2019 Kia Forte First Drive: The Unusual Leader
When you think of the Kia brand, the hamster-hauling Soul or the powerful Stinger may be the first vehicle that comes to mind. But it’s the humble Forte that has been wielding the most influence over the brand as of late. While the rest of the industry is thriving on crossovers, Kia sold more Fortes than any other vehicle last year. The compact also draws in more first-time car buyers than any other Kia vehicle, making it the unwitting face of the brand.
And it’s a pretty pleasant face. Although it’s far from the Stinger’s twin, the Forte adopts some of the most prominent features from the sporty hatch, such as the long hood, fastback profile, and sweptback headlights. It’s not as in-your-face as the Honda Civic or the new Hyundai Elantra or Volkswagen Jetta, but it’s not plain like the Nissan Sentra or Subaru Impreza.
Now entering its third generation, the Kia Forte rolls into 2019 with changes that are more than skin deep. Some of the highlights: It sits on the Hyundai Elantra’s platform, which Kia has made more rigid for a better drive experience. The Forte still has a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that makes 147 hp and 132 lb-ft of torque, but Kia added Atkinson cycle technology and a cooled EGR system in an attempt to improve efficiency. This engine comes paired with a six-speed manual or Kia’s first CVT, which uses a chain-type belt instead of a push belt to reduce the rubber-band effect. To curb noise, vibration, and harshness, Kia added more adhesive and thicker glass for the front side windows.
Equally important, the Forte improves upon what Kia already does best: offering tons of features for the money. The base model, costing $18,585, receives a standard 8.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as dual-zone automatic climate control. You won’t find those features standard on the current Honda Civic. We should also mention the Forte comes standard with a host of safety features: forward collision avoidance assist, forward collision warning, and lane keeping assist. The Forte also boasts 15.3 cubic feet of cargo space and what feels like a generous back seat.
Faithful execution will determine whether these promised updates make a competitive car, or if they just look good on paper. Fortunately, we had the chance to take the Forte through Pittsburgh, which happens to be a popular playground for autonomous vehicle testing, known for its windy roads and befuddling streets. The Forte didn’t shield occupants from the feel of potholes and bumps as much as we’d like, and we noticed some body roll, but generally, the often rough roads didn’t intimidate this small car.