Pros-Racy look. Roomy. New generation model. Sharp handling. Supple ride. Upscale interior. Fuel-thrifty. Safety features.
Cons-Still not a prestigious nameplate. Seductive $3,210 Launch Edition option. Rather artificial steering feel. Very heavy hood.
Bottom Line-A likely bargain sports sedan.
The new third-generation 2019 Kia Forte might be considered a good substitute for costlier compact sports sedans, although Kia only hints that is so.
The new 2019 front-drive, four-door Forte isn't "all new," as Kia claims, because it has the same 2-liter, 147-horsepower four-cylinder as its predecessor. However, the engine works better because it's hooked to Kia's responsive new chain-driven CVT automatic transmission with a responsive console manual-shift feature. A six-speed manual transmission is offered only on the entry FE model, which goes for $17,690, but the FE can be had with the CVT for $18,590.
The CVT acts much like a conventional automatic, and the Forte EX scoots from 0-60 m.p.h. in about 8 seconds without excessive power because it isn't all that heavy at 2,762-2,903 pounds. Passing punch on freeway/highways is good.
A driver can switch between "Normal, "Sport" and "Smart drive modes via a console switch. Sport mode made the Forte EX react much like a sports sedan, although it also handled fast curves well in Normal mode. "Smart" switches between Normal and.Sport. Sport mode didn't hurt the supple ride much, although it's always on the firm side.
The quick steering is rather firm in all modes, but feels somewhat artificial. The anti-lock brakes were controlled by a pedal with a linear action. New subframe designs help improve lateral responsiveness, and reworked suspension geometry provides a quick, nimble behind-the-wheel feel.
Estimated fuel economy is 30 miles per gallon in the city and 40 on highways. Kia says 87-octane or "higher" octane gas can be used.
Other Forte models are the LXS, S and top-line $21,990 EX, which I tested with the $3,210 Launch Edition option. It includes a more upscale 320-watt sound system, navigation system, power sunroof, wireless phone charger, forward collision-avoidance, assist parking-distance warning, smart cruise control, rear spoiler and 17-inch graphic alloy wheels.
My test can also had the striking $295 Snow White Pearl paint. However, it might look pretty good in the $295 Black Pearl paint or $195 Current Red paint.
If you want to pass on the Launch Edition option, note that the EX is well-equipped. Standard are electronic stability control, vehicle stability management, dual-zone automatic climate control with rear vents, AM/FM/MP3 with 8-inch touchscreen, rear camera and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration.
The EX also has a power driver's seat, leatherette seating surfaces with heated/ventilated front seats, push-button start, blind-spot collision warning, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, lane-keeping assist and rear cross-traffic collision warning. Small, rear-quarter windows enhance rear visibility despite thick roof pillars.
The new Forte looks sleek with its long hood and short rear deck that lends it a fastback-like shape.There's a new signature "tiger nose" grille and aggressive black lower valance. But alas, there's only one non-chromed exhaust outlet. Chromed duals would add to the car's sporty look. The Forte is 3.2 inches longer at 182.7 inches than its predecessor, which allows more rear legroom and cargo space in the trunk. Cargo room is decent and becomes impressive when rear seat backs flip forward via easily reached trunk releases. More headroom results from hiking the overall height to 56.5 inches, and the Forte is also a bit wider at 70.9 inches.
Large door openings allow easy entry to the quiet, conveniently designed interior, which has large, supportive front seats. Leg room is 38.8 inches up front and 37.5 inches in the rear, so average-size adults fit comfortably in back. The rear area has a large, sturdy fold-down center armrest with twin cupholders. The upscale cockpit has lots of simulated stitching, soft touch materials, leather-grain dashboard plastic and a fair amount of storage areas. The backlit gauges can be read quickly, and the climate control system has manual controls for those who don't want to use the color touchscreen.
The Forte EX is very attractive and has a 100,000-mile warranty. But Kia still lacks the upscale nameplate of more-established rivals despite building pretty impressive cars. But then, are you buying a car or a nameplate?