2014 Kia Forte Road Test Review
With the redesigned 2014 Forte, Kia raises the economy car bar
Scores High: Strong value, confident handling, excellent ride quality
Scores Low: More road noise than we'd like, somewhat tight rear-seat room
Total Car Score Analysis
We can guarantee the all-new 2014 Kia Forte will surprise you. It sure surprised us. An economy-minded compact sedan shouldn’t be this much fun to drive; shouldn’t have the high levels of equipment -- standard and otherwise -- found on the new Forte; shouldn’t deliver such a sophisticated all-around driving experience.
But the new Forte does all that, and at a surprisingly reasonable price, provided the cost estimates we were given at its introduction become reality when the car goes on sale this spring. Base LX models are expected to start below $16,000 and offer Bluetooth, satellite radio, power windows, air conditioning and steering-wheel audio controls among its standard features. Well-equipped, mid-range Forte EX models should sticker for $18,000 or so; and buyers can upgrade the Forte with a wide range of options, including leather upholstery, heated (and cooled) seats, navigation, a backup camera, sunroof, and a new version of the UVO eServices infotainment system with smart phone connectivity.
All these features are housed in a redesigned Forte sedan that’s longer, lower and wider than the outgoing model. It’s also better looking and far more refined. It’s not quite perfect, but the 2014 Kia Forte should have the competition worried.
The new Forte’s styling was rendered by Kia’s U.S. design studio in Southern California. It has a swoopy, coupe-like shape with aerodynamics that are among the cleanest in the entire Kia lineup. The greenhouse has been stretched to give the cabin an airy feel, and a character line running along the bottom of the doors mirrors the roofline, adding some visual interest to the Forte’s flanks without looking too fussy. Up front a row of LEDs over the projector headlamps enhance the Forte’s face with some distinct eyebrows, adding to its personality. The optional 17-inch alloy wheels are stylish and fill the fenders properly, giving the Forte a purposeful, sport-sedan look.
No one is going to mistake the 2014 Kia Forte’s road manners for those of a premium German sport sedan, but the Forte offers a much more engaging driving experience than one would normally expect from an economy-focused compact sedan. What impressed us most was the Forte’s handling. The Forte feels solid and well planted on the road, its chassis tuned to deliver a taut ride that’s never harsh or choppy. And while we’re still nervous about the use of electric power steering, Kia’s engineers have developed a perfectly weighted steering system with discernible on-center feel and lots of feedback from the pavement. Buyers who step up to the EX model get a FlexSteer steering system that varies steering effort through Comfort, Normal and Sport settings.
We did not get an opportunity to sample the Forte’s base 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine (which produces 148 horsepower and 131 pound-feet of torque), but we logged quite a few miles in a Forte EX powered by a new 2.0-liter four, a direct-injected engine that delivers 173 hp and 154 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. It’s a very responsive and smooth powertrain, with plenty of power to motivate the relatively lightweight (2,800-pound) Forte.
The only complaint we have about the Forte’s driving experience is the amount of road noise transmitted through the tires into the cabin. Kia worked to isolate much of the noise and vibration coming from the engine; now we’d like to see more sound deadening material in the floor.
Interior Design and Function
The 2014 Kia Forte’s cockpit features a clean design with simple, easy-to-use features. No gimmickry here, just solid, driver-oriented ergonomics. In fact, the controls in the center stack are actually angled by about 10 degrees toward the driver. The gauges are big and easy to scan at a glance, and the various features operated via the EX’s 4.2-inch LCD information screen (centered between the gauges) are simple to browse. The optional navigation system, accessed through a 7-inch touchscreen, is straightforward and intuitive to use. We also appreciated the redundant, traditional controls for the audio and climate systems below the screen.
All the switchgear has a premium feel to it; nothing is cheap or flimsy to the touch. The optional leather upholstery is comfortable and well made, and the rest of the interior materials -- even the plastic bits -- have an upscale appearance that belies the car’s price point.
The driver and front-seat passenger have plenty of head-, leg and elbow room. Fullsize adults sitting in the back seat, though, may find leg and headroom just a bit cramped. Kids will have no issues.
Primary Features and Options
The base LX model of the 2014 Kia Forte is available with the 1.8-liter engine and a choice of six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. Standard amenities aboard the LX include air conditioning, power windows and door locks, a tilt/telescope steering column, Bluetooth connectivity, and an AM/FM/CD/satellite radio audio system with USB and auxiliary input jacks. Stepping up to the EX model swaps the LX’s 15-inch steel wheels for 16-inch alloys, the 1.8-liter engine for the 2.0-liter direct-injection motor, and adds standard features that include a backup camera, cruise control, the FlexSteer adjustable steering system, a six-speaker audio upgrade, and the UVO infotainment system. Among the options offered for the Forte are 17-inch alloy wheels, a navigation system, heated and ventilated seats, a powered sunroof, push-button start and automatic climate control.
It’s Perfect For…
The 2014 Kia Forte is perfect for just about anyone in the market for a compact four-door sedan. Drivers with an enthusiast bent will appreciate the Forte’s well-balanced handling, responsive chassis and seamless power delivery. Those who value style over performance will like the Forte’s contemporary lines, which convey a strong sense of personality without unnecessary design flourishes. And anyone on a budget will love the value inherent in the Forte, which offers a long list of standard features for far less than you’d expect. The 2014 Kia Forte is not just a big improvement over the outgoing model, we believe it could set new a new standard by which all other compact sedans are judged.
Vehicle Tested: 2014 Kia Forte EX
Base MSRP of Test Vehicle: N/A
Options on Test Vehicle: 17-inch alloy wheels, EX Premium Package (includes powered sunroof, leather seat trim, 10-way power adjustable driver seat, driver-seat memory, air-cooled driver seat, heated front seats & rear seat bottoms, heated steering wheel, auto-dimming mirror with Homelink, Smart Key with push-button start, immobilizer, outside door handle illumination), EX Technology Package (7-inch navigation with HD radio, Supervision Meter Cluster with 4.2-inch TFT LCD display, HID headlamps, LED taillights, dual-zone automatic climate control with rear vents)
MSRP of Test Vehicle (including destination charge): N/A
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The manufacturer provided Total Car Score this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
Photos Courtesy of Kia Motors America (with additional photos by Total Car Score)