We put Kia's redesigned compact sedan through its paces
The 2019 Kia Forte exceeded my expectations when I drove it at a launch event in Pittsburgh. Many of these events limit your driving opportunities to pristine roads that make the car feel smoother than it really is, but Kia’s route subjected the Forte to harsh pavement where it kept its composure. Now we’re driving the Forte on the often-rougher streets of L.A., and we haven’t lost any love for the small sedan.
Here’s a quick rundown of the changes Kia made to the third-generation model. Along with an updated design, it features a more rigid platform. The 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine still makes 147 hp and 132 lb-ft of torque, but it receives Atkinson cycle technology and a cooled EGR system to enhance efficiency. A six-speed manual is available once again, but the big news is that Kia replaced the six-speed automatic with its very first CVT.
Kia has taken strides to make the Forte a more mature entry this year. The automaker tried to reduce noise, vibration, and harshness with more adhesive and thicker glass for the front side windows. The 8.0-inch touchscreen that sits on the dashboard is an improvement, responding quickly to touch and taking up less space than the old 7.0-inch screen.
Kia succeeded in making a quiet and polished compact sedan. It rides well at city and highway speeds, shielding occupants from more noise than you’d expect of a car in this segment. Although its quiet nature will put the Civic on watch, it’s not as quick as the segment stalwart.
Our Forte tester, a top-trim EX model, ran from 0 to 60 mph in 8.2 seconds. This makes it just 0.2 second quicker than an old 2017 Forte we tested. In comparison, our 2016 Honda Civic Touring long-termer with the optional turbo engine hit the mark in just 6.8 seconds. The Forte straddles two other mainstream compact sedans we’ve tested, the 2019 Volkswagen Jetta SEL at 7.8 seconds and the 2019 Hyundai Elantra Limited at 9.0 seconds.
Although its acceleration won’t turn any heads, the Forte excels in another area. It completed the figure eight in 26.8 seconds at an average of 0.63 g. That’s impressive considering the Civic took 27.4 seconds to round the bends at 0.64 g. It also came in ahead of the Jetta (27.6 seconds at 0.62 g) and Elantra (27.7 seconds at 0.60 g). That’s not to mention the previous Forte, which clocked 27.5 seconds at 0.61 g.
The Forte’s steering feel is somewhat heavy at higher speeds, which makes handling seem a bit sportier than it really is. Still, the Forte’s steering is reasonably precise, enough to enjoy corners and canyon roads. The leatherette seats on our model were a bit stiff over long drives, however. And we had a few qualms with the brand-new CVT in the handling tests.
“This transmission is insane,” road test editor Chris Walton said. “Even in Sport mode, it doesn’t respond quickly enough to the situation. Resorting to manual shifts, it wouldn’t maintain rpm around the skidpad. Once, it went into first, putting it at redline. The result is a different exit speed each and every lap.”
The Forte brakes without any fuss. It took 35.9 meters to come to a complete stop from 60 mph, ahead of the Civic (36.5 meters), Jetta (36.8 meters), and Elantra (38.1 meters). It took 38.7 meters for the previous-gen Forte to make a complete stop. Associate road test editor Erick Ayapana praised the Forte’s body control in these tests.
Shoppers in the market for a compact sedan shouldn’t be quick to write off the Forte because of its middling acceleration. Despite a less-than-perfect CVT, it benefits from solid braking, sufficient passing power, a quiet ride, satisfying steering, and a functional interior. Our model is EPA rated 30/40/34 mpg city/highway/combined (7.8/5.8/6.9 L/100km), making it an efficient entry, as well. A more logical reason to stray from the Forte would be the Civic, which has set such a high bar in many categories including ride and fuel economy.
|2019 Kia Forte EX|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$23,010|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan|
|ENGINE||2.0L/147-hp/132-lb-ft Atkinson cycle, DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|TRANSMISSION||Cont variable auto|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||2,885 lb (61/39%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||182.7 x 70.9 x 56.5 in|
|0-60 MPH||8.2 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||16.4 sec @ 86.3 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||118 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.88 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||26.8 sec @ 0.63 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||30/40/34 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||112/84 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.57 lb/mile|