Sales of passenger cars continue to slow as more as more Americans turn to crossovers and SUVs for their transportation needs, but competition in the Kia Forte’s compact-car segment is heating up. The Honda Civic and Volkswagen Golf each occupied a spot on our 2018 10Best Cars list, the Mazda 3 continues to impress with its sublime driving dynamics, and there are a dozen more small cars besides. Whither, then, the Forte and its hatchback variant, the Forte5? They’re fine as far as cars go and eminently affordable. But merely fine doesn’t cut it when compared with the excellent competition these cars face. Kia may think so, too, as a full redesign is on the way for 2019.
What’s New for 2018?
The Forte and Forte5 are almost unchanged for 2018. A few tweaks to the Forte’s available packages keep the current model going until its relief pitcher is ready. Among them, the desirable UVO3 system is now available in base (LX) trim as part of that model’s Popular package. The S trim has a new 16-inch wheel design, and the top EX trim now comes standard with rear cross-traffic alert and blind-spot monitoring. The Forte5 hatchback’s LX Popular Plus package adds a leather-wrapped steering wheel, LED taillights, and a fresh wheel design. A previously optional package which added orange panels to the SX trim’s front and rear seats is now standard in that trim.
- LX: $17,695
- Forte S: $20,295
- Forte EX: $22,595
- Forte5 LX: $19,195
- Forte5 EX: $23,095
- Forte5 SX: $24,795
Engine, Transmission, and Performance
By tweaking engine tuning and providing several transmission choices, Kia manages to take two engines and provide six powertrain combinations. Our favorite by far is only available in the most expensive Forte5 SX trim, leaving budget buyers in the cold. The Forte and Forte5 both have a 2.0-liter inline-four as the standard offering. In the sedan, the entry-level engine makes 147 horsepower and uses the high-efficiency Atkinson combustion cycle. That engine can pair either to a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic. In the sedan’s top EX trim and the Forte5’s LX and EX trims, the 2.0-liter engine uses a traditional combustion process, makes 164 horsepower, and pairs exclusively to a six-speed automatic. A 201-hp turbocharged 1.6-liter inline-four is the only engine available in the Forte5’s top SX trim, and it can be had with either a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic or a six-speed manual transmission. The Forte5’s more powerful engine is quick and can be fun, but the less powerful, naturally aspirated engines fail to inspire. The Forte handles rough roads reasonably well and responds ably to steering inputs. In this class, there’s no comparison to the laser-precise and predictable helms of the Volkswagen Golf and the Mazda 3, but the Forte’s steering is accurate and tracks straight on the highway. As with several competitors, a small footprint helps the Forte feel nimble, although driver and passengers will surely note the Forte’s body roll around curves and corners.
EPA fuel economy testing and reporting procedures have changed over time. For the latest and most accurate fuel economy numbers on current and older vehicles, we use the U.S. Department of Energy’s fueleconomy.gov website. Under the heading “Find & Compare Cars” click on the Compare Side-by-Side tool to find the EPA ratings for the make, model, and year you’re interested in.
Interior, Comfort, and Cargo
The Forte’s interior is cloth- and plastic-bound, as befits its affordable price, but the interior design is playful and makes the most of the Forte’s materials. Leather seats are available in the topmost models. A leather-wrapped steering wheel is newly included in the hatchback’s LX trim’s $1000 Popular Plus package. The Forte’s base cloth seats are inoffensive, although a firmer cushion would do wonders for long-term comfort. We’re glad to see a memory function for the driver’s seat, and cooled front seats are an option, too. The Forte and Forte5 both have average amounts of storage space for this class. Don’t expect them to handle big IKEA trips, but grocery duty and modest airport runs should be a cinch. The Forte sedan’s 15-cubic-foot trunk falls in the middle of the range for this competitive set. With the back seats folded down, the Forte ends up at the back of the pack for carry-on-luggage capacity. The Forte5’s 56 cubic feet of space behind the front seats is large and its carry-on storage is second best of its rivals, but its 23 cubic feet of dedicated cargo space aft of the back seat is just average.
Infotainment and Connectivity
Kia’s UVO3 system is available in all trim levels of the Forte and offers plenty of desirable features. Kia’s attractive and feature-heavy UVO3 system is newly available in the base LX trim as part of the Popular package this year, bringing Apple CarPlay and Android Auto within reach of the Forte’s most budget-conscious buyers. Kia made Apple CarPlay and Android Auto available in the Forte for 2017. A four-speaker audio system with an AM/FM radio and CD player is the standard offering in the sedan, while up-level trims and all hatchbacks get two door-mounted tweeters, bringing the speaker count to six. The UVO system we tested returned a Fair response time in our tests, which is on par with the automotive rivals tested here.
Safety Features and Crash Test Ratings
Some older vehicles are still eligible for coverage under a manufacturer’s Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) program. For more information visit our guide to every manufacturer’s CPO program.