By non-CL request, a Review of the 2010 Kia Forte.
In a Nutshell: Another ubiquitous, competent, and fairly well-built Kia commuter car.
It's not simple trying to figure out or keep track of Kia's marketing these days, especially with their smaller, less-expensive products. I myself find it somewhat confusing, even with 40+ years of experience following new cars and the new car market. The company seems to be constantly introducing new vehicles, re-naming or re-engineering existing ones, shifting present models to new platforms, and coming up with unusual and puzzling vehicle names. Case in point.....the new compact Forte series, which replaces the former compact Spectra/Shuma and Spectra5, which itself replaced the compact Sephia, whose basic platform was shared with several small Ford and Mazda products. Other small, subcompacts Kia once produced (or were built by Kia) were also shared with Ford and Mazda, as in the Ford Festiva (don't confuse the Festiva with the Ford Fiesta....they are two diffrent products) and Mazda 121. Confused yet?......there's more. The mid-sized Kia Optima was once done on the Hyundai's popular Sonata platform....now, it is done on Hyundai's smaller (and also popular) Elantra platform; Hyundai, of course, being Kia's owner. The subcompact Kia Rio, which replaced older subcompact Kia products not sold in the American market, is sold in the American market alongside its twin, the Hyundai Accent (I recommend both cars, among others, for people who want or need a new car, but have very little to spend and want quality and low operating costs). Still confused?...there's more. The Rondo, a small mini-mini-van with conventional doors, fits in between the regular Sedona minivan (a Hyundai Entourage twin) and the old Spectra5 5-door hatchback. The new subcompact Soul wagon/hatchback was introduced last year to compete with Scion's xB/xD and Nissan's new Cube, and the Kia Borrego as a truck-based, body-on-frame, mid-size SUV that is totally different from its Hyundai car-based, unibody counterpart, the Veracruz. Oops.....there's also two Kia car-based SUVs as well.....the small Sportage (a Hyundai Tucson twin) and the mid-sized Sorento (a Hyundai Santa Fe twin). Yes, enough of this......it's time for another cup of Starbucks, preferably the nice, tasty Christmas Blend that they only sell once a year....my brother always buys me a bag of it for Christmas.
Which, of course, takes us to the reason I'm sitting here typing on a computer......the Kia Forte review. This, technically, is a non-CL review request, having come from a member of my church congregation (and somewhat of a car buff like me) who is quite interested in the Forte, and is considering a possible purchase. As often is the case with non-CL requests, I'll share my findings and write-up with you as well, though the Forte is probably not the kind of car that will generate a huge amount of interest among CL's upmarket sport-sedan jocks.
As I mentioned above, the compact Forte replaces the former compact Spectra sedan and Spectra5 hatchback series. It fits into Kia's new lineup, in the regular passenger-car-series, one notch up from the sub-compact Rio in both size and price, and, technically, just below the Optima sedan. The Forte is offered in two body styles.....a four-door sedan and a 2-door Forte Koup (Kia-speak for Coupe). No Forte wagons/hatchbacks are offered....for that function in a small platform, you now have to walk around the showroom and check out the Forte's siblings.....Rio5, Sportage, Rondo, and Soul. Forte sedans come in three trim levels.....LX, EX, and SX. Koups come only in EX and SX...so why no LX? However, all trim levels of either sedan or Koup can be had with either manual or automatic transmission, which is unusual.....and will probably help the car's sales appeal. LX and EX models come with a 156 HP, 2.0L four and choice of 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic; SX models have a 173 HP four and a choice of 6-speed manual or 5-speed automatic (the Kia USA website, BTW, is, IMO, excellent....check out how well they set it up with the specs, features, and build-your-own features).
There was a time, not too long ago, when Hyundai and Kia vehicles were little more than rolling junk, despite the fact that Kia assembled, in its own plants, some fairly reliable cars designed by and platform-shared with other manufacturers. Jay Leno, a noted car-buff and collector, used to do butt-jokes and barbs about them on his late-night show. As I have pointed out in other Hyundai and Kia reviews, those days are gone.......the increase in quality and fit/finish in their products in just a few years, from the late 90's till around 2005 or so (and the L-O-N-G warranty) was simply astounding. This has also been verified and well-documented by Consumer Reports, a well-respected organization. The lengthy, well-known 10/100 drivetrain warranty, however, only covers Hyundai/Kia sourced drivetrain parts, with the rest of the drivertain (and the car itself) at 5/60. And that warranty, upon resale, unlike that of some other manufacturers, can only be transferred to members of your immediate family...meaning that mom, dad, sis, or bro can get it, but not cousins, grandparents, aunts/uncles, etc..... Most of you know that I am a pretty staunch Subaru fan (for a number of reasons), but I would not hesitate to spend my own money for almost any product that Hyundai or Kia builds nowadays. They now have a build quality that they could only dream about 10-15 years ago, though some of the base Kia models like the Rio and Soul are admittedly rather crude in interior materials, noise level and sound insulation. Still, even those base models are now well-made, and show good levels of assembly quality. But, along with that new quality at Hyundai and Kia, has come some price increases as well......the better materials in their vehicles do cost a little more to produce. So, the days of the $9000-10,000 super-bargains in the Hyundai/Kia line are gone......but they still, IMO, represent good value, with prices that, while a little higher now, are still somewhat below that of a number of their competitors. That's another thing I like about this car.....the pricing structure. All of the trim/equipment levels are separated by a flat...and simple....$1000, not counting the freight charge.
