By KBB.com Editors - Updated Date: 12/6/2011
While many critics complain that some Japanese car companies have been resting on their laurels a bit too long, the Korean manufacturer Kia has been working overtime to improve its product line. Reveal after reveal shows Kia now has the upper hand over Honda and Toyota, at least in the areas of innovation, styling and fuel economy. One such example is the 2012 Kia Forte compact car, a Civic-sized competitor with loads of cool features demanded by today's young drivers, a versatile model range including a 5-door hatchback and sporty coupe, and a price point designed to give the competition fits. Designed to lure customers from such stalwarts as the Honda Civic, Ford Focus and Chevy Cruze, the 2012 Kia Forte has its share of pros and cons when placed beside each of these cars. Still not as fun to drive as a Mazda3 or VW Golf, nor as upscale in feel as the Focus or Cruze, the 2012 Kia Forte compact sedan and coupe (Kia spells it "Koup") nevertheless offer a lot of value for the money, not to mention the standard 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty.You'll Like This Car If...
If you're looking for an affordable compact car with styling and features well beyond its humble $16,000 asking price, one of the three 2012 Kia Forte compact cars is bound to catch your eye. Those worried about long-term reliability should take comfort in Kia's continually improving reliability ratings, as well as its impressively long warranty.You May Not Like This Car If...
While some may find the 2012 Kia Forte's looks to be enticing (especially in coupe form), the Forte's overall performance and handling are not as solid or refined as that of the Mazda3, Ford Focus or VW Jetta.What's New for 2012
The 2012 Kia Forte sedan and hatchback see a 1-mpg improvement in city fuel economy and 2-mpg increase in their highway figures, boosting overall mileage to 26 city/36 highway when equipped with the 2.0-liter engine and 6-speed automatic transmission.Driving It Driving Impressions
On the open road, the 2012 Kia Forte is the master of its domain – so long as the road to that domain remains straight and level. Toss in a few curves, however, and the base car with its smaller engine and wheel/tire combo isn't as much fun to drive as the more powerful EX and SX trims. Even in its most aggressive SX suit, the Forte won't deliver the kind of seat-of-your-pants cornering found in the Ford Focus or Mazda3, and its manual transmission is nowhere near as refined. 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. To gain the impressive fuel-economy figures posted by both the LX and SX trims, Kia engineers have to give up a bit of low-end torque, something we would gladly switch around if given the chance. Don't get us wrong, the Forte is not horribly slow nor devoid of feedback to the driver, it's just that the sporty exterior had us hoping for a bit more performance. There is much to like here, and most drivers will appreciate the 2012 Kia Forte's quiet cabin that permits very little wind, engine or road noise to make its way in. About the only real complaint we can find with the Forte's cabin is the high rear deck that can make backing out of parking spaces a bit dicey. We suggest the optional navigation system with its rearview camera as a remedy.Favorite Features
Comprehensive Audio System
Every 2012 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 2012 Kia Forte. Are you listening, Honda?
Customers have been complaining for some time now about the boring interiors of compact cars, and Kia has obviously been listening. The 2012 Kia Forte sedan is given a visually appealing dash and seat setup, with lots of colorful instruments, a big LCD screen for the audio and plenty of soft-touch materials throughout the cabin. There is a lot going on inside the Kia Forte's cabin, with multiple folds in the dash and numerous controls on the attractive 3-spoke steering wheel making the Forte feel more like a little Audi than an entry-level compact car. 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. But, there is more than just interior decorating going on here, there's also a volume story to tell. Despite its small size, the 2012 Kia Forte sedan (and to a lesser degree, the coupe model) provides a surprisingly large cabin, with more interior volume than a Nissan Maxima. The big back seat offers lots of legroom, but headroom is cut short due to the low-slung roofline. On sedan models, the trunk area is also quite large and on the 5-door hatch, the rear seats can be folded flat to create a wagon-like cargo hold.Exterior
In the herd of the compact sedan/coupe/hatchback, the 2012 Kia Forte's styling falls somewhere mid-pack. Not as modern or aggressively styled as the Ford Focus or Mazda3, the Forte easily outshines the dated Toyota Corolla and Nissan Sentra, and even the new Honda Civic. Although the Forte Koup steals the show, the sedan and hatchback both share the signature Kia grille and headlight design as well as tout handsome wheel choices. Base model cars don't look the part, rejecting the unpainted bumpers, mirror caps and door handles of lesser cars and replacing them with properly painted parts for a more harmonious exterior statement. High-end Forte trims include such nice touches as sport side mirrors with integrated turn signals, and an available body kit and rear spoiler.Notable Standard Equipment
Kia is proud to boast that even the most basic 2012 Kia Forte sedan includes Bluetooth phone connectivity, iPod integration, an AM/FM/CD/MP3/SiriusXM 4-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 6-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. The LX trim comes standard with a 6-speed manual transmission, as do both the EX and EX Koup. All other Forte models and trims feature a 6-speed Sportronic automatic with manual-shift mode.Notable Optional Equipment
Options for the 2012 Kia Forte are limited to the EX and SX trims and include a number of packages as well as some stand-alone features. The 2012 Kia Forte EX sedan offers a Premium Package that adds alloy wheels and a power sunroof, as well as a Technology Package (sedan/hatchback/coupe) that includes navigation with Sirius real-time traffic updates, a rearview camera, automatic climate control, smart-key entry with push-button start, foglights and automatic headlights. The Forte SX offers the same package without the foglights and auto-on headlights, 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.Under the Hood
The front-wheel-drive Kia Forte offers a 156-horsepower, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that can be matched with a 6-speed manual or 6-speed Sportmatic automatic transmission. On top-line, sport-tuned SX trims the standard engine is a 173-horsepower, 2.4-liter engine. The 2012 Forte's new automatic transmission has a manual-shift mode and is standard on SX and EX sedan and hatchback models, and available on the coupe. The mid-trim EX is also offered with a Fuel Economy Package that includes the 6-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 mpg.
2.0-liter in-line 4
156 horsepower @ 6,200 rpm (SULEV: 154 @ 6200 rpm)
144 lb-ft of torque @ 4,300 rpm (SULEV: 139 @ 4600 rpm)
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 25/34 (manual), 26/36 (automatic), 27/37 (Economy Package), 24/33 (manual, coupe), 25/33 (automatic, coupe)
2.4-liter in-line 4 (Forte SX)
173 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm (SULEV: 165 @ 6000 rpm)
168 lb-ft of torque @ 4,000 rpm (SULEV: 161 @ 4000 rpm)
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 23/32, 22/32 (manual, Koup), 23/31 (automatic, Koup)
The 2012 Kia Forte sedan starts at a Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) around $16,000 and tops out at about $25,000 fully loaded. The 5-door model ranges from just under $19,000 to $24,500, while the Koup starts at around $18,000 and goes to about $24,000. We expect our Fair Purchase Price to reflect real-world selling prices in line with those sticker prices. In a feature-based comparison, the 2012 Kia Forte sedan 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.