Based on its looks, Kia is hoping you’ll see the 2021 Forte and think of the brand’s excellent Stinger sports sedan, but this compact car is more value-focused than performance-oriented. Its starting price is thousands less than segment leaders such as the Honda Civic, the Mazda 3, and the Toyota Corolla, but the Kia delivers similar features, excellent fuel economy, and plenty of style. Buyers will get a fairly anemic 147-hp four-cylinder in most trims but a 201-hp turbocharged four is included in the speedier GT model. That version’s driving dynamics live up to its sporty looks, but the rest of the lineup doesn’t offer much in the way of fun. It does, however, deliver a calm, easy ride and lends itself well to highway cruising duties.
What’s New for 2021?
The Kia Forte rolls into 2021 with nary a tweak to its styling, powertrains, or features.
Pricing and Which One to Buy
We’d select the more powerful and sportier GT model. Not only does the GT come with a 201-hp turbocharged four-cylinder, which provides much quicker acceleration, it also ditches the Forte’s standard continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) for either a seven-speed dual clutch or a six-speed manual. The GT also comes nearly loaded with all manner of luxury and convenience items, including 18-inch wheels, sport seats, ambient interior lighting, and a wireless smartphone charging pad.
Engine, Transmission, and Performance
The Forte offers two different engine options: a 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 147 horsepower and a turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder with 201 horsepower. The 2.0-liter felt sluggish when we tested it, and the continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) didn’t help. The non-turbocharged engine required 8.2 seconds to motivate the Forte from zero to 60 mph at our test track—notably slower than the Mazda 3, which got there in 7.0 seconds. The optional 201-hp turbocharged engine, however, puts the Forte GT in the same league as the Volkswagen Golf GTI and Honda Civic Si—in theory, at least. At our test track, a manual transmission-equipped GT test car managed a 6.7-second run to 60 mph, slightly off the pace of those two memorable performers. The Forte offers a comfortable and stable ride, but its handling isn’t as exciting as its Stinger-inspired exterior styling would suggest, even in the sportier GT model. In fact, when hustling the Forte in a recent comparison test against the Civic Si and the Volkswagen Jetta GLI, we found ourselves working harder in the Forte to keep up with the rest of the pack.
Fuel Economy and Real-World MPG
The Forte, specifically those equipped with the less powerful engine and automatic transmission, will keep drivers cruising past gas stations. With a highway efficiency of 40 mpg and a combined fuel economy of 33 mpg, this is where the Forte excels. If you opt for the GT with the dual-clutch transmission, the combined fuel economy drops to 30 mpg. In our 200-mile highway fuel-economy test, the 2019 Forte registered 41 mpg, which is a little better than the EPA rating.
Interior, Comfort, and Cargo
The interior of this car impressed us with its minimalist design and high-quality and upscale materials. The back seat is spacious enough for two adults to be comfortable, and long road trips in the Forte can be made without complaint. The base model offers all the basic amenities, but things get more pleasant as you work up through the various models. Dual-zone automatic climate control is optional, for example, as are heated and ventilated front seats. With all the seats up, the Forte fit seven carry-on bags, one more than both of its key rivals, the Toyota Corolla and the Honda Civic.
Infotainment and Connectivity
For the price point, the 2021 Forte is a steal when looking at the technology available, even down to the base model. Bluetooth, Android Auto, and Apple CarPlay all come standard on all trim levels. A wireless smartphone-charging pad is optional on the GT-Line, EX, and GT. An 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system is standard. The EX and GT models get SiriusXM satellite radio as standard, but this feature is optional on the GT-Line and unavailable on lower trims.
Safety and Driver-Assistance Features
The Forte received a four-star rating out of five from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) named it a Top Safety Pick+ for 2019. Kia offers a handful of standard and optional driver-assistance features as well. Key safety features include:
- Standard forward-collision warning with automated emergency braking
- Standard lane-departure warning with lane-keeping assist
- Available adaptive cruise control
Warranty and Maintenance Coverage
Kia’s powertrain warranty sets it apart from most other manufacturers, with most offering just 5-year/60,000-mile warranties. The Forte and the Elantra—from its corporate sibling, Hyundai—are the only compact cars that offer this much standard coverage.
- Limited warranty covers 5 years or 60,000 miles
- Powertrain warranty covers 10 years or 100,000 miles
- No complimentary scheduled maintenance
More Features and Specs