In the hyper competitive compact-car market, the Honda Civic is the prohibitive favorite these days, but Kia offers a formidable, and more affordable, rival in the Forte.
Starting for a solid $3,000 less than the leaders of the pack, the Civic and Mazda3, the Forte is an attractively styled, well-crafted, comfortable and road-worthy choice. The Toyota Corolla, Kia Soul, Chevy Cruze, Hyundai Elantra and Ford Focus also run with the leaders in this niche.
New for 2017 is a base 2.0-liter engine, that replaces a 1.8-L inline 4-cylinder. The new Atkinson cycle power plant makes 147 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 132 lb-ft. of torque at 4,500 rpm. That's plenty to move the Forte into and through freeway traffic, even on today's Texas Interstates, which resemble a NASCAR event weaving through an endless line of trucks.
On a jaunt over to Dallas, with the cruise control locked on at 80, our tester averaged nearly 32 mpg. The EPA estimates the 2017 Forte will achieve 29 mpg in town, 38 on the highway. That's good for the class. Independent testing puts the Forte at 0-to-60 in 8.7 seconds with a top speed of 122 mpg, just fine for a compact car.
We found the car to be pleasantly responsive. When it was time to dart through an opening between 18-wheelers, the car accelerated quickly, smoothly and quietly.
Handling isn't as zoom-zoom as the Mazda3, or even the VW GTI, but steering was firm and linear. Independent braking tests put the Forte among the class leaders.
Standard are a host of tech features, like Bluetooth, Sirius, andUVO35 telematics, which is displayed on a 7-inch touch screen display and includes a suite of core smartphone functions via Android Auto and Apple CarPlayTM . Both platforms allow drivers to conveniently use the touchscreen for smartphone functions like sending text messages, streaming music, and looking up driving directions. As an added bonus, Kia's engineers made them easy to learn to operate.
Depending on trim, the Forte also comes with Kia's latest navigation system and Drive Mode System, which allows the driver to change the driving experience based on their preference: Normal, Eco, or Sport.
Our tester came with Kia's reasonably priced advanced driver assistance systems—Autonomous Emergency Braking, Forward Collision Warning, Lane Departure Warning, Blind Spot Detection, and Rear-Cross Traffic Alert3. (Standard lecture: Don't you dare buy a new car without these features. They save lives).
Forte comes in three body styles—sedan, hatchback and Koup—and each of those come in three trim levels, LX, EX and SX.
All Fortes come standard with antilock disc brakes, traction and stability control, front side airbags and side curtain airbags. A rearview camera is optional on the LX and standard on the other trims.
Earlier Forte models lagged in safety protection, but those issues appear addressed with the 2017 model, which earned five out of five stars in government crash tests, with four stars in front-impact protection and five in overall-side impact protection.
Bottom Line: There are many fine choices in the compact car market, but if you can't get the trade-in you want, or the payment you need, the Kia Forte is a smart choice.