Times might be tough and automotive sales in the doldrums, but that doesn't seem to faze Kia one little bit. In fact, the company's new Forte sedan is but the latest example of the Korean automaker's move to shine up its lineup and its image as a producer of attractive and affordable models.
Arriving this summer, the Forte (pronounced four-tay) replaces the long-serving Spectra as Kia's "bridge" passenger car that slots between the company's subcompact Rio and larger Optima four-door. It also carries Kia's colors into battle against such rivals as the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Mazda3 and Hyundai Elantra.
The outgoing Spectra has served Kia well since its 2001-model-year launch and 2005 makeover, but the Forte should be even more tempting. For starters, the vehicle's generous dimensions place it ahead of the Spectra as well as the Corolla and Civic. Additionally, the Forte's extremely generous trunk ranks second in class, exceeded only by the Suzuki SX4's cargo hold.
Styling is a more subjective measurement, but here the Forte should impress to a greater degree than disappoint. The curvy nose is similar to the recently redesigned Optima and even smacks of Honda Civic, while the bulgy front fenders and tall rear deck with wraparound taillights present an equally appealing view.
Inside, there's decent head, leg and shoulder room for up to five passengers (avoid being the meat in the rear-seat sandwich, though). In addition, the logically configured dashboard/control panel with its minimum of dials and switches should be easy for most drivers to quickly master.
Said drivers should also appreciate the Forte's platform that has been made significantly stiffer than the Spectra's and features a firmer suspension setup designed to provide a more athletic and agile behind-the-wheel experience. This is especially true of the Forte SX, which possesses a sport-tuned suspension plus larger-than-standard front disc brakes for added stopping power.
A 138-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine provided the Spectra's motivation, but the Forte starts out with an all-new 156-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder in base LX and midrange EX trims. Opting for the more performance-minded SX gets you a 173-horsepower 2.4-liter I4 that also happens to be the standard Optima powerplant.
The 2.0 is available with a five-speed manual transmission or optional four-speed automatic, while the 2.4 can be had with a six-speed manual or extra-cost five-speed automatic. However, an available Fuel Economy Package that's offered with the 2.0 upgrades with the five-speed automatic, electric (versus belt-driven) power steering, low-rolling-resistance tires and a wind-cheating aero body kit. These tweaks help improve city and highway fuel economy by and estimated two miles per gallon (to 27 and 36, respectively), compared to a regular-strength 2.0/four-speed automatic Forte.
The LX is pretty basic, but does provide a four-speaker audio system with an auxiliary USB computer port for external music players.
EX and SX models add air conditioning, remote keyless entry, cruise control, power windows and door locks plus steering-wheel audio controls for the upgraded six-speaker audio package.
The SX is fitted with a telescoping steering column, unique 17-inch wheels, rear spoiler and sport bucket front seats with fancier trim.
The options list includes a power sunroof, leather-covered seats and a navigation system.
There's no sign of a Forte wagon derivative on the horizon to replace the Spectra5 carry-all, but you can definitely expect a hot-shot two-door called the Kia Koup to follow close on the heels of the sedan.
The Forte, along with the recently launched Soul wagon, should reinforce Kia's image as a purveyor of funky vehicles that are easy on the eyes and the wallet. It might be just what you need to chase away the economic blahs.