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Posted March 26, 2014 | comments Leave a comment

Tom Crosby: Forte strong in compact sedan market

By Tom Crosby

When a new Kia Forte came out in 2010, cash for clunkers surfaced and the Korean automotive manufacturer curtailed its marketing campaign as it watched new car sales drop.

This year the third-generation front-wheel drive, five-passenger Forte sedan is being touted in the marketplace by Kia as a worthy competitor to a pair of bestselling competitors, the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla. The Forte fills Kia's missing niche between the sub-compact Rio and the popular Optima mid-size sedan. A sexier, European look by noted auto designer Peter Schreyer reshaped Forte's beltline, pushed the wheels out, sloped the windshield, jazzed the front fascia and put character lines where they count.

Forte choices are between an LX or EX model, each with four-cylinders in either a 1.8-liter (LX) or 2.0-liter engine (EX). The base LX can be outfitted with a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission. The EX comes only with a six-speed automatic tranny, instead of the previous four-speed, and horsepower is goosed 17 with 10 extra ft-lbs of torque. Our test-drive was the EX, outfitted with options such as 17 inch alloy wheels; a Premium Package adding -- among other features -- leather seat trim, push button start, heated/cooled seats and steering wheel, and a technology package that includes upgraded newly shaped head and tail lights, dual climate control and a navigation system with SIRIUS traffic.

Final price tag: $25,515, but with upgrades enough to inspire driver confidence and satisfy creature comfort needs.

Longer, lower and wider, rear seat access and comfort excels, and truck capacity is nearly 15 cubic feet -- attributes most often found in larger, more expensive vehicles.

Rear-view camera, Bluetooth, cooling glove box and sliding center armrest are standard in the EX. Responsive handling and ride come with a McPherson strut front suspension and coupled torsion beam rear axle with electric power steering.

Acceleration is adequate but considerable engine noise occurs when seeking maximum power. At cruising speed, noise levels have dropped up to 5 percent, Kia says.

Inside, the EX has a sporty look, with chrome touches around climate controls and a color 4.2-inch LCD screen between gauges on the dashboard. The center dashboard is slightly canted toward the driver and hosts the rear camera view, info controls and navigation screen. Navigation information lagged slightly behind real-time location, resulting in occasional missed turns. A main attraction is Kia's Microsoft-powered UVO (Your Voice) in-vehicle infotainment system with advanced voice- and touch-activated features that are linked to personal mobile devices.

LIKES: Design, ride, roomy, handling DISLIKES: Noisy under power, nav system

BOTTOM LINE: Should become solid competitor with Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla

Base price w/destination fee $20,200
Vehicle curb weight 2,857 lbs
Wheelbase 106.3 inches
Length 179.5 inches
Width 70.1 inches
Engine specs 2.0-liter, I-4, DOHC
Horsepower 173 hp at 6,500 rpm
Torque 154 ft.-lbs. at 4,700 rpm
Transmission 6-speed automatic
EPA Rating 24 mpg city/36 mpg highway
Range 13.2-gallon tank, regular
Performance 0 to 60 in just under 10 seconds

Tom Crosby is a former journalist and communications director for AAA Carolinas. He has been reviewing cars since 1996, and has been active in traffic safety issues for more than 30 years.

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