Tom Crosby: 2017-18 Kia Forte SX hatchbacks add muscle to lineup

Tom Crosby

Kia’s 2017 Forte SX 5 hatchback added muscle to the popular compact sedan’s portfolio with a turbo-charged engine and on-road performance to handle twisty turns and curves confidently. Only minor changes have been made to the 2018 edition. This means discounts and negotiating options are strong for the 2017 model, which held its own in 2017 against the more popular Honda Civic Si and amped-up Mazda 3 variants.

With its direct-injection turbo 1.6-liter engine, the SX generates 201 horsepower, enough for peppy on-road sprints, with some minor lag in sport mode when asking the turbo to immediately kick-in with the 7-speed automatic transmission. (A manual transmission is available).

Handling was responsive with front-wheel drive and the ride on 18-inch alloy wheels using a sport-tuned suspension was firm but comfortable in well-padded, attractive, two-tone brown leather seats with red bands. The cabin boasts numerous knick-knack spaces and the cargo area is cavernous, one of the best in its class, helped by the absence of a spare tire.

Folding the rear seats flat requires more effort, however, than some competitors. Tire sealant is the temporary solution to a flat tire.

The SX sits at the top of the Forte5 (5-dr hatchback) lineup, above the LX and EX. Our major test-drive option was a $3,600 Premium Technology Package, which seriously upgrades the SX with navigation, sunroof and driver safety aids like blind sport detection and rear cross traffic alert. It also included ventilated seats (front seats are heated), power adjustable driver’s seat and legible, colored split screen gauges.

The air conditioning is excellent, generating cold or warm air quickly.

Inside the amply sized cabin – rear seats are usable by full-grown adults – the 7-inch dashboard touch-screen is slightly canted toward the driver.

A main attraction is Kia’s Microsoft-powered UVO3 (Your Voice) in-vehicle infotainment system with advanced voice and touch-activated features now linkable to personal mobile devices and apps and capable of monitoring a teenage driver’s behavior. The navigation map is rich with detail and options – like cancel navigation often requiring searches on competitor screens. Audio is controlled with knobs – audiophiles can easily switch bands and channels. The slightly tweaked outside profile remains appealing with a rear spoiler, rising belt line and chrome exhaust tip. Overall safety was improved for 2017, earning a top score in government and industry crash tests.

Kia’s warranty remains one of the industry’s best.

LIKES: Handling, ride, plentiful cargo space, tech package, warranty

DISLIKES: Tire sealant, some turbo lag

BOTTOM LINE: Forte growing more formidable in compact sedan market


Base price w/destination fee: $24,695 (as tested $28,420).

Vehicle curb weight: 3,031 lbs.

Wheelbase: 106.3 inches.

Length: 171.3 inches.

Width: 70.1 inches.

Engine specs: 1.6-liter, turbo, direct injection 4-cyl.

Horsepower: 201-hp at 6,000 rpm.

Torque: 195 ft.-lbs. at 1,750 rpm.

Transmission: 7-speed automatic, CVT.

EPA rating: 25 mpg city/30 mpg highway.

Range: 13.2-gallon tank, regular.

Performance: 0 to 60 in 6.7 seconds.