• All-new 3rd-generation Forte
  • Stinger-inspired styling
  • Slightly longer, wider and taller
  • Up to 41 mpg on the highway
  • Standard 8-inch touch screen
  • Apple CarPlay/Android Auto standard
  • Generous standard/available active safety features
  • Priced from $17,690, plus $895 delivery

 

In this era so dominated by crossovers SUVs, does the world really need a new compact sedan? Although Ford thinks that’s a good question, Kia remains bullish on the space, thus explaining why there’s an all-new Forte for 2019. Oh yeah, and one other fact: The Forte just happened to be Kia’s best-selling model in 2017.

Some specifics about the all-new 2019 Kia Forte: It’s a 3rd-generation car, and although its wheelbase hasn’t changed, the unibody chassis is new and significantly stronger, thanks to the use of more high-strength steel and additional adhesives. The new car is 3.2 inches longer than the 2nd-gen Forte, while also being about an inch wider and slightly taller. As a result, the back seat is a bit roomier and the trunk is slightly larger. The cowl -- that area where the windshield meets the hood -- has been moved rearward by about five inches, and a sleek new fastback roofline culminates in a much shorter rear decklid.

In short, the Kia Forte has grown up. It’s more refined and sportier, while boasting more tech. It’s also more fuel efficient. And in addition to having a generous amount of safety and infotainment technology, the new Forte has been made more attractive with some styling cues taken from the Kia Stinger sport sedan. The creased hood, along with the separated grille and headlights, are perhaps the most noticeable stylistic links to the Stinger. And from the rear, we see a hint of Alfa Romeo Giulia or Lexus IS, two associations that probably won’t bother Peter Schreyer and the design folks at Kia.

What’s under the hood?

As in 2018, the 2019 Kia Forte remains powered by a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine with 147 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque. Internally, though, the engine has changed significantly, with an eye toward better fuel economy. As in many hybrids, the Kia engine employs the Atkinson cycle, which results in better cylinder filling and thereby better fuel economy. Further aided by oil-cooled pistons, a high-voltage ignition coil, and a cooled exhaust-gas recirculation valve, the new 2.0-liter engine gives the new Forte excellent EPA fuel economy. A base Forte, fitted with the 6-speed manual transmission, delivers EPA fuel economy of 27 mpg/city, 37 mpg/highway, and 31 mpg/combined. If you order a Forte FE with the new continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), those numbers increase to 31/41/35, respectively. Over 40 mpg on the highway is impressive.

Further helping fuel economy is the Forte’s new continuously variable transmission: Designed and built in-house, it’s the first CVT in a production Kia. While most CVTs are good for about a 4 or 5 percent improvement in overall vehicle fuel economy, Kia’s new CVT is said to be 2 percent better than that, thanks to a new chain-type belt being used in place of the traditional push belt. The transmission works very well, with stepped “ratios” making it feel like a traditional automatic and revealing itself to be a CVT only in certain rare circumstances when engine rpm doesn’t quite correlate to vehicle speed. Of note, Kia’s new CVT is covered by a sound-deadening metal quilt that helps make this new Forte some five decibels quieter than the outgoing model.

Also: Get your first look at the new and redesigned cars of 2019

How does it drive?

While we at KBB aren’t going to call it a compact sport sedan, the 2019 Kia Forte does have a lithe, sporty feel. The ride quality provided by the suspension (MacPherson struts/front, torsion beam/rear) is firm but comfortable, and the car feels stable on the highway, yet willing to change directions when the road starts to curve. The electric-assist steering communicates well what the front tires are doing, and the CVT does a good job of mimicking a traditional 6-speed automatic. In fact, most people would be hard-pressed to identify the Forte’s transmission as a CVT, thanks in part to what Kia calls “adaptive style shift logic.” There are three electronic drive modes: Normal, Smart and Sport. In Smart, the new Forte switches between Normal and Sport, depending on how the car is being driven.

In short, the new Kia Forte is a nimble compact sedan, and its well-tuned steering, gas and brake inputs make for a pleasant driving experience.

Inside the new Forte

First impression: The 2019 Kia Forte interior reminds us of the Optima inside, which is to say it’s handsome and well-equipped. The minimalist design, with a wide horizontal theme and a handsomely contoured dash, was penned at Kia’s design studio in California. The most prominent feature is an 8-inch touch screen at the top of the center stack. It’s standard on all Fortes, as are dual-zone climate control and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto. Also worth noting: The center armrest is about an inch higher and an inch longer than before, which makes it much better for, well, actually resting your arm.

The extra 0.8 inches of width inside the Forte is much appreciated, as is the additional rear legroom. The front seats, which are all-day comfortable, go back plenty far for taller drivers, and their new frames are said to be stronger, yet two pounds lighter than before. Also, the hip point of the split-folding rear seat has been raised slightly to give Forte passengers a better view of the outside world. Small side windows aft of the rear doors help to improve the driver’s view to the rear three-quarter, such as when changing lanes. One of the most significant options available on the 2019 Kia Forte is a good one: a 320-watt Harman Kardon stereo with 8 speakers and Clari-Fi, which rebuilds audio signals lost during digital compression.

Safety tech

With the new Forte, Kia continues the industry trend of bringing more and more active safety technologies into the realm of more affordable entry-level cars. This makes good sense on a Forte, which may be a first-time car, for say, high school or college students. As such, the new Forte is equipped with forward collision avoidance as standard equipment, along with lane-keep assist, driver attention warning, forward-collision warning, and lane-departure warning. Also available on the new Forte are more advanced systems such as smart cruise control and blind-spot collision warning, which includes a rear cross-traffic collision warning. Clearly, advanced safety is no longer the exclusive realm of high-end models.

Pricing

The 2019 Kia Forte is already on sale. The base model FE, fitted with a 6-speed manual transmission and 15-inch steel wheels, starts at $17,690, not including the destination charge of $895. Equipped with the new CVT, the Forte FE starts at $18,590. Moving up in content, the Forte LXS, the volume model with 16-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, starts at $19,090, which is followed by the S ($20,190), the EX ($21,990), and the Launch Edition ($25,200), all of which are equipped with 17-inch alloy wheels. The Forte Launch Edition, painted Fire Orange, sports LED headlights, graphite-finished 17-inch wheels, a sunroof, voice-command navigation, wireless charging for smartphones, and the optional upgraded Harman Kardon stereo. For added safety, the Launch Edition also has standard smart cruise control, lane-change assist, and forward-collision assist with pedestrian detection.

2019 Car Reviews: First takes on new models

Final thoughts

More than 30 percent of Forte buyers are first-time car buyers, the highest percentage for any Kia model. And this new Kia Forte, built in Monterrey, Mexico, looks to build on the model’s success, aided by its improved refinement, appearance, sportiness, safety tech, and efficiency. By all accounts, the new Forte is now a much better alternative to stalwart subcompact sedans such as the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic. Yet at the same time, Kia’s new Forte also is an agile and surprisingly practical alternative to the compact SUVs so prevalent on the road today.

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