As per the request, for the review, I selected a mid-level Forte EX sedan with automatic, in Spicy-Red paint, with stone-gray cloth trim inside and no options, as most people who look at this class of car are more interested in keeping the price down than with expensive options. The $17,490 list price includes standard ABS and traction/stability control, and also some nice little touches...but also some omissions. Details coming up.
Model Reviewed: 2010 Forte LX Sedan Automatic
Base Price: $16,795
List Price as Reviewed: $17,490
Drivetrain: FWD, transversely-mounted, 2.0L, DOHC, CVVT in-line-4, 156 HP @ 6200 RPM, Torque 144 Ft-lbs. @ 4300 RPM, 4-speed automatic transmission with manual Sport-shift.
EPA Mileage Rating: 25 City, 34 Highway
Exterior Color: Spicy Red
Interior: Stone (light gray) cloth
Superb warranty (but not transferable)
Excellent web site and build-your own feature.
Simple pricing structure.
Choice of manual or automatic transmission on all versions.
Standard ABS/traction/stability control.
Reasonably good ride-handling combination for the class.
Fairly quick steering response.
Slick-feeling shift lever.
Well-done brake pedal.
Fairly good underhood layout.
Good paint job.
Some nice paint colors....but some are model-restricted.
Standard mirror-mounted turn-signal-indicators unusual in this class.
Good exterior hardware.
Mostly good interior hardware and fit/finish.
Nice fabric headliner.
Nice fabric door-panel-inserts.
OK stereo sound quality for an economy car.
Nice-feeling cloth upholstery.
Nice pull-down rear center armrest/cupholders.
Fairly good front/rear headroom/legroom for a small sedan.
Clear, easy-to-read gauges.
Superb, simple, easy-to-use buttons/*****.
OK trunk-lining for the price.
Handy trunk-mounted remote-seat release ***** unusual in this class.
Standard Bluetooth phone and satellite radio also unusual in this price class..
Warranty transferable, on resale, only to immediate family members.
No base-model (LX) Koup.
Annoying zig-zag transmission shifter.
Fairly noisy engine/exhaust.
Significant road/tire noise.
Somewhat sluggish acceleration except in first gear.
OK ride comfort but firmer than the Kia Spectra it replaces.
4-speed automatic lacks some flexibility.
Rather thin-feeling hood and body sheet metal.
No underhood insulation pad.
Hood prop-rod instead of struts.
No body-side mouldings for parking-lot protection.
Light, flimsy, silver-plastic bolt-on wheel covers.
Rather plain-looking exterior lacks nice trim.
Hard, unpleasant-feeling sun visors...but they have nice built-in mirrors and extenders.
Interior trim mostly textured hard-plastics.
Rather flat, firm, unsupportive seats.
Cheap-looking black-plastic trim on steering wheel and shifter case.
Quirky power-mirror adjustments.
Paint colors restricted too much by trim versions.
Brightest colors restricted to SX models.
Smallish sedan/ even smaller coupe trunk lids limit usefulness.....with no hatchback available.
Walking up to the new Forte, it is a rather ordinary-looking compact, without much, if anything, to really make it stand out in the looks department. That's not to say that it is an ugly car, though, by any means. It has the usual humpback-whale-shaped roofline, but it is not too rakish. It has rather muted and conservative, though IMO good-looking, front and rear ends, with somewhat of a Honda Civic look up front. The body itself, except for a small amount of chrome around the grille, notably lacks trim, and the flat-black rubber seals around the windows add a rather cheap look. So do the flimsy-feeling, silver-plastic, bolt-on wheel covers, though few cars at this price come with alloy wheels. There are no body-side mouldings to help ward off parking-lot dings, though that is becomming more and more common throughout the auto industry. The hood and body-sheet metal are not the most solid-feeling I've seen, but the doors feel reasonably solid. On the plus side, the paint job, while not as smooth or glossy as Toyota/Lexus, Audi, or Honda/Acura, is reasonably well-done, with little orange-peel. The side mirrors have a nice touch...built-in turn-signal indicators, which are unusual in this price class (and being eliminated on some more expensive vehicles). I had mixed feelings about the paint colors offered. Besides the usual Murphy's-Funeral-Home colors, there are some nice ones like Bright Copper, Racing Red, and Bright Blue...but they are restricted too much, IMO, by model and trim (see the web site for details). My test car was a fairly nice shade called Spicy Red.....not as bright as the Koup's Racing Red, but more or
less like Ketchup.
