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2017 Kia Forte EX Review by Carey Russ +VIDEO


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Luxury in the compact sedan class and price

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS

                • SEE ALSO: Kia Research and Buyers Guide


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The car with which I’ve spent the past week has leather seating, heated and cooled in the front, bright electronic instruments, a navigation system, power everything except steering wheel and front passenger seat adjustment (manual), xenon HID headlights and LED running and tail lights, and the full complement of contemporary electronic safety systems for collision warning, lane-keeping, blind-spot and cross-traffic alert, and even autonomous emergency braking. It welcomes you with LEDs in the outside door handle pockets, and requires merely a touch of a button to lock or unlock and start. Typical 2017 luxury car, right?

Wrong. It’s a 2017 Kia Forte EX with the EX Premium Plus Package. MSRP $26,540, of which $850 is the destination charge and $4,490 the option package. I suspect that few are sold with that rather pricey option pack, but even without that, the Forte, especially in EX trim, is a premium compact sedan without the premium price. It offers a fine mix of passenger comfort and useful space in a small, easy-to-park package, with plenty of power to deal with everyday traffic plus handling and brakes to avoid trouble before being notified by the electronics. All with a minimal thirst for unleaded regular, to the tune of 22 to 25 mpg around town, an easy 33 on the highway, and 30 overall for my week.

Say goodbye to last year’s 1.8-liter engine. The EX gets a direct-injected version of Kia’s 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. That means 164 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque, up from the port-injected Atkinson-cycle variant now used in other trim levels, which makes maxima of 147 hp and 132 lb-ft. Transmission in all is a six-speed driving the front wheels, with a manual standard in the base-model LX and automatic optional there and the only choice in the new sporty S and EX. All get revised styling and interior upgrades for 2017. The LX may be “entry-level”, but that’s far above what that term once meant, with amenities including a tilt- and telescope-adjustable steering wheel, AM/FM/Sirius/XM/CD/MP3 audio, Bluetooth connectivity, a 60/40 split-folding rear seat, power windows, air conditioning, a trip computer, and more standard. The S gets an upgraded interior and slightly firmer suspension tuning, but interestingly is only offered with the automatic. The EX gets leather seating, heated in front, dual-zone air conditioning, and the possibility of near-luxury levels of appointment at a decidedly non-luxury price point.

Ok, $25,000 was the cost of a luxury car once — and that luxury car of 40 years ago may have been more exclusive than a Kia Forte, and possessed of a more sumptuous interior, but it was lacking in safety construction, useful power, fuel economy, and all manner of electronic gadgetry. Times have changed, and not necessarily for the worse.

APPEARANCE: Exterior changes are subtle but there. The front is new, with a wider “Tiger nose” tabbed grille snug between the restyled headlights. The “brake duct” vents to the sides of the lower intake are actually functional, directing air toward the front tires to decrease aerodynamic drag. As with most small sedans, the hood and rear deck are short, with most space given to the passenger cabin. Which, here, is elongated further by the well-raked windshield and rear window. Small windows in the front quarter, below the lower parts of the windshield pillars, visually lighten the car — and add visibility in an important spot. Chrome accents on the EX’s door handles add a luxury touch. The Forte’s lines are clean and simple. If they look a bit European, Kia’s head designer is German…

COMFORT: The Forte EX won’t be mistaken for a Rolls Royce inside, even one from 40 years ago, but it is pleasant, comfortable, and well-appointed for its modest price level. As outside, styling is more conservative than some competitors. The small windows ahead of the outside mirrors allow vision in a very important area that is often hidden. Instruments and controls are easily seen and used. Like most small cars, dark colors predominate. But boredom is banished by multiple materials and textures, including soft-touch upper materials and “carbon fiber”-weave and gloss black trim. The Premium Plus Package means bright electroluminescent “Supervision” instruments and a power-adjustable driver’s seat with two memory positions. The leather-rimmed steering wheel has cruise, audio, phone, and information system controls. Hard buttons below the UVO touchscreen at the top of the center stack control major functions simply and easily. All current audio choices are available, from AM radio to Bluetooth streaming services. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are slated to be available some time during the model year.

