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Executive Wheels: Forte Displayed Well in Forte

Car review of the 2019 Kia Forte EX


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For years I have been a big supporter of Kia, as well as its affiliated motorcar company Hyundai, because the Korean automakers make excellent cars. As I have noted many times, when the two, then un-related companies, first came to these shores to sell cars – Kia in 1994 and Hyundai in 1986 – both more or less promised they were the same as Honda, but cheaper. They got it half right. There were some issues: Financial woes, bad reviews and it seemed like they both took a hiatus from the U.S. market and came back in the late ‘90s with much less boasting and much better cars. And, of course, the now famous 10-year warranty thing they needed to overcome bad reputations.

The result has been some of the best cars and SUVs on the market – with better features and more powerful engines than Japanese competitors at, for the most part, lower prices. It takes a long time to overcome a bad reputation, although I admit you’re beginning to see some price equity vis a vis the Japanese in the last couple of years.

But as a car reviewer, the constant I have found over the last seven or eight years is that, while I like Toyota, Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi and Subaru, it hasn’t been universal accolades throughout their lines. And I sometimes take issue with a couple of Hyundai models. But Kia – well, it’s been years since Kia, any Kia model, has disappointed me.

I’ll give you a good example of why.

This Kia Forte compact sedan I just finished driving for a week is an all-new, freshly redesigned 2019 model. The first generation of the Forte debuted in 2009, just 10 years ago, and the second generation debuted in 2014. The 2019 is the third generation. What I have noticed with the competitors of late is a tendency to rest on their considerable laurels and make updates, refreshments and redesigns at less frequent intervals; some of the models, especially sedans, get a little long in the tooth. Kia stays on the cutting edge.

In the two weeks before I drove the Forte, I drove (and reviewed together) the Mazda6 and the Honda Accord, both mid-sized Japanese sedans, and both worthy competitors on the market. However, it’s a good thing for them that I wrote them up before I got my hands on the Forte, because honestly of the three, I would have gone for the Kia Forte in preference. Yes, the Forte is a compact, but it really felt quite the same to me, it was similarly equipped, had pretty much the same size engine (though not a turbo), and the Forte had about the same room in the cabin. I would have rated it equal or better on experience alone, but the fact is this top-of-the-line Forte EX was $10,000 less than the top-of-the-line models of the Mazda6 and Honda Accord.

Trust me: the real deal here is the Kia Forte EX.

I realize people are opting out of sedans these days, what with Ford and Chrysler both exiting the standard sedan market and sales for all of the other venerable sedans – Honda Accord, Toyota Corolla, Nissan Altima, Chevy Malibu, even the Germans and the Swedes – now being surpassed in sales by their SUV cousins. I think this is a mistake on the automakers part – putting their innovative efforts into the SUVs often at the expense of the sedans – because sooner or later the gas prices will surge, and/or the economy will tank, and the car-buying public will gravitate back to more efficient and less expensive sedans.

But a least for the moment, I imagine that the average family with two vehicles will want one to be an SUV, and the other a great commuter car with fuel efficiency. For that I would recommend looking no further than the Kia Forte.

This 2019 model features a zippy 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, with some 147 horsepower, coupled with what Kia calls Intelligent Variable Transmission (the first CVT in the model), and the net effect is a great ride. The car is quiet, powerful enough for city and highway driving, and delivers 30 miles per gallon city/40mpg highway/34 mpg combined. You can do a lot of commuting with that gas mileage.

And you can do it in style. This car handles well, is easy to park, and has all the safety and entertainment technology you’d want. Hands-free phone, of course, wireless phone charging, blind spot monitoring, lane departure alert, forward collision avoidance assist – it’s all in there. Plus, a couple of really cool things: With the UVO eService, Kia’s package of advanced technology, you can hook up your smart phone and find your car in a crowded parking lot, and even set it to remind you your parking meter is about to expire. Then there’s a feature my test-drive vehicle didn’t have, but sounds cool: the smart trunk, which will open by itself if you stand close behind the car (presumable with your arms full).

I also very much liked the leather seating surfaces, the ample leg room in the second row and the large trunk with plenty of room for two, maybe three sets of golf clubs or plenty of suitcases, gear, groceries, etc.

There are four Forte models, stating at an MSR of $17,690 for the FE and rising to this EX model with a base price of $21,990. The differences between them are, apparently, all in the features, as they all carry the same engine and the lower-end model can come with a manual transmission. On my test-drive EX they added on a bunch of nice stuff under the EX Launch Edition (the EX is all new for 2019) for $3,210. This included an upgraded Harman Kardon Premium Audio system (very nice), a power sunroof, some special interior LED lighting (also very nice), a parking distance warning-reverse system, the wireless charger, and smart cruise control. Almost everything else came with the EX standard.

I feel compelled to reveal that Kia experienced a vehicle recall on this new model, affecting 1,700 vehicle, having to do with the LED headlights – if so equipped – aiming improperly high. Presumably, since they are fixing the problem for free for buyers, the ones on the showroom floor have been already fixed.

When you add it all up, take a $125 hit for floor mats (why?) and $895 for inland freight and handling, the bottom line was $26,220. That, my friends, is a great price for what’s here, and highly competitive. And, of course the warranty: 10-year/100,000 miles on the powertrain, 5-years/60,000miles on most of the rest, plus 5-years/60,000 miles roadside assistance.

Kia’s forte is, obviously, building cars, nowhere better displayed than in its Forte.

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Jeff Rundles

Jeff Rundles is a former editor of ColoradoBiz and a regular columnist. Email him at jrundles@cobizmag.com.

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