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2015 Kia Forte Test Drive Review
The latest version of the Kia Forte is an attractive vehicle with a low starting price. For those with the means, however, the sky's nearly the limit on the kinds of goodies with which you can furnish your Forte. Unfortunately, no matter how much money you spend, you can’t fix this car’s primary problem: a lousy rating in a tough new crash test.
Look and Feel
It wasn’t long ago that buying a small car signaled to the world that you were consigned to owning one because you had no other alternative. Times have changed. Luxury brands are offering more diminutive and affordable vehicles wearing their marquee emblems, while mainstream automakers are building larger compact cars that look good on the outside and can be packed full of goodies on the inside.
The result of these trends is a blurring of distinctions between them. Can a loaded $30,000 Mazda 3 truly be called an economy car? Is a stripped $30,000 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 really a luxury car? In my opinion, the answer to both questions is an emphatic “No.”
As Exhibit A supporting my position, consider my 2015 Kia Forte EX test car. Its sleek stance and attractive appearance, in combination with an interior studded with the latest in infotainment and comfort features, is more than just a small, affordable car; it’s a genuinely appealing car.
Kia offers the stylish 2015 Forte in three body styles: a 4-door sedan, a 2-door coupe called the Koup, and a 5-door hatchback named the Forte 5-Door. (The Forte Koup and 5-Door are different enough from the Forte sedan that they're covered as separate models.) There are also three engines available, though not all body styles are offered with all engines. This review is focused on the Forte sedan, which is available in LX and EX trims.
The only thing basic about a base Forte LX are its cheap-looking 15-inch wheels. Otherwise, this is a good-looking and decently equipped little car, featuring air conditioning, power windows, power door locks, a tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel, a driver’s seat height adjuster, variable intermittent wipers, heated side mirrors and cloth seat trim. It also comes with Bluetooth connectivity, a USB port and satellite radio.
An automatic transmission is optional, and you can dress up the Forte LX with the Popular Package, which includes cruise control, remote keyless entry, an upgraded sound system, soft-touch dashboard and door trim panels, nicer seat fabric, map lights, visor mirrors, a sliding front center-console armrest and a rear armrest with cupholders. That leaves 16-inch wheels, a UVO eServices infotainment system, a reversing camera and dealer-installed upgrades as the only remaining options for the Forte LX. Equipped with all the common extras, the price remains below $21,000.
Grab a Forte EX for a peppier engine, a standard automatic transmission and Kia’s driver-selected Flex Steer electric steering. The contents of the LX Popular Package are standard for the Forte EX, along with aluminum wheels, automatic headlights, fog lights, LED running lights and power folding outside mirrors with LED turn-signal indicators. Inside, the EX has a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and the seats are wrapped in premium fabric. Oddly, this model also gets a cooled glove box.
Kia's UVO eServices system and rear-view camera are optional for the EX model, packaged with a set of attractive 17-inch alloy wheels. A Premium Package starts to blur the line between a mainstream car and an entry-level luxury car, adding leather upholstery, a heated steering wheel, heated front and rear seats, a ventilated driver’s seat with 10-way power adjustment, a power sunroof, keyless passive entry with push-button engine start, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror with a universal garage door opener and memory for the driver’s preferences. Perimeter lighting with illuminated door handles is included, too.
But wait, there’s more! The Forte EX can also be optioned with a Technology Package containing dual-zone automatic climate control, HD Radio, a navigation system, enhanced Supervision instrumentation, expanded UVO eServices, HID headlights and LED taillights. Add this package, plus a handful of common extras like floor mats, a cargo mat and a cargo net, and a loaded Forte EX like my test car stickers for less than $27,000.
At that price, you can’t really call the Forte an economy car, can you?
When you buy the Forte EX, you get a more powerful 173-hp, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine. While this powerplant is perfectly adequate for bopping around town, I’ve driven the Forte5 SX, which comes with a turbocharged engine, and I really missed its more robust power and torque curve. In my opinion, Kia is missing an opportunity by failing to offer a Forte SX Sedan.
A 6-speed automatic transmission is standard for the EX, too, and I used the manual shifting function to maintain engine revs during highway merges and when climbing mountain grades. Despite this, I averaged 28.1 mpg during a week of driving, smack dab in the middle of the EPA’s official fuel economy ratings of 25 mpg in the city and 36 mpg on the highway.
I had some fun driving the Forte, too. Despite the fact that it rides on an unsophisticated torsion beam rear suspension, which is more rudimentary than a variety of independent designs, my Forte EX had no trouble hugging the curvaceous roads near Santa Monica, California, where I evaluate test vehicles. In this environment, the Forte displayed an unexpectedly flat cornering stance, impressive levels of grip and remarkably quiet tires, all contributing to a genuinely fun-to-drive nature.
