The Kia Forte is a compact model, a front-wheel-drive sedan with room for five. It offers the styling cues of far more expensive models, such as the Kia Stinger, as well as very good fuel economy and a roomy interior. It isn’t an especially fast car, but the level of safety and tech features are quite good for the money.
What’s new this year
The 2019 Kia Forte launches this compact’s third generation. Built on a new platform and measuring slightly larger than the previous model, the 2019 Forte receives its first continuously variable transmission for improved fuel efficiency.
An 8-inch color touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto smartphone compatibility, and new driver-assist safety features chart the changes. Marketed separately from the sedan is the Forte5, a five-door hatchback. The previous two-door Forte Koup was last produced in 2016.
Design: exterior and interior
If the look of the all-new Forte reminds you of the Kia Stinger with its crisp lines and detailing, the design is intentional. Kia offers the this model in FE ($17,790), LXS ($19,190), S ($20,290), and SE ($21,990) trims. (Plus $925 for the destination charge.)
The base trim comes with such features as automatic projector beam headlights with LED daytime running lights and steel wheels set within all-season tires. As you move up trim levels, Kia rolls out LED headlights and taillights, front fog lights, power-controlled and heated side mirrors, alloy wheels, and a sunroof.
Inside, the Forte sedan features bucket seats up front and an available 60/40 split fold-down rear bench seat. The seats are covered in cloth, but come with imitation leather in the EX trim. Extra padding makes all seats feel comfortable. Both front seats are height adjustable, which is something you’d typically find in a far more expensive model. We like this model’s 15.3 cubic-foot trunk as it’s very large for its class and rivals the size of some midsize sedans.
All models come with full power accessories, a tilt-and-telescopic steering column, steering-wheel mounted auxiliary controls, dual map lights, an overhead sunglasses storage compartment, and dual-zone climate control. Some models feature an LCD color display in the instrument panel.
Technology & safety
The Forte’s 8-inch color touchscreen display is one of the largest in the segment, and has a tablet-like layout for ease of use. Standard features include Bluetooth audio streaming, USB and auxiliary ports, and four speakers. The list of options includes voice recognition, satellite and HD radio, navigation, and an eight-speaker audio system from Harman Kardon. With its standard smartphone compatibility, you don’t need to upgrade to navigation – Android Auto or Apple CarPlay will take you there.
Among safety features, all models come with a rearview camera. You’ll also find forward collision warning, driver attention warning, lane departure keeping and warning, and forward collision warning. Optional features include blind spot warning, lane change assist, forward collision warning, and adaptive cruise control. Some of these features, including adaptive cruise control, are uncommon in this segment.
It may resemble the Kia Stinger with its bold front fascia and crisp lines, but the 2019 Forte eschews performance for efficiency. Indeed, all models come with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, which generates 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque.
The base model is the only one with a standard 6-speed manual transmission. All other trims have a continuously variable transmission, which enables this sedan to achieve a laudable 31 mpg in the city and 41 mpg on the highway, according to the EPA.
Expect little more than a leisurely drive when operating a Kia Forte. It gives sufficient power, but it doesn’t offer the performance elements available in such models as the now-retired Ford Focus ST or the Hyundai Elantra GT. What it does provide is a fairly smooth ride with capable handling and firm braking.
Since most buyers opt for automatic transmission, you’ll pay $900 to upgrade the base model to acquire one. For just $500 more, the next-level LXS model adds the CVT, upgraded trim, alloy wheels, the split fold-down rear seat, and drive mode select, the latter allowing the driver to choose between eco, normal and sport modes.
Further up the line, the S trim begins the package offerings for the Forte. It supplies an S Premium Package ($1,200, with high beam assist, LED headlights with auto leveling, a power sunroof, and LED interior lighting). The EX trim offers an EX Launch Edition ($3,120, with 17-inch alloy wheels, a power sunroof, rear trunk lid spoiler, all driver-assist features previously mentioned, upgraded technologies, and the Harman Kardon audio system).
Our recommended model is the 2019 Kia Forte XLS. For about $20,000 (before discounting), buyers will come away with a stylish, well-equipped compact car with excellent fuel economy, along with one of the best warranties in the business (10-years or 100,000-mile powertrain coverage).