2011 Kia Forte
Base price: $14,995 – $16,995
As tested: $23,640
MPG: 26 city/36 highway
- Roomy interior and surprisingly fun to drive
- Excellent fuel economy
- Versatile with multiple models and trim levels
- Noisy interior at highway speeds
- Smaller engine not as refined or fun to drive
By Jim Prueter
Kia Forte is roomy, fun, and has the company’s famous warranty
The attraction to Kia vehicles, if you can really call it that, has always been two things: low price and a killer warranty. Not style, not quality, not reputation, not necessarily value, just price with a 10-year/100,000-mile warranty to back you up if things went wrong.
Kia is trying to change that perception with stylish new vehicles like the popular Soul, redesigned Sorento, Sportage, and sharp looking new Optima. Kia wants its vehicles to be coveted for their look and value, not just because they’re easy on the wallet, and the Forte is another step in the right direction.
The Forte replaced the Spectra in Kia’s lineup when it hit dealerships in the summer of 2009, and it still comes with an attractive base price and that famous warranty. But that’s where the similarities end. For starters, Forte is a much-better-looking vehicle, sporting an attractive profile including elements like swept-back headlamps that wrap around to the side, and a slight bulge around the front wheel-wells. There’s an attractive crease just forward of the A-pillar that runs down the hood, adding character to the overall look. The interior is nice, with a clean intuitive set up that doesn’t necessarily “wow,” but also doesn’t seem cheap or chintzy.
For 2011, the Forte is available in three body styles: a four-door sedan, a two-door coupe Kia calls a “Koup,” and a new hatchback version that Kia calls a five-door. Trim levels include LX, EX, and SX for the sedan while the five-door and Koup come in EX and SX trims only.
The Forte comes with either a six-speed manual or automatic transmission depending on which trim level is selected. The six-speed automatic is new for 2011 and replaces the previous five-speed automatic, improving both performance and fuel efficiency.
LX and EX trim levels are powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder 156-horsepower engine. The SX ups the power with a 2.4-liter 173-horsepower four-cylinder engine. Fuel economy is impressive.
We tested the new five-door hatchback, which we found especially fun to drive with the larger engine with satisfying power that didn’t require the car be driven with the pedal to the metal to enjoy. Steering and braking are both excellent. There was some noticeable body roll during the cornering, making the ride less precise than other vehicles we’ve driven in this class. A bit too much road noise at highway speeds made conversations more difficult than desired. The six-speed automatic transmission in our test car shifted brilliantly, changing gears quickly without hesitation or pause.
Unlike small crossover vehicles, the car’s low stance will be a negative for some as entering and exiting the Forte requires you twist, duck, and drop down to enter then twist and bend to exit. Still, the number of positives once you’re behind the wheel quickly put those unfortunate contortions out of mind.
The extra cargo space afforded by the five-door hatch is handy and the interior is well-executed, seeming roomier than it probably is due to the open space in the rear.
Our optional leather seats were especially comfortable, nicely contoured, and supportive. Rear legroom was average for this class. Instruments and controls were sensible, intuitive, and easy to read and use. There were plenty of bins, storage places, and cup holders along with room to put your cell phone, sunglasses, loose change, and other small pocket items. Overall interior layout was clean but not groundbreaking, using materials about on par with competition like Honda Civic, Ford Focus, Nissan Sentra, and Toyota Corolla.
Standard safety gear includes antilock disc brakes with brake assist, stability control, front side airbags, side curtain airbags, and active front head restraints. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the 2011 Kia Forte a “Top Safety Pick” in front, side, rollover, and rear tests, and standard electronic stability control.
Government crash testing by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has introduced tougher tests and a rigorous new 5-star safety rating system for 2011. The system provides more information about safety feature performance and crash avoidance technologies, and the 2011 Forte earned four out of a possible five stars for frontal and side crash tests as well as rollover and overall scores.
Overall the 2011 Forte is an attractive choice in the compact sedan segment that we think compares very favorably to class leaders like the Honda Civic, Mazda3, Toyota Corolla, Chevy Cruze and others. With affordable pricing, an excellent and long warranty, and good fuel economy, we think it should be on your “must drive” list if you’re shopping for a compact car.