Unfortunately, out in the real world where everybody drives every day, the Forte bounces excessively over dips and bridge transitions, feels too compliant over speed bumps and produces a jittery and choppy ride on the sectioned concrete of the 405 freeway through West Los Angeles. The impression left with the driver is that this car is too soft and too stiff at the same time.
I’m not a fan of Kia’s FlexSteer technology, either. It provides the driver with three settings that are designed to calibrate the electric steering effort levels to suit different preferences for different types of driving, but I find two of them disappointing much of the time, especially with regard to on-center feel. That’s why, instead of using Normal or Sport, I keep the Kia in the Comfort setting. On a positive note, though, the 4-wheel-disc brakes, which are standard on every Forte, provide great stopping power, and pedal feel is nicely calibrated.
Form and Function
Take a peek inside the 2015 Forte and you’ll find a cabin rendered in a clean, austere aesthetic, with a minimum of flourishes and ornamentation. My test vehicle’s black-on-black color scheme also made it positively cave-like. Still, as dark as it was, most surfaces were covered in pleasing textures, and features were laid out in a logical and intuitive fashion. In particular, I liked Kia’s Supervision instrumentation with its clear graphics and multitude of information choices.
Sitting in the driver’s seat proved to be a treat, an ideal position delivered by its 10-way power adjustability, comfort enhanced by heating, ventilation and a sliding center-console armrest. There were no visual issues with build quality, but my particular car was prone to rattles and creaks, especially when traveling over uneven roads, taking away from the sense that all was right with the world.
Front passengers don’t fare as well as the driver. There’s no seat height adjuster, manual or power, and there’s no seat ventilation option. Rear seat passengers will find plenty of space, though, reflecting the Forte sedan’s EPA interior volume measurement that technically puts this car into the midsize class. My EX model’s outboard rear seat positions even offered heating.
Trunk size approaches midsize sedan territory, too. Measuring 14.9 cubic feet, the cargo area has plenty of space for your stuff.
For 2015, Kia wisely packages two features that many buyers typically want into a single, affordable upgrade package. The first is the company’s impressive Your Voice (UVO) eServices infotainment system, and the second is a set of bigger, nicer aluminum wheels.
We’d pay the premium for both options. The wheels make the Forte look better, and the UVO eServices system simply makes life easier. Pair your smartphone via Bluetooth to stream music, tag songs you like so that you can download them later, and access Internet radio via Pandora. The subscription-free system also provides a Parking Minder feature that helps you remember where you left your Forte, but one of our favorite things is the 911 Connect service, which activates following airbag deployment to help speed rescuers to the scene.
I found the voice-command technology to work well and appreciated the navigation system and the reversing camera included with the system. Additionally, UVO eServices provides parents of young drivers with several useful features. The Find My Car app remotely locates the Forte and identifies its location, and the Curfew Limit, Speed Alert and Geo Fence systems notify the Forte’s owner when pre-set parameters have been breached.
While Kia nails the Forte’s UVO eServices infotainment system, the company doesn’t bestow upon the Forte many preventative safety technologies. Aside from the aforementioned services associated with UVO, as well as the infotainment system’s reversing camera, nothing outside of federally mandated safety equipment comes along for the ride.
Disappointment in the lack of a blind-spot warning system or a rear cross-traffic alert system, two of my favorite modern safety technologies, is exacerbated by the Forte’s dismal rating in a tough new crash test. This year Kia has made undisclosed changes to successfully improve the Forte’s performance in the small overlap offset frontal impact test performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), but the upgrade from Poor to Marginal isn’t quite good enough.
Overlook this, and you’ll find a 5-star overall crash-test rating from the NHTSA, and in other IIHS tests the Forte earns top marks. All Kia needs to do is get that small overlap frontal-impact result up to Acceptable, and the company will resolve one of the biggest reasons to skip the Forte in favor of a competing model.
In terms of what the Forte will ultimately cost you, aside from its attractive purchase price, this Kia is appealing on several fronts.
First, it comes with an industry-leading warranty and an excellent roadside assistance program. Second, the predicted costs associated with ownership are expected to be low. Third, J.D. Power surveys find that Forte owners rate their new cars high in quality.
As far as reliability predictions, both J.D. Power and Consumer Reports are expecting the Forte’s long-term dependability to be average, but that’s based on this model’s historical performance and not the latest and greatest version of the car. Also, the Forte’s ability to retain its value over time rates average, according to ALG.
Clearly, there are no red flags in terms of cost effectiveness. All Kia needs to do is beef up the car’s structure to ace the toughest IIHS crash-test, and the Forte can be called an undeniable winner.
Liz Kim has worked within the world of cars for 15 years, at various points reviewing and writing about, or analyzing and marketing, everything automotive. It’s no wonder that she married a fellow automotive journalist. Liz can be found examining and assessing the latest vehicles when she’s not busy keeping the peace between, and the schedule for, her two young daughters.
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