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2017 Kia Forte5 SX Manual Review By Steve Purdy

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By Steve Purdy
The Auto Channel
Michigan Bureau

The skillful management of a clutch and gearshift is becoming a lost art. This great pleasure of driving may soon be mostly unknown. Fewer youngsters are even vaguely interested in learning to drive a stick. And, I suppose, even many older enthusiasts are losing their interest in, and opportunity to do, their own shifting.

Not me!

I’m thrilled three or four times a year to find a review car with manual transmission in my driveway. This week it is a Kia Forte5 hatchback, a compact, front-wheel drive, sporty hatch that made me grin every time I got in and took off.

The Kia Forte got a thorough update for 2017. The compact, front-wheel drive mainstream car comes in a 4-door sedan and the 5-door hatchback we’re testing this week. Ours is the top-of-the-line SX model that shows a base price of $23,800 with the new 7-speed, dual clutch automatic transmission. Our manual version loaded up with popular content like navigation, heated and cooled leather seats, 18-inch wheels, sport-tuned suspension, xenon HID headlights, LED taillights, push-button start with smart fob, power sunroof and exceptionally good-looking trim costs just about $26,000. The SX also comes with an impressive slate of safety and driver assistance features. The unadorned LX model shows a base price of $18,200 without most of the above, but still decent content.

Sorry to report: you can’t get the manual transmission in lesser trims. Do you remember a few years ago when you could only get a manual in the lowest end of the model range? At that time manufacturers saw manuals only as a way to squeeze out another mpg or two for those efficiency zealots out there. Typically, most modern transmissions now get better mileage than the manual.

Exterior styling and design reflect the general trends within this small, sporty hatch class. A nearly vertical nose with bold grill and squinty lights draw your eye rearward across sculpted flanks and around the forward-sloping rear with taillights mounted high on the shoulder. A judicious use of chrome and black trim along with the flashy alloy wheels on our “Phantom Gray” car will certainly garner some admiring second looks this week.

Interior style and design breaks some new ground. A wave begins at the base of the driver’s-side windshield and widens as it flows to the center, becoming the gently curved, asymmetric center stack. The wave theme continues with concentric curves across the right side. More conventional instrument pods under a brow form the driver’s information center with tach, speedo, and a plethora of other readouts. At the base of the center stack is a handy bin wherein resides two 12V outlets, USB and auxiliary ports. Front seats have substantial range of adjustment making it relatively easy for this oversized reviewer to get in and out. Rear seatbacks with a cup holder/armrest fold easily 60/40 enhancing the small cargo area into more usable 23 cubic-feet of space.

The best thing about the inside, for me at least, is the short, precise little shift knob and the extra pedal on the floor to go with it. The gentle clutch is easily managed with six speeds forward in the standard pattern and a lift-up collar to access reverse. There, you’ve got it mastered. Well, it might not be quite that easy for someone new to selecting their own gears. Let me bear witness to the unbelievers: It really isn’t that hard, and one can get a great deal of motoring pleasure from perfecting one’s technique.

Under the hood we find a slick, 1.6-liter, direct injected, turbocharged four-cylinder making just about 200 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. Normally-aspirated 2.0- and 1.8-liter engines are available as well. Our turbo car is rated at 29 mpg on the highway, 23 in the city and 25 mpg combined on regular fuel. We managed an average of 26 mpg on mostly highway conditions (and, we’ll admit, mostly at extra-legal speeds) as we did a road trip across the state to Lake Michigan. If we kept it at speed limits I’m sure we could have at least matched the predicted mpg.

The back was full of golf clubs, coolers, luggage and provisions, showing it to be a great little traveling car for two. I wouldn’t try it with more. The cockpit is of such good quality in fit finish and materials we could have almost been in a premium class little car. Road noises did not intrude except in on the noisiest of pavement surfaces.

Kia’s warranty covers the whole car for 5 years or 60,000 miles and the powertrain for 10 years or 100,000 miles. For those of you still thinking the Korean brands are not the equal of the Japanese, let me remind you that Kia just won the J.D. Power Initial Quality Award as the best brand for a second year in a row.

Competition in this mainstream small hatchback segment is growing. Cruze now has a hatchback as do the other compacts like Civic, Focus, Mazda3 and iM. They’re all good but I’d put this Forte5 up against any of them.

© Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved

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