Bigger and Better Now Kia’s Forte
A wave of the magic wand, and the compact Spectra sedan is replaced by the longer, wider, beefier Forte.
Forte also is better equipped, with stability and traction control, plus anti-lock brakes, standard.
Kia rolls out the Forte as an encore to the Soul, a boxy, compact rival to the Scion xB and Nissan Cube targeting youth who want to make a styling statement.
Forte, however, is aimed at a slightly older crowd looking for low price, high mileage and decent looks without sacrificing size or amenities.
As long as the car needed a total overhaul, the South Korean automaker decided Spectra might as well get a new name too. So it came up with Forte, which isn't any more memorable but a little more melodious.
The front-wheel-drive Forte is offered in LX, EX and sporty SX versions. The LX and EX have a 2-liter, 156-horsepower 4-cylinder with 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic, an upgrade from Spectra's 2-liter, 138-h.p. 4. The SX offers a 2.4-liter, 173-h.p. 4 with 6-speed manual or 5-speed automatic. As the sports version, SX complements the higher-output 4 with a sports suspension, 17-inch radials for improved handling and a spoiler for a sporty look.
We tested the Forte EX with automatic. While Spectra fell a bit short in a few departments, Forte rises to the occasion. Wheelbase and overall length are stretched a couple inches for better road stance and balance. A similarly 2-inch-wider cabin is in recognition that occupants need to exhale as well as inhale on a trip.
There's good room front and back, though rear seats would be even more pleasant for long distance with a tad more space for the legs.
Trunk space is enormous for gear, groceries or luggage. Want to slip the skis in the cabin? The rear-seat backs lower when you pull the release levers in the trunk, though the opening is a narrowish oval, not a gaping rectangle.
The test car came with optional ($1,000) leather seats with perforated backs and bottoms to keep occupants from slipping in corners and cooler in the summer.
But remember, this is an econocar, and you'll lean if whipping into and out of corners or curves with the minimal side bolsters.
The 156-h.p. 4 offers lively movement, but there's a little growl on power takeoffs or when kicking the pedal to pass.
While the car swelled in size and the engine in spirit, mileage also rose to 25 m.p.g. city/34 m.p.g. highway. That's 1 more m.p.g. in the city and 2 on the highway than with the lower-horsepower 4 from 2009.
Driving range is about 460 miles before a need for a fill. If the 13.7-gallon tank could handle one more gallon, range would be a few feet short of 500 miles. Maybe next time.
Though Forte could use a tad more rear-seat leg room and a little more range, credit Kia for attention to detail when it comes to safety. Stability and traction control, unavailable before, are standard to ensure the vehicle follows the intended course.
And ABS, previously optional only in the top-of-the-line model, is standard too.
Nice touches include storage in the front of the console, where the port for your iPod along with an auxiliary plug and pair of 12-volt power plugs also are located. There's also some storage room under the center armrest.
Since Forte is an economy car, practical reigns over plush. Sure you get AM/FM stereo with CD player and MP3 plus Bluetooth connectivity and the power necessities of windows/locks/mirrors (nope, not seats) as well as air conditioning.
But there's no navigation system. And mirrors instead of a camera to see what's behind when leaving a garage or parking spot.
Base price of the EX with automatic is $16,795 ($13,695 for LX, $17,195 for sporty SX).
You can add a power sunroof for $800, which comes with an upgrade to 16-inch all-season radials on alloy wheels from 15-inch and regular wheel covers. Go figure.
2010 Kia Forte EX
Wheelbase: 104.3 inches
Length: 178.3 inches
Engine: 2-liter, 156-h.p. 4-cylinder
Transmission: 4-speed automatic
MPG: 25 city/34 highway
Price as tested: $18,595
(Add $695 for freight.)
$1,000 Leather seats and leather-wrapped steering wheel
$800 Power sunroof plus 16-inch, all-season radials with alloy wheels
+ Former Spectra
+ Very good cabin room and exceptional trunk space for a compact
+ Greater wheelbase, length, width and engine power
+ Basic transportation without the econolook
+ Good mileage and price
+ Stability and traction control plus ABS now standard
- Why team optional sunroof with larger tires -- other than to boost profit?
- Too much unnecessary movement over uneven pavement
Jim Mateja can be reached at email@example.com.
(C) 2009 TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.