By Joe Tralongo, Contributing Editor - Updated Date: 8/31/2011
Kia has been working hard to bring its small cars up to the standards set by Honda, Nissan and Toyota. Unfortunately for the Big Three of Japan, the Korean car maker has already met or exceeded many of its own goals and shows now sign of resting. Need proof? Behold the 2011 Kia Forte. With styling that is far more daring than the new Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla or Nissan Sentra, the Forte certainly has plenty of youth appeal. And, with three variants (sedan, five-door and a stunning little coupe) the 2011 Kia Forte has all the bases covered. While not as advanced as the Ford Focus, the Kia Forte is also not as pricey, with a fully-loaded sedan topping out around $25,000. And, while the Forte's handling still has some ground to cover to play on the same field as the Mazda3 or Volkswagen Jetta, most owners will find the balance of ride, acceleration and handling more than sufficient. Improved build quality, better resale and elevated consumer perception have also helped Kia move into the mainstream, but in the case of the Forte, its low price, generous content level and impressive powertrain warranty are still the best reasons to buy this car.
If the 2011 Kia Forte's sharp looks, tech-savvy suite of electronic goodies and low sticker price aren't enough to seal the deal, its great fuel economy and 10-year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty certainly will.
Two six-speed transmission choices are new for 2011: a six-speed manual and a six-speed Sportmatic automatic with manual shift mode. A new navigation radio is offered on the mid-level EX and top-level SX trims, while a five-door model joins the Forte Sedan and Koup.
From a driver's standpoint, the 2011 Kia Forte feels right at home on long stretches of highway, but push it hard in the curves and the suspensions limitations quickly become apparent. While the Forte doesn't break free from the challenges put before it, it doesn't feel as buttoned down as a Mazda3 or VW Jetta. What's missing is that harmonious connection between the steering, the transmission and pedal feel, something Kia is getting better at, but still has a way to go. We'd also gladly sacrifice some of the SX trim's ample horsepower for a tad more low-end torque and better off-the-line acceleration. Still, under normal driving situations and even slightly sporty ones, the 2011 Kia Forte feels pretty darn stable. On the open road, the Forte is quiet and comfortable, with very little wind, engine or road noise making its way into the cabin. About the only real complaint we can find has to do with the larger-than-average blind spot that can make backing out of parking spaces a bit dicey. We suggest the optional navigation system with its rear backup camera as a remedy.
Comprehensive Audio System
Every 2011 Kia Forte boasts a flexible AM/FM/CD/MP3/Satellite audio system with USB and auxiliary ports. When matched with the upgraded speakers, it's among the best sound systems in the segment.
An option reserved for most high-end models, Kia makes Bluetooth connectivity standard on every 2011 Kia Forte.
It's no longer good enough to offer a flashy exterior without an equally appealing interior. After all, we do spend the majority of our time inside the car looking out. Kia seems to have gotten the message, abandoning its drab interiors and cheap plastics for a higher quality finish and a dash design peppered with funky shapes, tasteful silver-accented trim pieces and cool colored lighting. The 2011 Kia Forte's interior is huge for this class, offering almost as much interior volume as a Nissan Maxima. Such a large trunk is another surprise in the compact-car arena and one more reason the 2011 Kia Forte impresses us. We applaud the standard Bluetooth connectivity and iPod integration, but feel as though a bit more attention could be paid to the seats, which lack support for the lower back and thighs.
Comedian Billy Crystal once famously quipped "It is better to look good than to feel good." In the case of the 2011 Kia Forte, you get a little bit of both. With styling that truly stands out from the compact-car pack, the Forte, especially in coupe form, is a head turner. From its signature Kia grille/headlamp combination to the bold character line the extends from below the side mirror to flow rearward as if drawn by the wind, the 2011 Kia Forte really is a little piece of rolling automotive art. Up-level trims add even more distinction with such items as sport side mirrors with integrated turn signals, a rear spoiler and an available body kit. But, even the base LX trim shuns the poor-man stigma so commonly associated with entry-level models, providing color-keyed mirrors and door handles, and attractively styled wheel covers.
Kia is proud to boast that even the most basic 2011 Kia Forte includes Bluetooth phone connectivity, iPod integration, an AM/FM/CD/MP3/SIRIUSXM four-speaker stereo, color-keyed manual side mirrors, 60/40 split rear seat with folding armrest, a tilt steering wheel, and an impressive array of safety equipment including six airbags, and electronic traction and stability control. Unfortunately, if you want such simple pleasures as power windows, remote keyless entry or cruise control, you'll have to pony up a bit more cash and move up to the EX or SX trims. Here you'll find a six-speaker AM/FM/MP3/SIRIUSXM audio head unit, heated power side mirrors, and a tilt-telescopic steering wheel. Unique to the SX's standard equipment list are 17-inch alloy wheels, a sport suspension, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and sport-fabric seats. The Koup (yes, that's how Kia spells "coupe") models feature standard 16- or 17-inch alloy wheels.
Options for the 2011 Kia Forte are limited to the EX and SX trims and include a number of packages as well as some standalone features. The Forte EX offers a Premium Package that adds alloy wheels and a power sunroof, as well as a Technology Package that includes navigation with SIRIUS real-time traffic updates, a rear backup camera, automatic climate control, smart-key entry with push-button start, fog lights and automatic headlamps. The Forte SX offers the same package without the fog lights and auto-on headlamps, since both of these are already standard on the SX. Other options for the SX trim include leather seating surfaces, heated front seats, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror.
The front-wheel-drive Kia Forte offers a 156-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that can be matched with a six-speed manual or six-speed Sportmatic automatic transmission. On top-line, sport-tuned SX trims the standard engine is a 173-horsepower, 2.4-liter engine. The 2011 Forte's new automatic transmission has a manual shift mode and is standard on SX and EX Sedan and Five-door models, and available on the Koup. The mid-trim EX is also offered with a Fuel Economy Package that includes the five-speed automatic plus Motor Drive Power Steering, a load-managing "smart" alternator, low-rolling-resistance tires and unique aero enhancements to boost its EPA numbers to 27/37 mpg and deliver class-leading city/highway combined fuel economy of 30 miles per gallon.
2.0-liter in-line 4
156 horsepower @ 6200 rpm (SULEV: 154 @ 6200)
144 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4300 rpm (SULEV: 139 @ 4600)
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 26/36 (automatic), 25/34 (manual), 27/37 (Economy Package),
2.4-liter in-line 4 (Forte SX)
173 horsepower @ 6000 rpm (SULEV: 165 @ 6000)
168 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4000 rpm (SULEV: 161 @ 4000)
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 23/32 (automatic), 22/32 (manual)
The 2011 Kia Forte Sedan starts at a Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) around $15,500 and tops out at about $24,600 fully loaded. The five door ranges from about $17,600 to $24,000, while the Koup starts at around $17,700 and goes to about $24,500. We expect our New Car Blue Book Values to reflect real-world selling prices in line with those sticker prices. In a feature-based comparison, the 2011 Kia Forte offers more for the money than many cars in the segment, including the Honda Civic and Mazda3. Substandard resale values have traditionally erased Kia's up-front price advantages, but the Forte's resale outlook is significantly better than that of the Kia Spectra it replaced, making Kia's newest compact car its most compelling ever.