Adjusting the power-side mirrors with the door-panel switch was a little quirky. The ring-control and flip-tab itself worked smoothly enough, but the electric motors and linkages seemed odd...side-to-side adjustments were fine, but they would tilt up/down very slowly, hang up for a second, and then keep tilting slowly some more. Neither one would tilt low enough to make backing up easy unless you actually reached outside and pushed them down all the way down the ratching mechanism with your finger.
A fairly good underhood layout. The rather thin-feeling hood lacks an underhood insulation pad, which shows up in significant engine noise.....more on that later. It also lacks hood struts to hold it up and makes do with a manual prop-rod....and the rod is rather difficult to get out of its retaining-hole when you go to release it. Normally, I would complain about that, but this is a very inexpensive car, and few in its price class have gas struts. The transverse-mounted 2.0L in-line 4, overall, fits in pretty well. Work space in front of the block is a little tight, but better on the rear side, where is more room to spare before the firewall. A plastic engine cover (with a deep hole in it to reach the oil-filler cap) blocks some access on top, but is not large, and allows things just under it to be reached. The battery is off to the right and exposed, with no cover, so it is easily reachable. The dipsticks, reservoirs, and filler caps are easily reached, though as noted, the oil-filler cap is down in a hole.
The interior, while not plush, is well-constructed and well-assembled for the most part, with generally durable-feeling materials. The only thing I thought felt flimsy was the glove-box latch and housing. The sun visors were durable and had nice vanity mirrors and slide-extenders, but felt unpleasant with very hard plastic. Above them, the roof headliner was done with thin but fairly soft fabric....appropriate for a car of this class. There was adequate head and legroom, both front and rear, for fairly tall persons....the lack of a sunroof housing overhead clearly helped. Rear footroom getting in and out, often a problem with small cars (and some not-so-small ones at that) was also good, even for my big size 15 shoes. The seats had a nice-feeling fabric that seemed reasonably durable (though, with fabric, only time will tell with durability). Leather seats are an option in the EX/SX models. The seat cushions, though not really uncomfortable, were generally too flat, hard, and unsupportive for my tastes...this seems to be a problem with a number of Asian automakers. The stereo sound quality was a little tinny and a long way from Harmon-Kardon or Mark-Levinson units, but OK and not bad for this
price class. Most of the interior trim (two-tone black/light gray in my test car) was variously-textured hard plastic, but the door-panel inserts had nice fabric inserts, and the center-console compartment-cover was padded for use as an armrest. I was very pleased with the nice, simple ****/button/control layout for the dash, climate control, and stereo, though the big silver-plastic center-stack assembly around it looked, as in some Mitsubishi vehicles, like a big boom-box in the middle of the dash. I have to repeat...I was VERY pleased wth the nice, simple way the buttons, *****, and controls were arranged and operated. BMW, Mercedes, Audi, and all other auto manufcturers who do overly-complex, hard-to-use electronic controllers....take note.
I didn't particularly like the looks of the 4-spoke steering wheel, with its two side-spokes, two vertical down-spokes, and cheap-looking black trim, but it felt beefy and durable enough, was comfortable to hold, and included controls in it for an unusual feature in this price class.....a Bluetooth phone. I didn't like the cheap-looking, shiny-black plastic that surrounded the console shift-lever quadrant either....I'll talk more on the shifter below. Another nice feature that is rather unusual in economy cars is standard satellite radio, which, of course, you have to subscribe to.....but Kia gives you a free-use period (I think the sales guy said three months).
The sedan has a slight edge on the Koup in this department, but, with both of them, the sloping rear roofline cuts into the size of the trunk lid, limiting the size of its opening....slightly more on the Koup than the sedan. Once past the smallish lids, the size of the cargo bay itself is not bad for a compact car. The thin fabric on the floor and walls is not very plush-looking or feeling, but in line with a vehicles of this class. Under the floor lies a temporary donut spare insread of a real one.....but, again, this is more or less expected in a car of this class, so no complaints. One pleasant surprise that I did NOT expect, though (and was a nice touch on an inexpensive car like this), were the two nice remote pull-***** for the split-folding rear seats to increase cargo room.....the ***** are conveniently located at the rear of the trunk, so you can drop the seats while standing behind the car loading baggage. Some far more expensive vehicles either don't have that feature, or make it an option.