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Front seat comfort is good. The rear contoured bench is roomy for the Forte’s size class. Minimal contouring and a low central tunnel mean that the center position is useable. When no one’s there, there is a center armrest with cupholders. The seat back folds 60/40. Storage and water bottle holders are found in all doors. The glove box is pushbutton-actuated, luxury car-style, and the short, deep console box is useful. An inflation kit is used instead of a space-saver spare, but there is room for such under the trunk floor.

SAFETY: All Forte trim levels have front and rear crumple zones, side-impact door beams, front, front side, and full-length side curtain airbags, four-wheel antilock disc brakes, electronic stability control and vehicle stability management, and hill-start assist. The EX Premium Plus Package adds an alphabet soup of upscale electronic systems including Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB), Forward Collision Warning System (FCWS), Blind Spot Detection (BSD), Lane Departure Warning System (LDWS), Lane Keep Assist System (LKKAS), and Rear Cross-Traffic Alert(RCTA).




RIDE AND HANDLING: Kia has paid more attention to suspension tuning than is the norm for quite a while now, even in the lower size and price classes. So the Forte offers a good combination of comfort and maneuverability, better than expected. The MacPherson strut / torsion beam axle suspension is tuned moderately, for comfort, but with properly-matched spring and damper rates. The electrically-assisted power steering is not overly assisted. Brakes are good. Soundproofing is not at luxury car levels, but neither is the price.

PERFORMANCE: Performance here means more than just acceleration. Fuel economy counts. Both available engines are of 2.0 liter capacity and share many components for economy of scale. Lightweight aluminum alloy is used for the block and head, with dual overhead cams with variable phasing on each for efficiency and power production. The version used in the LX and S uses the Atkinson cycle for efficiency, and produces 147 horsepower at 6200 rpm, with torque peaking at 132 lb-ft at 4500 rpm. Direct fuel injection and other changes, including using the normal Otto cycle, gives the EX’s engine 164 hp at 6200 rpm and 151 lb-ft at 4700 rpm. The six-speed automatic transmission has default, eco, and sport modes, and manual shifting ability. Default is fine most of the time, with Sport useful when quicker response is needed. As is common today, manual shifting offers no improvement other than driver involvement. Eco decreases throttle response and auxiliary system energy use. Using mostly default and occasional Sport, I got 22 to 25 mpg is short to medium around-town trips and an easy 33-plus on the highway at real highway speeds for a week’s average of 30 mpg. No complaints, and the Forte is quick enough that short highway ramps aren’t unduly frightening.

CONCLUSIONS: In premium EX trim, the newest Kia Forte offers a pleasant bit of luxury in the compact sedan class.

SPECIFICATIONS

2017 Kia Forte EX

Base Price $ 21,200

Price As Tested $ 26,540

Engine Type DOHC 16-valve inline 4-cylinder with variable cam phasing and direct fuel injection

Engine Size 2.0 liters / 122 cu. in.

Horsepower 164 @ 6200 rpm

Torque (lb-ft) 151 @ 4000 rpm

Transmission 6-speed automatic

Wheelbase / Length 106.3 in. / 179.5 in.

Curb Weight 3029 lbs.

Pounds Per Horsepower 18.5

Fuel Capacity 13.2 gal.

Fuel Requirement 87 octane unleaded regular gasoline

Tires P215/45 R17 87H m+s Nexen CP671

Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS, BA standard Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / torsion beam axle Drivetrain transverse front engine, front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 25 / 33 / 30

0 to 60 mph 8.5 sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES

EX Premium Plus Package — includes: Supervision meter cluster with color LCD, navigation system, Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB), Forward Collision Warning System (FCWS), Blind Spot Detection (BSD), Lane Departure Warning System (LDWS), Lane Keep Assist System (LKKAS), Rear Cross-Traffic Alert(RCTA), ventilated front seats, power-adjustable driver’s seat with memory, auto-dimming rearview mirror, xenon HID headlights, power sunroof $ 4,490

Destination Charge $ 850