2014 Kia Forte First Look
Attempting to Climb Out of Obscurity
Show Floor Update: Kia called the 2014 Forte “rock solid” at the 2012 L.A. auto show, but we’d just describe the new four-door as far more stylish than the one it replaces. Premium design touches include a new grille with a gray matte-like finish, which in person looks far less plasticky than the one on the outgoing car. The 2014 Kia Forte has done so much growing up that Michael Sprague, Kia's executive VP of marketing & communications, says the Forte will again be classified by the EPA as a midsize car. Built with more high-strength steel than the Toyota Corolla, Kia says the car’s transmission fluid has been designed to last throughout the car’s life.
The 2014 Kia Forte replaces a car that fell into obscurity, which itself took the place of the Spectra, a compact Kia most people forgot ever existed. To help reverse the spiral, Kia is taking a page from the Optima playbook. That vehicle stays on the radar screens of midsize sedan buyers thanks to bold styling, class-competitive dynamics, and available premium features. With the 2014 Forte, Kia has huge potential for U.S. sales growth, but given the crowded compact segment, the car's success may largely depend on its pricing.
The new Forte sedan has bolder styling without resembling a 7/8-scale Optima. Longer, lower, and wider than the outgoing Forte, the new car has a take on Kia's trademark Tiger Nose grille and bold -- some might say overstyled -- headlights with available HIDs and LED accents. As with the Hyundai Elantra, the new Kia Forte will offer a number of upscale-for-the-segment features when it goes on sale in the first quarter of 2013, including front and rear heated seats, engine stop-start, and rear-seat air vents.
Most 2014 Fortes will be powered by Kia's 1.8-liter I-4, a naturally aspirated unit that makes 148 horsepower at 6500 rpm and 131 lb-ft of torque at 4700 rpm mated to either a six-speed manual or automatic, just like the mechanically related Hyundai Elantra. (That car recently had its EPA-rated mileage figures changed to 28/38 mpg city/highway, still a respectable figure for a compact sedan.) The Forte EX will be available with a reworked version of Kia's 2.0-liter I-4 that makes 173 horsepower at 6500 rpm and 154 lb-ft of torque at 4700 rpm. The previous-gen Forte's optional 2.4-liter four has apparently been dropped from the lineup.
The 2014 Kia Forte LX base model rolls on 15-inch wheels with wheel covers and adds Bluetooth, satellite radio, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, power windows, air conditioning, and heated outside mirrors as standard equipment. Most buyers are likely to select the Popular Package, which adds 16-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry, cruise control, and a sliding front armrest. Kia will also offer the stop-start system it first introduced in the U.S. on the Rio, bundled in a package that also includes dual-zone automatic climate control, rear-seat air vents, and an "eco" badge. Overall, we expect fuel economy to get as high as 28/38 mpg like the 2013 Elantra, though the outgoing 2013 Kia Forte Eco is already rated 27/37 mpg.
Opt for the 2014 Kia Forte EX, and in addition to the more powerful 2.0-liter engine and six-speed automatic, you'll get the latest version of Kia's UVO infotainment system and an available navigation system. A rearview camera and cooled glove box are standard, while a technology package includes a 4.2-inch color screen, hands-free keyless entry, HID headlights, and LED taillights. Like the Elantra, the new Kia Forte offers heated front and rear leather seats, a power sunroof, and 17-inch wheels, but the Forte also offers a ventilated 10-way power driver's seat.
The new Forte will offer what Kia calls a Flex Steer system that allows the driver to choose among three different levels of steering tuning: Comfort, Normal, and Sport. The previous generation's hydraulic steering system has been replaced with an electric system, and the automaker says steering feel has improved, thanks to larger bushings and a revised McPherson strut front suspension. A coupled torsion beam rear axle suspends things out back. The new Forte is now 1.2 inches longer, 0.2 inch wider, and 0.6 inch lower than its predecessor. Since the car may not have class-leading efficiency or -- at least thus far -- a lineup-topping sporty model, trading off a bit of interior space in the name of styling may not be a bad idea given the segment.
Inside the new car, Kia says the Forte's instrument panel conveys serenity, "as if small waves are radiating from a pebble dropped in a pond." We're not sure about that bit of design-speak, but buyers should notice that the center stack is canted 10 degrees toward the driver.
The last time we featured a Kia Forte in a Motor Trend compact comparison, it finished seventh out of eight contenders, ahead of the Toyota Corolla. Even the Corolla intrigued our readers more than the Forte, however, as the Toyota received more votes in our informal compact sedan poll. In the hyper-competitive compact segment, it can be difficult to distinguish one entry from another, and we look forward to seeing just how far the Forte has come in its journey toward relevance.