Taking aim at the Civic Si
During our week with the 2014 Kia Forte Koup SX, several editors were overheard drawing comparisons with a certain iconic sport-compact from Honda. That didn’t happen so much when we drove the quirky Hyundai Veloster Turbo, in which this drivetrain made its debut. But the Kia‘s dressier Peter Schreyer-penned exterior styling and its interior’s clever riffs on the carbon-fiber theme (the dash is accented with plastic molded to evoke the light-n-tough material, and the seat bolsters feature a CF-evocative woven leather) establish an expectation of refinement that the hardware largely upholds to an almost Honda-grade level.
That’s high praise indeed for a carmaker that has only been selling cars in the U.S. since 1992.
Until now, the jazziest Koup engine offering was a naturally aspirated 2.4-liter four good for 173 hp and 168 lb-ft of torque. But in the industry’s inexorable march toward better fuel economy, this year brings an all-direct-injected engine lineup to the Forte nameplate, with the new base 2.0-liter matching the old 2.4’s hp at a slight torque deficit (154 lb-ft), and Korea’s answer to Ford‘s EcoBoost powering the new SX: a 1.6-liter DI turbo good for 201 hp and 195 lb-ft.
The little four-banger tugs the Koup around with surprising smoothness and linear power delivery beyond 2000 rpm. The Koup easily scaled a reasonably steep 800-foot grade in sixth gear without dropping below the 60-mph cruise-control set speed. There’s plenty of passing power on tap, and indeed the 45-65-mph acceleration time drops from 3.9 to 3.3 seconds. Dragstrip performance is a bit less impressive. While the weight-to-power ratio improved from 16.8 to 14.7 lb/hp, taller, more evenly spaced gearing (blame CAFE) means the 0-60-mph and quarter-mile times only improved by 0.3 second to 6.8 and 15.1 seconds at 93.9 mph. By contrast, the less torquey (170 lb-ft) but equally powerful, lighter, and way-shorter-geared Civic Si coupe scoots to 60 mph in 6.1 seconds en route to a 14.6-second, 95.6-mph quarter-mile. Also worth noting: The Honda’s engine note is way sweeter than the Koup’s.
On the twisting tarmac, the Koup flows from curve to curve with an admirable fluidity and reasonable steering heft when the variable assist is set to Sport, though the helm never tells the driver much about what’s happening down at the contact patches regardless of the setting, prompting Angus MacKenzie to opine “the three position switchable weighting is a waste of electrons.” Several editors complained that the seating position was too high, and that the side bolstering delivered less support than demanded by the chassis’ 0.85 lateral g cornering capability. A lower seat position always heightens the impression of sportiness, and headroom was an issue for some drivers in our sunroof-equipped example.
Speaking of equipment, if the Forte Koup lights your fire you should know this before sitting down in front of the order book: The base car at $19,575 is a helluva deal, undercutting the better performing base Civic Si, the far more powerful Ford Focus ST, and the more refined VW GTI by $3730, $5335, and $6340 respectively. Load it up like our tester — with premium-package niceties including the glass sunroof, leather upholstery, a heated steering wheel, heated front seats and a cooled driver seat, not to mention tech package must-haves such as nav, auxiliary gauges, HID headlamps, and dual-zone climate controls — and the value proposition weakens somewhat. If you can’t resist all that luxury gear, at least you’ll be pleased to find that it’s executed exceptionally well. The touch-screen-and-buttons or voice-command UVO infotainment system is among the best in the biz. (Ed Loh: “I would die to have that system in a BMW.” Kim Reynolds: “Voice recognition worked for me–‘Channel 4’– bingo, I’ve got Artie Shaw.”) And the nav system treats you like an adult, allowing for inputs when the car is moving.
At the end of the week, Mike Floyd summarized our opinion of the Koup SX pretty succinctly: “This isn’t going to make you forget cars like the GTI or Civic Si, but its combo of solid power, strong brakes and decent chassis makes it entertaining.” Amen.
|2014 Kia Forte Koup SX T-GDI|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$24,590|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 2-door coupe|
|ENGINE||1.6L/201-hp/195-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||2953 lb (61/39%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||178.3 x 70.1 x 55.5 in|
|0-60 MPH||6.8 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||15.1 sec @ 93.9 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||114 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.85 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||26.4 sec @ 0.67 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON||24/35 mpg (est)|
|ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY||140/96 kW-hrs/100 miles (est)|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||0.69 lb/mile (est)|