First Test: 2011 Kia Forte EX
Fun in Drive, But Stuck in Neutral
Regardless of the car in question, we auto reviewers can typically find at least one aspect of a vehicle we all agree on, but beyond that it's a crapshoot. In the case of the 2011 Kia Forte, we found three: It's a great value, it's surprisingly fun to drive, and it's utterly forgettable.
What happened? A year and a half ago, we were pretty impressed with the Forte. Back then, it was the opening salvo of Kia's design revolution and a blinding improvement over the really forgettable Kia Something-or-other it replaced. Less than two years on, though, the competition has come on strong and the Forte is faltering.
In fact, Kia itself has left its own car in the dust. Just looking at our long-term Optima parked next to the Forte you wonder how old the Forte is. Almost new? Really? The improvements Kia's made to the rest of the lineup in the short time the Forte's been on the market are no less than staggering. Normally, it would be strange to call for a midlife update less than two years in, but the Forte needs it.
"Completely inoffensive and wholly forgettable," associate road test editor Carlos Lago surmises, sentiments echoed by every other staff member who drove the car.
The Forte's problem is that it doesn't stand out at all. The once-wild (for a Kia) styling is boring next to competition from Hyundai and Ford, and the interior is as interesting stylistically as Formica counter tops, and apparently made of the similar material. Editors knocked the ugly, unsupportive seats, clunky manual shift system, wimpy tires, and draconian stability control system.
Despite that, we also all loved how the car drove. "It feels nimble and alive. It's kind of a natural driver's car," associate editor Mike Febbo notes. The Forte feels light on its feet and is easy to throw into turns, at least until the stability control intervenes. It really makes a case for the old axiom about driving a slow car fast.
Unfortunately, that doesn't translate at the test track. Despite having one of the most powerful engines of its competitive set (in high-volume trim levels) our Forte tester needed 9.2 seconds to reach 60 mph and 17.1 seconds to reach the quarter-mile mark. Braking was equally unimpressive at 141 feet and its skidpad and figure-eight results were below average. In another unfortunate turn of events, the low curb weight and relatively powerful engine still somehow managed to return an unimpressive 23.9 mpg average over several days of testing, well below its EPA promise of 26 to 36 mpg.
Aside from its surprisingly lively chassis, the Forte's real saving grace is its value. Its $18,090 starting price undercuts most of the competition, and our car showed up wearing a skimpy $21,175 price tag. For a touch over 21 grand, we got nav, Bluetooth, iPod integration, satellite radio, a back-up camera, and more. That's some serious value considering what those options cost in competitors' cars. "There's no denying the Forte is well-equipped," associate editor Rory Jurnecka says. "$21k as-tested and it has sat radio and nav? Not bad."
Lago sums it up best: "I have no real complaints about the Forte, other than that I couldn't recall a thing about it immediately after driving it, but I have no compliments either. But even though the Forte is as memorable as mashed potatoes, its strength is value. There are a ton of features in this car."
Considering that Toyota sells hundreds of thousands of plain-as-tap-water Corollas every year, one might think that the Forte is actually well-targeted for its segment, and a year-and-a-half ago, it was a solid effort. But as Kia itself has demonstrated, it's a fast-moving industry. Considering the improvements to competitors like the Ford Focus and Hyundai Elantra, though, and indeed the improvements to Kia's other models, the Forte feels years older than it is. The foundations of a good car are here, but Kia needs to sprinkle some of its pixie dust on the Forte before it becomes as forgettable as whatever car it replaced.
|2011 Kia Forte EX|
|DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT||Front engine, FWD|
|ENGINE TYPE||I-4, aluminum block/head|
|VALVETRAIN||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl|
|DISPLACEMENT||121.9 cu in/1998 cc|
|POWER (SAE NET)||156 hp @ 6200 rpm|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||144 lb-ft @ 4300 rpm|
|WEIGHT TO POWER||18.7 lb/hp|
|SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR||Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; torsion beam, coil springs|
|BRAKES, F;R||11.0-in vented disc; 10.3-in disc, ABS|
|WHEELS||6.0 x 16-in, cast aluminum|
|TIRES||205/55R16 89H M+S Nexen Classe Premiere CP662|
|TRACK, F/R||61.3/61.6 in|
|LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT||178.3 x 69.9 x 57.5 in|
|TURNING CIRCLE||33.9 ft|
|CURB WEIGHT||2917 lb|
|WEIGHT DIST, F/R||62/38%|
|HEADROOM, F/R||40.0/37.6 in|
|LEGROOM, F/R||43.3/35.0 in|
|SHOULDER ROOM, F/R||55.7/54.7 in|
|CARGO VOLUME||14.7 cu ft|
|ACCELERATION TO MPH|
|PASSING, 45-65 MPH||5.0|
|QUARTER MILE||17.1 sec @ 83.2 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||141 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.79 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||28.9 sec @ 0.56 g (avg)|
|TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH||2000 rpm|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$21,115|
|TRUE CAR TRUEVALUE PRICE*||$20,845|
|AIRBAGS||Dual front, front side, f/r curtain|
|BASIC WARRANTY||5 yrs/60,000 mi|
|POWERTRAIN WARRANTY||10 yrs/100,000 mi|
|ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE||5 yrs/60,000 mi|
|FUEL CAPACITY||13.7 gal|
|EPA CITY/HWY ECON||26/36 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||130/94 kW-hrs/100 mi|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||0.65 lb/mi|
|MT FUEL ECONOMY||23.9 mpg|
|RECOMMENDED FUEL||Unleaded regular|