Kia has raised the small car bar to a new level with the 2014 Forte sedan.
This is an economy car, but it doesn’t look like one or drive like one.
Small car buyers are no longer content with “cheap and cheerful” basic transportation.
Yes, they want economy and reliability, but they also want style and, above all, comfort and luxury.
Easy to say, but not so easy to do when you are pumping out hundreds of thousands of vehicles from plants around the world where every tenth of a cent counts to keep costs under control.
But at first blush, it looks like Kia has found a way to merge affordability with the increasing demand for luxury in the second generation Forte
There will be two engines offered on the Forte, depending on trim level.
The LX is equipped with the familiar 1.8-litre inline four-cylinder producing 148 hp and 131 lb/ft of torque with a standard six-speed manual transmission driving the front wheel with a six-speed automatic optional.
On the EX and SX trims, this engine has been increased in size to 2.0-litres with gasoline direct injection resulting in a significant increase in power to 173 hp and 154 lb/ft with the six-speed automatic as standard with optional steering wheel mounted paddle shifters for those who care about these kinds of things.
A luxury feature which I believe is a first for small cars is the Forte’s available “FlexSteer” electric power steering that allows the driver to change the ride feel three ways—Comfort, Normal and Sport.
FlexSteer is light years away from the first generation of electric steering with its ratchet wrench stiffness. Steering on the Forte is fluid and communicative and the difference between the three modes was noticeable.
Sport, for example, was true on centre but taut, a feeling made more so by the shape and size of the steering wheel which was perfect for me.
Comfort was just that and it’s lighter feel is appreciated in low-speed situations, especially parking.
Kia being Kia, they are constantly honing and retooling their products and that holds true on the 2014 Forte with a revised MacPherson front suspension system with larger bushings. At the back, the torsion beam suspension has been tuned to match the stiffer body platform and the wider stance of the tire footprint.
Kia skews its vehicles towards European ride/handling partly because Kias are very popular over there thus we get the benefit of that engineering.
The car I drove was a U.S.-spec EX Plus which more closely equates to the SX model we will get in Canada.
My co-driver and I covered a lot of ground to the north and east of Phoenix, much of it on freeways with a nice mix of mountain roads thrown in.
With the extra torque of the 2.0-litre, the Forte was quick off the ramp onto the highway and I could pick my spot even with traffic moving around 80 mph. Lane changes were made without effort with the torque coming on song right when it was needed.
Up in the mountains, we were as high as 4,938 feet at one point with the ascent steep enough to cause our ears to pop all the way to the top.
Once again it was the torque that made the difference with no howl of protest from the engine and the transmission shifting back and forth depending on the grade with the actual shift barely noticeable and that mostly because of the change in sound of the motor.
Everybody now knows about Peter Schreyer, the styling guru Kia stole from Audi and how he literally changed the face of Kia with his signature “tiger mouth” grille and liquid bodylines.
I first met him four years ago at the launch of the first generation Forte, which was the first Kia to sport the Schreyer look.
This time the Forte is 5 mm wider, 25 mm lower and wheelbase has been increased to 2,700 mm, just the palate Schreyer needed for the next generation look.
The grille retains the signature shape but it has more glam adding to the overall it-looks-luxury image the Forte carries.
The luxury sedan look is enhanced by available LED lighting that flank the grille as well as available high-intensity discharge (HID) headlights.
The swept-back, lower roofline and very strong character line on the flanks make the Forte appear sporting for a humble econo sedan.
But where the real econo-as-luxury DNA of the Forte really comes through is in the cabin.
Imagine available 10-way heated and cooled front driver’s seat, heated back seats and a heated steering wheel with controls for all the major functions like phone, audio and cruise.
There are several interior material choices and you can have carbon fibre look accents if you chose.
Other available luxury items include climate control, air ionizer, enhanced LCD/TFT Supervision cluster, smart key push button start/stop, proximity puddle lighting, navigation and rear air ventilation.
Standard features include Bluetooth hands-free connectivity, satellite radio, power windows and locks, AUX/USB inputs, trip computer and acres of soft-touch materials.
The Forte does not scrimp on safety with six-airbags, ABS with Brake Assist Control (BAS), Electronic Stability Control (ESC), Hill Assist Control (HAC) and standard Vehicle Stability Management (VSM) that automatically intervenes when it senses understeer or oversteer.
The Forte has four-wheel disc brakes as standard where several of its main competitors have drums at the rear.
At this writing pricing has not been announced but I expect it to be very similar to the Hyundai Elantra with which it shares most of the mechanicals so figure $16,000-$26,000.
Fuel numbers have also not been finalized but the 1.8-litre should be the same as the Elantra (automatic) at 7.2/5.2L/100 km city/highway. The 2.0-litre is unique to the Forte so I’m not going to quess.
This is a very good-looking car with road manners above what one might expect from a small car.
The 2014 Forte really does lives up the Kia motto: The Power to Surprise.
Kia Forte Sedan 2014
Body Style: Compact four-door sedan.
Drive Method: front-engine, front-wheel-drive
Engine: 1.8-litre DOHC inline MPI four-cylinder (148 hp, 131 lb/ft), 2.0-litre DOHC inline GDI four-cylinder (173 hp. 154 lb/ft)
Fuel Economy: NA
Cargo Volume: 421 litres
Tow Rating: Not recommended
Jim Robinson, contributor