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2014 Kia Forte EX Review By Carey Russ

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2014 Kia Forte EX

This week's test car has leather seats, with the driver's both heated and cooled and the front passenger and rear outboard positions heated. The driver's seat is power-adjustable, the (leather, of course) steering wheel rim is heated. Pushbutton start-stop and proximity-sensing door locks mean no fumbling with a key is required. Lights in the outside door handle pockets help night-time use, as do puddle lights in the outside rear-view mirrors. Dual-zone automatic climate control keeps everyone inside happy. All expected contemporary electronic communication, entertainment, and safety systems are here. It sounds like an expensive luxury car, right?

It's a 2014 Kia Forte EX sedan with key options including the Premium and EX Technology option packages. With an MSRP of $25,515, it's priced like an entry-luxury car… of fifteen or twenty years ago. Yes, the over $5,000 worth of options added to its base price of $19,400 is steep for a Korean compact sedan, and I do wonder how many so-equipped will be out in the real world, but you don't need all of the luxury accoutrements to appreciate a new Forte.

It really is new, built on a chassis that is longer, lower, and wider than the previous generation. Don't think that means bloat, though -- overall length is up by 1.2 inches, on a two-inch longer wheelbase. All the better for more interior space. The 0.6-inch decrease in height and 0.2-inch are not major changes, and the new Forte is still easy to maneuver and park.

Trim levels are LX and EX. Kia differentiates the Forte in the ultra-competitive compact marketplace by positioning it toward the upscale end. Which means power windows, door locks, and mirrors, audio controls on the steering wheel and both tilt and reach adjustment, Sirius/XM satellite radio, and Bluetooth® connectivity, and many other upscale features are standard in the LX. The EX adds the next-generation UVO infotainment system, now powered by Google, a backup camera, remote keyless entry, a cooled glove box, and more plus the mentioned available option packages.

There is a difference between the LX and EX under the hood. The LX gets a 148-horsepower 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine matched to a six-speed manual or automatic transmission driving the front wheels. The EX has a 2.0-liter four with direct fuel injection and 173 hp, automatic only.

My week with the comprehensively-equipped Forte EX was pleasantly comfortable. Even without all of the upscale features and options, this would be a very good car. It's comfortable and quiet for its class, with good space for four real adults and an occasional third rear-seat passenger. Power was never lacking, and the softish suspension calibration may not have been sporty, but proved itself over the poorly-paved roads that my state road department considers normal. At one point I needed to transport a mountain bike. No problem! Flip the rear seatback sections down, and with a minimal amount of finagling it went right in. Add the available luxury features to the Forte's basic goodness and you get luxury on a budget -- perfect for the times.

APPEARANCE: Influenced by European style and developed at Kia's Southern California design studio, the new Forte will never be called an "econobox". There's no box in its chiseled and curved lines, and it is a fitting smaller sibling to Kia's larger Optima. The sharply-raked windshield and rear window extend the already-long passenger cabin, which is further emphasized by the short hood and shorter rear deck. LED running lights, projector-beam headlights, auxiliary turn signals in the outside rearview mirrors, and a tasteful amount of chrome trim around the signature tabbed grille, under the side windows, and on the door handles adds a luxury touch. A short front overhang and good clearance means parking stops and steep driveways are no worry. Huge taillights (with LED bulbs in the EX) dominate the rear.

COMFORT: Equipped as was my test car, a Kia Forte is a very pleasant small car. It's as stylish inside as it is out, with quality materials and fit and finish. Small windows under the A-pillars add forward side visibility, a hazardous blind spot in some cars. A cutline around the main instrument panel section gives it a semi-floating look, considerably upscale of its modest station. Premium Package amenities further that, and the textured "woven" pattern on the plastic trim looks better than faux carbon fiber and more honest than "woodgrain". Other Premium and Technology Package goodies have been mentioned. Suffice to say yes, they're expensive, but the result is an honest small car with everything you might need unless you absolutely have to pay extra for the nameplate. Electro-luminescent "Supervision" main instruments are bright and easy to see in all light. A useful information display sits between the tach and speedometer, and is controlled from the steering wheel. The touchscreen and hard-button interface for the nav system and other functions is simple and direct. Storage includes pockets and water bottle holders in all doors, a useful console box, and a cooled glove compartment. A tilt-and-slide glass moonroof is part of the Premium Package. The rear seat offers unexpected space, especially legroom, for the Forte's size. A 60/40 split seatback, HVAC vents on the rear of the console, and floor heat vents mean comfort and usefulness. The trunk is large for the car's size, with a bit of storage under its floor -- and a can of sealant and pump here instead of a spare tire.

SAFETY: Passengers are protected by the Forte's sturdy unibody structure, front and rear crumple zones, and side-impact door beams. Frontal, front-seat side, and full-length side curtain airbags are standard. Brakes are four-wheel disc, with antilock, electronic brake-force distribution, and brake assist. Electronic stability control and a vehicle stability management system add active safety unobtrusively. Hill-start assist prevents embarrassment on grade starts. RIDE AND HANDLING: A sturdy unibody structure provides a good base for the front strut. rear torsion beam axle suspension. It's calibrated for luxury softness, not performance, but shock dampers correctly matched to the springs take care of poor surfaces with minimal disturbance. And it can be driven in a spirited if not sporty manner well enough. Road, wind, and mechanical noises are unobtrusive. The brakes work well.

PERFORMANCE: EX means more power, and a minimal reduction in fuel economy (one mpg for both city and highway). The long-stroke 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine makes maxima of 173 horsepower at 6500 rpm and 154 lb-ft of torque at 4700 rpm, with good midrange and low-end. The six-speed automatic has a manual-shift mode, which can be entertaining, and even useful on very tight and hilly roads. There is an "eco" mode that decreases throttle sensitivity and changes the shift program. I used that most of the time, especially in city and normal highway driving, and ended up beating the EPA combine average of 28 mpg with a touch over 30. No hypermiling, just judicious use of throttle and shift modes. D works just fine most of the time.

CONCLUSIONS: Kia's newest Forte can be an affordable luxury compact.

2014 Kia Forte EX

Base Price			$ 19,400
Price As Tested			$ 25,515
Engine Type			DOHC 16-valve aluminum alloy 4-cylinder
				 with direct fuel injection and variable
				 cam phasing on both cams
Engine Size			2.0 liters / 122 cu. in.
Horsepower			173 @ 6500 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			154 @ 4700 rpm
Transmission			6-speed automatic
Wheelbase / Length		106.3 in. / 179.5 in.
Curb Weight			2857 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		16.5
Fuel Capacity			13.2 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires				P215/45 R17 87H Nexen Classe Premiere CP67
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc,
				 ABS, EBD, BAS standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent strut /
				  torsion beam axle
Drivetrain			transverse front engine,
				 front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		24 / 36 / 30
0 to 60 mph				7.4  sec

17-inch alloy wheels					$  300
Premium Package -- includes:
  power tilt/slide sunroof, leather seat trim, power-
  adjustable driver's seat with memory and ventilation,
  heated front and outboard rear seats, heated steering
  wheel, pushbutton start/stop with Smart Key,
  auto-dimming mirror with Homelink, front door handle
  pocket lights, outside mirror puddle lights, engine
  immobilizer						$ 2,600
EX Technology Package -- includes:
  xenon HID headlights, dual-zone automatic climate
  control, navigation system with SIRIUS Traffic,
  HD radio, Supervision meter cluster with 4.2-inch
  color LCD, LED taillights				$ 2,300
Carpeted floor mats					$   115
Destination charge					$   800