First Test: 2011 Kia Forte SX five-door
The Stylish, Sporty Hatchback that Kia Always Wanted is Finally Here
The Angelenos we encountered couldn't get enough of Kia's newest hatchback, the Forte SX. Dog walkers and people dining streetside peered and pointed at this people-mover. For a few seconds, their foreheads wrinkled and their eyes widened in wonder, trying to put a badge to the form.
Only a few hatchbacks today priced under $25,000 can compete with the Forte five-door's well-proportioned physique. Its nose, garnished with a trademark Kia family grille and large badge, carries over from the sharp-looking sedan, as do the chiseled front shoulders. The all-new rump had many staffers thinking it hailed from Ingolstadt, which isn't surprising given the sculptor, Peter Schreyer, who penned numerous Audis.
The cabin is an appropriate match for the modern and attractive exterior. Within its confines are soft, black-colored plastics and rubbery trim pieces. Features include power everything, 60/40 folding seats, Bluetooth connectivity, faux metal accents, and paddle shifters. A full barrage of airbags and safety systems spoil passengers.
Our tester had a power sunroof ($750) and SX technology package ($1800) with navigation, push-button start, and chrome door handles. We especially liked the twin power outlets set below the climate controls; when toting multiple passengers playing with multiple electronic toys, they proved crucial. Simply put, this $23,000 (and change) Kia packed all the goods.
Which brings us to the topic of actually packing goods. Transitioning to five-doors shaved 7.4 inches off the sedan's 178.3-inch length and added 4.7 cubic feet to the cargo hold (with the seats folded up), for a total of 19.4 cu-ft. You'll easily fit a few more bags behind the Forte's second row than in the Mazda3 (17.0 cu-ft) and VW Golf (15.0 cu-ft), but not in the Focus five-door (23.8 cu-ft). Tacking on a hatch adds almost an inch more headroom for rear riders and makes finding a parallel parking spot an easier mission to accomplish.
Casually perusing L.A.'s scaly streets, the Forte hatch behaved much like a marble rolling on a sand-covered boardwalk, bouncing over imperfections and obstacles with moderate cushioning. Not helping the comfort cause were front seats stuffed with what felt like little more than folded cardboard. Then again, L.A.'s streets are some of the worst in the nation, so if you're located anywhere else, chances are rolling in the Forte will be easier on your glutes and kidneys.
A few tries into their revitalized portfolio, Kia's engineers are still having a hard time balancing ride quality with semi-athletic handling. Even so, the Forte SX was more composed and better at transitioning its 3018 pounds in corners than the 2777-pound Nissan Versa five-door, and exhibited a surefootedness around minor bends in Griffith Park that would make a Mazda3 driver jealous.
That jealousy would balloon after hearing about the Forte's performance accomplishments. On the skidpad, it averaged 0.85 g, while the latest sporty 3 managed 0.87 g. The Kia also had more zoom-zoom than expected on the figure-eight course, which it ran in 28 seconds while pulling 0.60 g average, or a few ticks slower and little less stickier than the Mazda, which hit the same marks in 27.6 seconds and 0.62 g. The numbers are a testament to Kia's performance improvements, but, for such a small, relatively light car, the Forte's heavy helm felt as though it were picked from the Borrego parts bin.
The lineup's top-shelf 2.4-liter dual-overhead camshaft four-cylinder sends 173 horses and 168 pound-feet of torque to the front 17-inch wheels. Matched to a smooth six-speed gearbox and touchy throttle, the mill gets the hatch scooting quickly on urban streets while returning a class-competitive 23 mpg in the city.
When the Kia is pointed in a straight line, the vaunted 60-mph mark arrives in a respectable 8.7 seconds, while a quarter mile passes in 16.7 seconds at 83.7 mph. Merge onto a highway and you'll immediately crave a few more ponies, or at minimum, a slightly lower speed limit. But after four of the six cogs have been redlined and the dust finally settles, the Forte's 32-mpg highway fuel rating usually douses any driver's need for speed.
While the Forte SX isn't as impressive on the track as others in its class, and there still are ride quality issues to address, Kia has done a commendable job with its latest five-door. In this highly competitive money-making set, a vehicle's quickness ultimately takes a backseat to how much fuel it gulps, its everyday usefulness, and its bottom-line price, three factors the Forte SX excels at. Throw in some handsome looks, and what Kia now has is the hatchback it always wanted.
|2011 Kia Forte SX|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$23,640|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door hatchback|
|ENGINE||2.4L/173-hp/168-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3018 lb (61/39%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||170.9 x 69.9 x 57.5 in|
|0-60 MPH||8.7 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||16.7 sec @ 83.7 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||122 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.85 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||28.0 sec @ 0.60 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON||23/32 mpg|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY||147/105 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||0.74 lb/mile|