More than a Budget Econobox
While buyers are practically stumbling over each other as they rush to buy crossover SUVs, don’t forget the unassuming four-door sedan. They cost less than crossovers; they’re more fuel efficient; and they cost less to maintain and insure.
Take the 2017 Kia Forte four-door sedan. The base LX with manual transmission starts at $17,495, including destination charges, or $18,495 with a six-speed automatic transmission. This is followed by the new S trim with a sticker price of $20,195 and top EX at $22,195, both with automatic shifters.
As for fuel economy, LX and S models have an EPA rating of 32 mpg combined with the automatic transmission; while the EX gets 28 mpg. That’s pretty dang good for the compact car segment, and it’s equal to or better than that of competitors such as the Ford Focus (up to 31 mpg combined) and Mazda3 (up to 32 mpg combined).
The 2017 Kia Forte is more than just a budget econobox. Like other Kia models, it offers plenty of features that buyers want at a pocket-pleasing price plus an industry-leading warranty. And, should you prefer a different body style, there’s also a two-door Forte Koup as well as a five-door Forte hatchback. However, both of those remain carryover models.
Updates For 2017
It’s not easy to design a good-looking compact car, but the 2107 Forte’s sheetmetal has an assertive charm that turns heads. A mild exterior update gives Kia’s tiger-nose grille an update that has been extended to blend with newly designed headlights, mimicking the larger Optima. Taillights have also been redesigned and have optional LEDs. This works well with the Forte’s already gracefully arced elongated roofline and sculpted side sheetmetal.
Iniside, the 2017 Kia Forte has a look and feel that’s tastefully simple, yet just a bit upscale. Upgraded with higher-grade soft touch plastics, the large hooded analog gauges have the very light touch of metallic trim that gives a hint of sports-sedan style. A 4.2-inch TFT (think-film transistor) display between the tach and speedometer reports trip mileage while a seven-inch touchscreen centered in the dash conveys menu and infotainment functions. The radio has actual knobs for volume and tuning, while round climate controls feel sturdy.
A high point is storage space. There’s a useful bin hiding under a sliding screen in front of the shift lever, and a fair-sized glovebox and center console bin. There’s even a little tray perfectly sized to hold the key fob.
The Forte offers decent room for four adults front and rear, though headroom in the rear will be tight for taller adults—a result of the rakish roofline that reduces aerodynamic drag. For young families, two rear-facing infant or child-safety seats easily fit in the back seat and tether anchors are easy to access.
Forte’s trunk provides an impressive 14.9 cubic feet of capacity and the trunk lid is cut wide for easy loading. Rear seats fold down, nearly flat, when needed.
A Value-Packed Vehicle
The 2017 Kia Forte is much more than a compact car with an upscale look and feel. It continues Kia’s reputation for value-packed vehicles, offering considerable features for the money. There are relatively few stand-alone options, simplifying ordering, but a number of packages wrap together sets of features that add convenience and luxury.
Standard features on the LX sedan include: heated mirrors, air-conditioning, full power accessories, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a height-adjustable driver seat, Bluetooth connectivity and a four-speaker sound system with a CD player, satellite radio, USB connectivity and an auxiliary audio jack. The optional Popular package adds cruise control, upgraded interior upholstery and trim, a rearview camera, a 4.3-inch touchscreen and bumps to six speakers.
Moving up the model lineup, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included in an option package whose content includes a sunroof, heated and cooled front power seats and navigation system. Our topmost EX test car had the optional Premium plus package that packed in some new active-safety features, including autonomous emergency braking, rear cross-traffic alert, front-collision warning, lane change assist, and dynamic bending lights. All that was missing was adaptive cruise control, which is not yet available on Forte.
New Powerplant For 2017
It’s rare that a car replaces its primary powerplant in the middle of its production cycle, but the biggest news for the 2017 Kia Forte is a new 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. Replacing the previous 1.8-liter four is a new slightly larger 2.0-liter rated at 147 horsepower and 132 pounds-feet of torque. Standard on the LX and S models, it operates on the Atkinson cycle for maximum fuel economy. Paired with the revised six-speed automatic transmission, the new engine increases combined fuel economy to 32 mpg—up one from 31 mpg—but the city rating gets a big boost from 26 mpg to 29 mpg.
EX models come with direct-injected 164 horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder, rated at 151 pounds-feet of torque. Paired with the automatic, it returns an EPA-estimated 28 city/33 highway/25 combined.
Neither engine is among the quickest or most powerful for compact sedans, but are more than competent when merging into freeway traffic or passing on two lane highways.
Behind The 2017 Forte Steering Wheel
Stepping into our 2017 Kia Forte EX was an instant reminder that Kia is no longer at the bottom of the list when it comes to small cars. The look and feel of materials and their tight construction is on par with all rivals, where perhaps the Volkswagen Jetta has a slight edge. With its tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and power-adjustable driver’s seat, I quickly found a comfortable driving position for my five-foot, 11-inch body height. As I fiddled with controls to suit me, everything was easily at hand and had the feel of good quality.
Like all Forte models, our EX had the standard Drive Mode Select, which changes the way the car shifts, accelerates, and performs dependent on selection. Normal mode is self-explanatory, Eco mode tunes the car to cut back on fuel usage, while sport mode allows the car to have quicker shifting and longer periods between shifts at the expense of fuel economy. I use Eco about 85 percent of the time.
The Forte sedan always provided the power that was needed, although younger drivers will likely lean toward the zippier Mazda 3 or Ford Focus. There was enough pep underfoot for the car to capably tackle passing maneuvers and easily get up to speed with fast-moving traffic on the freeway, although the engine was heard strongly during hard acceleration.
The suspension was quite good at compensating for road irregularities, and only major potholes shook its composure. Reliable road stability, good visibility, a docile steering system and a tight turning radius contributed to the car’s driveability. On curvy roads, body roll was commendably controlled even though the suspension of front struts and a rear torsion beam is nothing special. Braking was strong, and disc brakes all around are not common on compact cars.
I would have preferred the more fuel frugal base engine, but the more powerful 2.0-liter in our EX still delivered 30.1 mpg after clocking 271 miles of mixed city and highway driving, two mpg better than the EPA estimate. Credit the Eco mode?
In The Market Place
Our 2017 Kia Forte EX was equipped with every option available and had a sticker price of $28,835, but many of the features aren’t offered by rivals, of which there are many.
If you are shopping for a compact four-door sedan, the leading sellers Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla will come to mind. While both have excellent resale value, the Forte offers more bang for the buck. Ford’s Focus and the Mazda3 have sharper handling, but fall behind in rear seat room. Chevrolet’s Cruze, the Hyundai Elantra and the Nissan Sentra also compete in the compact class, however lack features offered by the Forte. Then there’s the VW Jetta, the best overall handling and performance of the bunch, but with a price that puts it out of reach for some.
For many shoppers the deal will be closed with one of the two best warranties available—the other is offered by corporate cousin Hyundai. The 2017 Kia Forte warranty is a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty (nearly twice as long as that of most competitors); a five-year/60,000-mile basic warranty (others typically only cover three years); five-year/100,000-mile corrosion warranty; and a five-year/60,000-mile roadside assistance plan (longer than most non-luxury cars).
Taking the warranty into consideration along with the 2017 Kia Forte’s value proposition is good reason give it a good test drive and compare it to other compact cars on your shopping list.
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Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.
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