivetrain			transverse front engine,
				 front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		23 / 31 / 29
0 to 60 mph				8.6  sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
SX Leather Package - includes:
  leather seat trim, heated front seats		$ 1,000
Power sunroof					$   600
Destination charge				$   695

SEE ALSO: Kia Specs, Prices and Comparisons-Kia Buyers Guide

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