2019 Kia Forte
A worthy opponent
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- 01 Feb 2019
By James Park
In Canada’s mainstream compact sedan market, Honda Civic rules with the iron fist of a dictator. Corolla, Elantra and all the rest are probably praying for a seismic event that might upset the long-running status quo. However, the Civic’s hold on the market seems pretty secure, at least for now.
Bestseller, however, does not necessarily mean it’s the best automobile. In fact, the compact sedan arena is filled with worthy players that can more than satisfy their owners on power, economy, reliability and even luxury.
People eat beef because it’s a known commodity that’s relatively easy and safe to get. Then again, is beef the best-tasting meat? Some who have tried wild boar tear up with gratitude for the chance to have tasted it. Keeping an open mind and trying different things before making up one’s mind is the point.
So in that spirit, this writer recently test-drove the all-new fifth-generation 2019 Forte and found much to like about it.
The exterior styling, unfortunately, does nothing to grab the onlookers’ attention and tell them how nice this car really is. That said, the styling, while sedate, is well-balanced and more substantial than its corporate cousin, the Hyundai Elantra. It’s a handsome car that does not call attention to itself.
As compared to the previous generation, the new model is little longer and tad wider, resulting in more rear legroom and airier feel to the cabin. As before, the interior is cleanly laid out and all the controls are easy to comprehend and to operate.
In North America, all Fortes, for now, come equipped with two-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine utilizing the Atkinson cycle. Unlike the Otto cycle (used by most internal combustion engines), the Atkinson sacrifices bit of torque for better fuel-efficiency. That’s why most of the hybrids use this technology as well.
In Forte, the engine develops maximum 147 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of twist. In day-to-day driving, one hardly notices any lack in power. On the other hand, the fuel saving is not insignificant. Officially, the Forte gets 7.7 litres of regular gas per 100km in city and 5.9 litres on highway. According to Kia, this is about 17% improvement.
The engine can be mated to either six-speed manual or the new CVT, developed in-house by Kia. Designated as IVT (Intelligent Variable Transmission) by Kia, this CVT uses chain instead of belt and is quieter and has adaptive shift-logic designed to lessen the dreaded ‘rubber-band’ effect.
As far as CVTs go, Kia’s version definitely hits the right spot. It still feels like a CVT when going up a steep hill and such, but in most ordinary driving situations, it shifts its virtual gears like a conventional tranny.
Select the Sport mode and the virtual gear is held a little longer and the revs rise accordingly for faster acceleration. The car feels overly gimmicky at this point. Just leave it in Normal and forget about it.
As it is, the Forte displays compliant ride and crisp handling characteristics. It’s no match for the Porsche Cayman in the twisties but as a front-wheel-drive family sedan, the Forte does handle itself with relative poise and athleticism on par with its rivals in the segment.
This writer believes the Forte can hold its own even without accounting for its great value.
In the lineup, the base LX model with manual transmission starts at $16,495. Take the CVT option and the price rises to $18,995. Next comes EX, EX Plus, EX Premium and EX Limited, which – considering the standard equipment list – is still very competitive at $28,065 before taxes and the usual fees.
Even the EX model ($20,995) loaned to this writer, which Kia expects to be the volume seller, comes nicely equipped with 8-inch touch screen with Apple Carplay and Android Auto, heated cloth seats, heated and leather-wrapped steering wheel, as well as plethora of electronic nannies as forward collision avoidance assist, lane-keeping assist, blind-side monitoring, smart cruise control, etc.
Can the Forte usurp the compact sedan throne? Probably not. But those looking for a vehicle in this segment would do themselves much favour by checking it out. (James Park is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada.)
2019 Kia Forte EX
Engine: 2.0 litre four
Power: 147 hp/132 lb-ft
Fuel: 7.7 litres per 100km (city), 5.9 litres (highway)
Best: one of the best CVTs, fuel-efficient
Worst: hard to pick out from a crowd
Competition: Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Toyota Corolla, Mazda3, VW Jetta