Even if you remember the Kia Spectra compact sedan, you might be surprised to learn that it's still on sale today. In fact, bargain shoppers, the 2009 Kia Spectra is being offered with some pretty big "move 'em out" discounts as Kia clears the lots for its replacement, the 2010 Kia Forte. We just spent a day behind the wheel of Kia's latest answer to icons like the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, and now our short list of compacts worth considering is one car longer.

In advance of our full review, here are a handful of category-relative notes from our time in two range-topping Forte SX models, both of which were optioned-up to just shy of $20,000 (the Forte starts at $14,390): it looks good; it looks good inside, too; it's smooth and quiet on the highway; it sounds and feels solid and tight; the seats are okay; the cabin is adequately roomy; the trunk is deep (and bigger than that of a BMW 7 Series); it's quick when you push it and corners confidently, but it's not as fun to drive as competitors like the Mazda3 or VW Jetta; we think the five-speed automatic transmission is a better fit for the car than the six-speed manual; and the up-level audio system sounds good.

Kia is quick to point out that even the cheapest 2010 Kia Forte includes Bluetooth phone connectivity, iPod integration and an impressive suite of safety equipment including electronic stability control. Be prepared to pay extra, though, for power windows, power locks and air conditioning. The 2010 Kia Forte is available with leather seating, but not a navigation system.

If it had been available, might the Kia Forte have topped the winning 2009 Honda Civic in our most recent compact sedan comparison test? Not likely. But with the introduction of the 2010 Forte, Kia has moved another chess piece across the threshold of style and perceived quality that typically separates a category's successful veterans from its revolving name-changers.

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