Kia is on a roll.
It’s the highest-ranking mass-market brand for initial quality for five years in a row according to J.D. Power. The all-new Telluride three-row SUV has the makings of a star. The next-generation Soul EV impresses with ultra-competitive range. As for the Stinger, it was voted as the Canadian Car of the Year by the Automobile Journalist Association of Canada (AJAC).
Another Kia product, the redesigned 2019 Forte sedan, earned top honours from AJAC in the compact category. Is it really the best car you can buy for less than $25,000? We could say yes for several reasons, but things change extremely quickly in the auto industry…
Let’s be honest, the Forte needed a lot of help from Kia designers to project a much more contemporary and elegant image. While the result isn’t jaw-dropping, it marks a wonderful evolution from the previous generation and the brand continues to offer some pretty cool wheel designs which, combined with a few chrome accents here and there, add flair to the overall look.
The rear three-quarter angle is particularly attractive and makes the Forte look sporty. The LED taillights are magnificent, the fake diffuser below is an interesting addition to the bumper and the sleeker roofline ends with a short decklid so you would never guess the Forte has the largest trunk (434 litres) in its class.
Up front, all models except the base LX feature LED headlights, a sculpted hood and a black lip spoiler. The updated grille also contributes to give the Forte the looks of a mini-Stinger.
A Good Cabin with No Real Shortcoming
There’s no wow factor inside the new 2019 Kia Forte. Sure, you’ll find more refined materials than in the past, including some piano black trim pieces, but the whole layout lacks inspiration and character.
That being said, the new driver’s cockpit is a definite improvement and the eight-inch touchscreen perched at the top of the centre stack follows the latest trend in the industry. There’s a row of buttons and rotary knobs right under it for easier operation, and the infotainment system itself is relatively user-friendly (Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included). The image from the back-up camera could be sharper and the red-coloured A/C display looks like it belongs in a car from 2010, but on the other hand the available wireless charging pad shows the Forte can be forward-thinking.
While the seats appear firm at first, comfort is never an issue. They are heated as standard, just like the steering wheel, and the top-line EX Limited model even offers ventilated seats in synthetic leather with a perforated middle section. In the rear, the angle of the seatbacks is appropriate for relaxation and space is more than adequate.
Fuel Economy Trumps Performance
The 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, which produces 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque, returns unchanged in the 2019 Kia Forte. It lacks gusto and excitement, which is no surprise considering it’s one of the least powerful engines in the segment.
This car’s forte (pun intended) is fuel economy, especially when equipped with the brand’s Intelligent Variable Transmission instead of the six-speed manual. The official ratings are 7.7 L/100 km in the city and 5.9 L/100 km on the highway, yet we managed to do even better than that. Maybe not close to hybrid territory (Honda Insight, Hyundai IONIQ, Toyota Prius, etc.), but still really impressive considering we used the A/C a lot to keep the interior cool. And the fact that it simulates gear shifts makes it less annoying than conventional CVTs.
On the road, the Forte drives in a fundamentally sound and predictable manner. The ride is fairly smooth, the steering is nice and the brake pedal is responsive. Three drive modes are available (Normal, Sport and Smart), but the difference is negligible.
As for safety, most trim levels feature blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping assist, driver attention alert and forward collision-avoidance assist.
Waiting for the Next Step
Priced from $17,195 to $28,065 plus freight and delivery, the 2019 Kia Forte is an attractive and affordable compact sedan that offers customers high quality and generous equipment, not to mention a great warranty.
However, since it won the AJAC award in February, the new 2019 Mazda3 and 2020 Toyota Corolla have arrived on the market, while the Hyundai Elantra also switched to a CVT to improve fuel economy. These three models along with the Honda Civic, Volkswagen Jetta and Golf all remain ahead of the Forte in terms of Canadian sales.
Kia still has a mountain to climb and hopefully the upcoming 201-horsepower, turbocharged Forte GT and the completely redesigned 2020 Forte5 hatchback will elevate it into the top five.