One of the original advantages of buying a car like a Kia is that you could get a fully loaded model for what you'd pay for a more sparsely equipped competitor. Well, the upstart Korean automaker must have arrived because in our 6-car compact-sedan comparison, the 2015 Kia Forte EX had the highest sticker price, $26,400, over $800 more than its next closest competitor, the 2014 Ford Focus.
Granted, you get a lot for the money on the Kia, including a 6-speed automatic transmission, dual-zone climate control, navigation, a power sunroof, leather seating, a rearview camera, all sorts of connectivity and entertainment options, a heated/ventilated driver's seat with power adjustment, heated front and rear seats, power-folding mirrors, sparkling xenon headlights, and even a heated steering wheel. Two packages, the $2,700 Premium option and the $2,400 EX Technology pack, account for most of the boost over our EX model's base sticker of $19,390.
This fully loaded Forte EX may be pricey against the competition, but it delivers value for the level of content, especially when you factor in Kia's 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty and 5-year/60,000-mile basic limited warranty. Overall, the Kia is average in looks (its roofline is remarkably similar to that of the Civic and Focus), but the features, materials and quality of the interior are a cut above.
Behind the wheel, the Forte sedan is a good highway cruiser thanks to its entertainment options, excellent voice recognition, ease in navigation programming and smooth-shifting 6-speed automatic transmission. However, the 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that's standard in the EX trim feels taxed when pushed, the fuel economy doesn't crack 30 mpg combined, and the steering, though boosted, feels heavy rather than nicely weighted. Interior comfort is acceptable, though the rear seat is tight. The big payoff is trunk capacity, where the Forte's 14.9 cubic feet of space, impressive depth, and lack of wheelwell intrusion present the best overall trunk design of the group. Forte buyers desiring higher fuel economy and a lower price can opt for the LX model, which uses a more-efficient 1.8-liter engine that nets up to 39 mpg on the highway and 31 mpg combined. The Forte is also offered as a sporty 2-door coupe or 5-door hatchback with extra cargo capacity.
Here's how the 2015 Forte fared against the competition:
Kia Forte vs. Ford Focus
When compared to its closest competitor based on price, the 2015 Kia Forte EX has a much more polished interior and a long list of extras. It may not have the flash of the Focus, which has chiseled good looks and a sporty flair thanks to the black rear spoiler and aluminum-alloy wheels. However, on closer inspection, the Ford -- surprisingly, given the sticker price -- lacks a backup camera, touch-screen navigation, dual-zone climate control, a 60/40-split folding rear seat, and the longer warranty found on the Kia.
Kia Forte vs. Honda Civic
Although the Kia Forte won't be able to knock off the Civic as the segment's perennial value leader, it does offer a fresher design and high-quality interior, as well as a dash layout much more conventional in execution than the multi-tier look in the Honda. Still, the Civic offers better fuel economy and Forte-matching features like automatic climate control, a sunroof and a 7-inch center display as well as the segment-exclusive LaneWatch right-side review camera for thousands less.
Kia Forte vs. Mazda Mazda3
The Kia shares its distinctive grille with all the other vehicles in the line, ranging from the Soul up through the luxury flagship K900. The Mazda3 also has a handsome corporate face along with flowing lines that are sexier than the soft curves found on the Kia. The Mazda3 also has the advantage of being more of a driver's car thanks to its taut suspension and crisp steering, while also offering significantly better fuel economy of up to 41 mpg highway and 34 mpg combined.
Kia Forte vs. Nissan Sentra
With its leather interior, large center touch screen and the UVO telematics that make phone-sync, navigation and radio choices a breeze, the Kia Forte comes across as offering the kinds of features you'd see on a next-class-higher vehicle. However, the Sentra, which is like a mini-Altima, has an interior just as handsome even with the less-expensive cloth upholstery and a clear advantage in both front-seat comfort and rear-seat legroom. As the Kia has the most horsepower in this group (166-173 depending on emissions equipment) and the Nissan has the least with 130, it's not surprising the Forte feels markedly fleeter than the Sentra.
Kia Forte vs. Toyota Corolla
Though it's a relative newcomer, the Kia Forte comes off as more refined than the all-new-for-2014 Toyota Corolla. The higher sticker price and extra equipment notwithstanding, the Kia's sound insulation seemed superior to the Corolla's, which allowed more engine, road and wind noise into the cabin. The Corolla's looks are more distinctive than those of the Forte, as well as the interior, though some may find the straight-up dash and high cowl inside the Toyota off-putting.
How much should you pay for a new Kia Forte? How does its 5-Year Cost to Own stack up? If you're interested in exploring Kia's compact sedan further, check out our Kia Forte Editors' Page.
If you're still weighing your options, check out the other five cars included in our 2014 Compact Sedan Comparison Test.