2014 Kia Forte5 SX First Test
Not Quite Hot, but Kia's Boosted Hatch is Getting Warmer
We like the new 2014 Kia Forte so much that the sedan and its Forte Koup coupe sibling were finalists at our 2014 Motor Trend Car of the Year extravaganza. And this was no charity case. The Fortes impressed editors with their finely pressed sheetmetal, an array of standard and available features at a competitive price, and a juicy new turbocharged engine option.
And now you can get your Forte in the aforementioned sedan, coupe, or the updated 2014 Kia Forte5 hatchback we recently had in for a round of instrumented testing and general flogging. The Forte5 wasn't available at COTY time, so we picked up a brand-spanking-new 2014 Forte5 SX with the decent, easy-to-modulate six-speed manual from Kia in Vegas and boogied back to L.A. to get a feel for what we'd missed. We later swapped that car for a six-speed automatic with paddle shifters. Each Forte5 SX we tested came equipped with a 1.6-liter, direct-injection turbo four with 201 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque. (Both the manual and automatic are rated at 21/29 mpg city/highway.) The boosted 1.6 debuted under the hood of Hyundai's Veloster Turbo and we expect to see more of it in the future from both brands. In fact, we were a little puzzled as to why it isn't already available in the Forte sedan, but Kia officials said never say never.
So how does the turbo four-banger perform in the Forte5? More than acceptably, but nothing to get all hot-hatchy and bothered about. While it feels plenty peppy in the power band and doesn't exhibit much torque steer or turbo lag under hard acceleration, the Forte5 doesn't burn up the dragstrip. But it didn't embarrass itself either, with the 2999-pound manual model rolling from 0-60 mph in 6.7 seconds onto a quarter mile blast of 15.1 seconds at 92.6 mph. The 3058-lb automatic model did 6.6 to 60 and 15.1 at 92.8 mph in the quarter. The closest competitor to the Forte5 in size and mission is the new 2014 Mazda3 hatch we just tested at Car of the Year. Equipped with Mazda's 184-horse, 2.5-liter four mated to a six-speed automatic, the 3094-pound '3 hatch hit 60 mph in 7.4 seconds and the quarter in 15.3 seconds. While it is slower, it's also important to note that the Mazda3 is much more fuel-efficient than the Forte5 SX at 28/38 mpg city/highway. (The Forte5 is also available in EX form with Kia's 173-hp 2.0-liter four rated at 24/34 mpg city/highway).
In our dynamic tests, the Forte5 held its own with the more mature Mazda3 on both the skidpad (.85 manual, .82 auto vs. .86) and through our signature figure eight (26.9 at 0.68 avg g manual, 27.4 seconds at 0.66 auto versus 27.0 at 0.64 average g), indicating that Kia is continuing to address what enthusiasts at least perceive to be Kia's Achilles heel: overall handling and steering feel. The lighter Forte5 also stopped quicker, needing 112 feet (114 automatic) to go from 60-0 (thanks to 11.8-inch front, 10.3-inch rear discs), while the Mazda took 119 feet to haul itself down to zero.
From a seat-of-the-pants perspective, the Forte5 doesn't punish you over harsh road surfaces with its typical-for-the-segment struts/springs at the front, torsion beam/springs at the rear. When we could get up to speed in L.A., the Forte5 felt plenty composed and easy to maneuver. For the overwhelming majority of its customers, it will handle just fine, thank you -- dare we say you can even get a little jiggy with it, played-out '90s slang terms aside. And while it's not exactly quiet in the cabin on the open road, its NVH is acceptable for a compact in this price range and the 1.6 doesn't generate a lot of unnecessary racket.
Kia also added a steering effort button with three settings (Comfort, Normal, Sport) in an attempt to placate cranky auto journalists like us who seize on a perceived automaker failing and beat it to death. Kia gets points for trying, but we didn't feel much difference. Bottom line, this car rides, steers, and handles better than the last Forte, and that's another step in the right direction.
As you'd expect, the Forte5 isn't all that different inside or out from the other Fortes (especially the Koup) save its hatchback rear end, which can gobble up to 23.2 cu-ft of cargo. That's a couple of cubes more than the new 2014 Mazda3 hatch (20.2) and is one of the things we noticed about the Forte in general – it's a compact, all right, but it's also plenty roomy in the cabin. Better to fit us ever-expanding 'Mericans. Whether you're in the cockpit or the back seat, there's enough room to stretch out and get comfortable.
As is usually the case with Kia, the Forte5 over-delivers in the features department, with its impressive UVO infotainment and telematics system, rearview camera, and power folding mirrors all standard. Its comfortable, supportive seats come heated and cooled if you desire, and there is plenty of stowage for your smartphone and other junk. The only downer is the cupholders, which are on the weak side, and when compared holistically to the Mazda3, you can make the argument that the '3 is more upscale in presentation and materials. But this is a well-screwed-together and feature-rich interior that impressed the COTY crew and others who hopped into it, including MT associate editor Allyson Harwood.
"One of the things I like most about the Forte is how many features are in the cabin -- and how easy they are to use. I had my iPhone connected via Bluetooth and was playing music in less than a minute, and quickly had the nav system programmed to get me to a store I had never been to. I also like that the nav lets the passenger program in an address even though the vehicle is in motion," Harwood said.
Looking at the outside of the car, it's fair to say chief designer Peter Schreyer and his crew have worked hard to give the Forte line its own identity and get past the copycat rep the Korean brand has been tagged with in recent years, and the 18-inch rims lend it a more substantial, planted feel than other compacts. In fact, Tom Gale, our guest design guru for Car of the Year, was as impressed with the Forte as any car at the 2014 competition.
"Proportions are pleasing and well-balanced, with the line work avoiding the sameness of so many other designs in the segment," Gale said of the Fortes. "These cars stand out from their peers in a very positive fashion." High praise from the design sage, and the last line aptly sums up the Forte line in general. The compact segment is fierce and the established players are hard to beat, but at the very least, the new-generation Forte5 and its siblings deserve more than a passing look.
|2014 Kia Forte5 SX T GDI|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$25,700 (MT est)|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door hatchback|
|ENGINE||1.6L/201-hp/195-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||2999 lb (60/40%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||171.3 x 70.1 x 57.1 in|
|0-60 MPH||6.7 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||15.1 sec @ 92.6 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||112 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.85 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||26.9 sec @ 0.68 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON||21/29 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY||160/116 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||0.81 lb/mile|