Rolling into the limelight at this week's Chicago Auto Show, the new 2010 Kia Forte is set to arrive at dealerships here in early summer. A de facto replacement for Kia's aging Spectra, this front-drive four-door offers decidedly more style and substance plus significantly enhanced content in all of its three distinct variations: entry-level LX, volume-leader EX and sporty SX trim.

The LX/EX versions are fitted with a 2.0-liter twin-cam four that uses Continuously Variable Valve Timing (CVVT) to help it turn out a solid 156 horsepower and 144 lb.-ft. of torque. It can be paired with either a standard five-speed manual or optional four-speed automatic transmission. Topping the range, the SX gets a bigger 2.4-liter CVVT four that makes 173 horses and can be matched with either a six-speed manual or a five-speed automatic that has a Sportmatic gate. But econo fans needn't feel left out, as Kia also will offer an optional Fuel Economy Package on Fortes with the 2.0-liter engine. This mileage-making extra brings the five-speed automatic, Motor Drive Power Steering, low-rolling resistance tires and special aero enhancements that Kia says will net the Forte a class-leading combined EPA mark of 36 mpg.

Beneath its more aggressively contoured sheetmetal, the Forte has 96.8 cubic feet of passenger space and 14.7 cubic feet of cargo capacity. The standards roster on all three trim levels includes anti-lock brakes, stability/traction control and front /front-side/side-curtain airbags and a four-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3 sound system with SIRIUS Satellite Radio, Bluetooth and AUX/USB ports. However, the EX and SX add comfort/convenience items like power windows/locks, cruise control, remote keyless entry, air conditioning and steering-wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls plus options that include leather upholstery and a power moonroof. The SX also gets unique interior trim in addition to its more potent powertrain, an upgraded sport suspension and 17-inch wheel/tire package.

A Kia spokesman indicated that pricing on the new Forte will start "in the mid-teens." It also seems likely that we'll see a slick Forte5 wagon variant turn up within the next year or two.

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