2014 Kia Forte5: Handy and Handsome

Strong points
  • Lengthy equipment list
  • Selection of engines
  • Appealing warranty
  • Good road handling
  • A versatile vehicle
Weak points
  • Steering needs improvement
  • Cargo hold is just average
  • Noisy 2.0-litre engine
  • The brand’s reputation could be stronger
Full report

At Kia, new product launches are strategically planned and as regular as clockwork. The brand came out with a new Forte sedan last year, and now they’re flaunting new versions of the two-door Koup and the Forte5 hatchback. This five-door model is particularly interesting, as it should theoretically handle as well as the sedan, while being more versatile and practical at the same time.

In an effort to gain a bigger piece of the compact hatchback pie, Kia is using its tried-and-true recipe, which calls for a seductive exterior, an exhaustive list of equipment and an attention-grabbing warranty. This year, they’re not letting up. They’ve updated the presentation, refined the mechanics and taken measures to improve handling and driving pleasure.

Elegant and updated

The hatchback category is dominated by the Mazda3, Ford Focus and Hyundai Elantra GT. Fortunately for Kia, the brand’s stylists created a model so elegant that these three frontrunners have no advantage in this department. The vehicle’s focal point is still the classic Kia grille, which also serves as an anchor point for the body lines. On the SX, the most powerful and luxurious trim, the grill is narrower and underscores a larger air intake designed to draw more air into the model’s turbo engine. This trim also comes standard with LED positioning lights and Xenon headlamps.

But regardless of whether you choose the LX, EX or SX, the Forte5 is a modern-looking machine. It’s true that inclining the hatch toward the front to create a sleeker line has reduced the vehicle’s cargo capacity, but since all competitor models do the same, the Forte5 isn’t worse off because of this decision.

The Forte5’s dashboard is similar to the sedan’s, which means it’s great. The materials are good for the category and the fit and trim were done with care. The layout is smart and all controls are within easy reach. In addition, the driving position is good, while the heated steering wheel is adjustable in both height and depth. In the SX, the rear bench seat is heated and the driver’s seat is cooled, too. The glove compartment also chills as needed. In fact, the list of equipment is nearly interminable, depending on the model you choose, and in most cases it beats the competition.

Plain or with the works

Considering how popular compact cars are in Canada, no effort was spared in trying to lure customers. Mechanically speaking, there’s a six-speed manual or automatic transmission for all engines. However, on the sportier and more powerful SX, the first three gears are closer together on both the manual and the automatic. Its 1.6-litre turbo engine produces 201 horsepower and 195 lbs.-ft. of torque. Interestingly, maximum torque becomes available at 1,750 rpm. The SX’s front brakes come with larger discs, its steering is more direct and the tires on its 18-inch rims are wider. And for the time being, this vehicle boasts the most powerful optional engine in the category.

Meanwhile, the EX and LX are powered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine that generates 173 horsepower, which is significant when you take into account that several rival models unleash a maximum of less than 150 horsepower. To finish with the technical specs, note that there is power steering—with some models coming with the Flex Steer system, which allows you to adjust the firmness of the steering.

Kia has used a torsion beam suspension in back, as this is less costly than an independent suspension. This decision contributes to a lower overall costs and more standard equipment.

Both handy and handsome

The Forte5 hatchback offers a lot of standard equipment—even down to the less costly LX model. Then there’s the advantage that its liftgate allows you to carry larger objects than in the sedan. To convince us of this vehicle’s merits, Kia flew us down to San Diego, where the roads run up, down and around the mountains.

We were given the chance to drive the basic version equipped with the 2.0-litre engine and manual gearbox. My first impression was that this transmission is well-spaced and the shift lever is precise for the category. Compared to the previous version, the clutch has done away with its imprecision and unrealistic contact point. This definitely enhances driving pleasure. Acceleration is comfortably average while road holding in corners is neutral at legal speeds. However, the sound of the engine indicated that the four-cylinder unit doesn’t enjoy running at high revs.

The Forte5 really becomes a serious contender with the SX trim and its 201-horsepower turbo engine. Working with a six-speed automatic transmission, this duo took the fun factor up several notches. This sweetened the offer that was already appealing thanks to the extensive list of standard equipment. In corners, the sportier 18-inch wheels offer good traction.

There is one pit in this bowl of cherries, however. Despite the Flex Steer system’s three settings, the steering is not as precise as it could be. As a result, it was tough to negotiate one corner after another in a smooth manner, without frequently correcting the trajectory. But this drawback aside, the Forte5 is a car that is handsome, handy and well equipped. Top it all off with careful pricing, and this new arrival will probably cause some sleepless nights for some of the tenors in the category.

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