If I told you I just test-drove a car loaded with leather-trimmed interior, heated front and rear seats, a ventilated driver's seat, heated steering wheel, navigation system and a turbocharged engine, you'd probably think it had a luxury badge. You'd likely be surprised to learn it's actually a compact economy car, and perhaps downright shocked to hear it's a Kia.
But that's indeed the case here. Yes, I just spent a weekend with a 2014 Kia Forte5 SX, the top-line version of Kia's 5-door hatchback that's based on the Forte sedan. Like the Forte sedan, the Forte5 seats five passengers, but instead of a trunk it has an enlarged rear hatch that enables it to hold over 23 cubic feet of cargo, vs. the sub-15 cubic feet of the sedan. That extra space and the ability to fold the seats nearly flat add flexibility, whether it's hauling a few weeks' worth of groceries or a mountain bike.
From the outside, the all-new Kia Forte5 isn't all that surprising. Yes, it looks Euro-sharp, but we've come to expect that design emphasis from Kia these days. It isn't until you step inside and press the start button that the Forte5 SX turns up the wow factor. That was my first impression with this test vehicle when I surveyed all the features cited above, plus others I didn't mention such as a driver's seat that automatically moves forward and back to ease entry and exit, or mirrors that fold to the sides when the car is parked and locked.
It wasn't long ago that to obtain amenities like these you'd have to spend beaucoup bucks. Yet here they are in an economy car, and a Kia no less. The price for this loaded-to-the-gills Forte5? Just under $27,000. That's still a premium over a base Forte (sedan models start at $16,700, while a base Forte5 hatchback runs $20,500), but it feels like a deal considering the rich feature list. If there's one complaint in the extras department, it's that to nab the $1,800 Technology Package that includes the built-in navigation system, high-intensity headlights and dual-zone climate control, you are also required to check the $2,200 box on the Premium Package that adds the climate-controlled and 10-way power driver's seat, power sunroof, and leather upholstery.
Of course, features are one thing and road manners are another. Thankfully the latest Forte5 is more than just good looks and great content. This little hatchback is a fine driver, too. In SX trim it comes with a 1.6-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that boasts 201 horsepower. The engine is new to the Forte5, and it makes an impressive amount of power for a compact car. Those couple-hundred horses get the Forte5 up to speed surprisingly quick. The herd under the hood that powers the front wheels is also helpful when passing. The Forte5 SX has plenty of oomph for getting around slower vehicles, and when connected to Kia's 6-speed automatic transmission it readily kicks down a gear or two.
For buyers who don't need to go full tilt with the SX trim, even the base EX version of the 2014 Forte5 offers good power -- 173 horses from a naturally aspirated (not turbocharged) 2.0-liter 4-cylinder.
If I could make just two improvements to the Kia Forte5 SX, they would have to do with its suspension and fuel economy. The first isn't such a surprise: Just about every Kia I've driven has felt a little too stiff in general, and particularly so when going over rough pavement. Regarding the latter, I wish this little engine were more efficient. It is EPA-rated at 21 city/29 highway, with its combined rating coming in at 24 mpg. In my days with the 5-door hatchback, these numbers seemed on the mark. For Kia buyers seeking more efficiency, the 2.0-liter engine in the Forte5 EX model has figures of 24 city/34 highway and 28 combined, and it doesn't give up lots of horsepower in the process. Those nits aside, the 2014 Kia Forte5 is an enticing option for your people- and cargo-carrying needs. It's a hatchback that, even when empty, still packs a lot.
If you want to dive deeper, read our full review of the 2014 Kia Forte.
More Quick Takes...
Popular at KBB.com