ON THE ROAD:
The Forte is, as one would expect, not a very exciting car to drive, though the chassis is reasonably competent, especially in the handling department (more on that in a moment), and it makes, overall, a pretty good basic-commuting car. Start up the 2.0L in-line 4 with an old-fashioned key/ignition switch (no cars in this class, that I know of, have a push-button start) and, though not excessively noisy, the engine comes to life with a less-than-quiet idle (remember....no underhood insulation pad). Noise-wise, you will definitely miss your Lexus LS460 when driving this car...it doesn't come up to Toyota Corolla levels of refinement, much less Lexus. The engine and exhaust, again, while not excessively noisy, make their presence known to your eardrums....the harder you accelerate, the more noise they make. Acceleration from a stop is fairly spunky in first gear, but then rapidly falls off as the transmission upshifts and starts to lose its flexibility. The 144 ft.-lbs. of torque in the base engine is adequate for normal stop-and-go driving, lightly loaded, but don't go around challenging any Mustangs or Camaros.
The 4-speed automatic in my test car (the SX model comes with a 5-speed) shifted smoothly, had a nice Manual-shift gate, and had a slick-feeling shift lever, but its 4 gears cost it some flexibility compared to 5 or 6-speed automatics, and the shifter had an annoying zig-zag pattern going from Park to Drive (I generally prefer a simple, straight fore/aft shift pattern).
The chassis, overall, is not bad, but a little firm for my tastes, despite the 15", tall-profile, 65-series tires that normally are biased toward ride comfort. Kia stiffened up the suspension of the new Forte somewhat, compared to that of the Spectra it replaced. With the recommended 32 PSI in the tires, this gives pretty good steering response (better than that in some other Kias) that is a little on the quick side, but a ride that, while not harsh or uncomfortable, is a little firmer over bumps that I care for. The Toyota Corolla and Hyundai Elantra, two of the Forte's prime competitors, are definitely smoother-riding, though with slower steering response as a result. Wind noise is not bad....the tight-fitting doors generally keep much of it out, but road and tire noise is significant, though not excessively loud. As with most vehicles (even luxury cars), the coarser the road surface, the more the tires roar. Body roll, with the new suspension, is well-damped, even with the soft tires.....I detected very little unless you pushed it. I liked the feel and response of the brake pedal.....it felt fairly firm (somewhat like a BMW or Audi), with very little sponginess, and good, direct action. The smallish wheels, of course, do not allow the use of very large rotors, so don't expect Porsche-911-style effectiveness or braking distances, but the brakes are good for all normal, reasonable driving. My big size-15 clown-shoes had no problems with pedal-spacing or catching on the underside of the brake pedal going from brake to gas.....a problem in some vehicles.
Kia's rise in quality/durability, in the last 8-10 years, has been nothing short of amazing.....as also that of Hyundai, its owner. One can buy a new Kia or Hyundai today and be reasonably certain that it will not fall apart before the payments are done, as was the case in the 80's and 90's. But, while the new Forte offers good overall build/assembly quality and some features lacking in many other small cars in this price class, it is clear that this car is designed and built to a budget....not surprising with its low price. With the noisy engine, it lacks sound insulation under the hood and, to a lesser extent, in the wheel wells. The 4-speed automatic in the lower-priced models lacks flexibility and hampers some engine performance. Interior materials are well-assembled and reasonably durable, but, with a few exceptions, are not plush-feeling. The new chassis is certainly competent, and had a fairly good ride/handling balance, but is a little too firm over bumps for my tastes. And I'm not sure what's with the power-mirror adjustment motors.
But this car has some good selling points as well. Its superb, simply-operated interior controls are a model for other automakers in this overrly-complex electronic age. Its long warranty is one of the best on the market, as long as the car is serviced according to Hyundai/Kia recommendations and isn't re-sold out of the immediate family. Its steering response is (now) better than some of the competition. Everything on the car, with a few minor exceptions, seems to fit together well, with few traces of sloppy assembly. Bluetooth and satellite radio both come at a very low price.
So, if you want a rather plain, inexpensive, reliable, well-built commuter car, and are not concerned with high-style or blistering performance, this may be a car for you to look at. In this class, I, personally, would rather have a Toyota Corolla or a Hyundai Elantra.....both have more quietness and refinement, and ride more smoothly. I would also consider paying a little more (about $3000 or so, depending on trim model) and stepping up to Kia's own Optima sedan, which is a nicer car inside and out. But, that's just me.....everyone's car tastes are different, and the Forte may indeed find its share of buyers.
As always............Happy Car Shopping.