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2019 Kia Forte first drive review: Stinger style and more tech

While many automakers are moving away from building compact sedans in favor of offering new utility vehicles, Kia is doing no such thing. After all, the Forte is the company’s best-selling product, and the biggest gateway into the Kia brand. That makes the Korean automaker’s decision to launch this brand-new 2019 Forte a total no-brainer.

Stinger inspiration

The third-generation Forte’s front end borrows heavily from the rakish Stinger, resulting in a narrow “tiger nose” grille and swept-back headlights. The result is a front end that makes a somewhat aggressive statement — certainly more so than the previous Forte, at any rate. Unfortunately, the sporty looks soften out back. The shape of the greenhouse and short trunk lid are more Nissan Sentra than Kia Stinger, which isn’t exactly a compliment.

Sadly, the Stinger’s looks don’t continue out back.


Jon Wong/Roadshow

Inside, some Stinger influence is again present in the circular air vents implemented into an intuitive cabin layout. Note the clearly marked HVAC controls and ample soft-touch materials on the dashboard and door panels — this all makes the Forte look and feel more premium than some of its competitors. There’s adequate space in front and back for adults, though going three-deep in the rear will be cozy and best. The trunk’s 15.3 cubic-feet of space is the largest in the class, edging out the 15.1 cubes found in the Honda Civic and Nissan Sentra.

Of course, many competitors, including the Civic, offer hatchback body styles. For the previous Forte, Kia did offer the Forte5, but has yet to confirm if a new one is coming. A Kia spokesman says more Forte news is coming, though.

Overall, the cabin is comfortable. The leatherette seats in my range-topping EX test car are cushy and provide just the right amount of side support — after a long drive through Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, I’m free of fatigue. It’s a quiet cabin, too, with thicker front door glass keeping the cabin hushed, even over rough stretches of road

Tech heavy

Standard on all models is an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Bluetooth, as well as both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capabilities. The system offers clear imagery, snappy response to commands and quick switching between different menus. On my EX, an optional Harman Kardon audio setup belts out crisp tunes through its eight speakers.

Navigation is also available on EX models, working as advertised, but annoyingly the map always defaults back to a wide-out view. My test route had many easy-to-miss turns, and a zoomed-in map comes in handy when trying to navigate unfamiliar areas. Constantly having to re-zoom-in is frustrating.

To help win the war on dead smart devices, the Forte EX is littered with charging options, with a regular USB port, two quick-charging USB ports and a 12-volt power outlet standard. A wireless charging pad at the bottom of the center stack is available as an option.

All 2019 Fortes have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto standard.


Jon Wong/Roadshow

For safety, all Fortes come equipped with forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking and lane departure warning with lane-keeping assist. EX trims add standard issue blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and lane-change assist, while auto high-beams, parking sensors and adaptive cruise control are optional. The latter works well on curvy two-lane roads outside of downtown Pittsburgh, adjusting speeds with the flow of traffic and keeping a reasonable distance between me and the car ahead.

Competent performer

From a dynamic standpoint, the Forte is a far more refined vehicle than its predecessor. The 2.0-liter four-cylinder churns out 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque, which definitely won’t win you any drag races, but is competent enough to get the Forte up to speed without issue.

On LXS, S and EX models, a new continuously variable transmission routes power to the front wheels helping to return an EPA estimated 30 miles per gallon in the city and 40 mpg on the highway. With steps programmed into the gearbox, under light-to-medium throttle it operates like a regular torque converter automatic and the manual shift function is the most responsive in a CVT that I’ve come across to date — even if it isn’t actually moving any gears.

The Forte’s 2.0-liter four-cylinder gets the job done with 147 horsepower.


Jon Wong/Roadshow

You can still get a Forte with a six-speed manual transmission if you want, but only on the base FE trim with 15-inch steel wheels. With 27-mpg city and 37-mpg highway fuel economy ratings, it’s not as efficient as CVT-equipped Fortes, but the lower cost of entry, avoiding the constant engine drone at wide-open-throttle and having three pedals may make the fuel economy penalty worth it to some.

The range-topping EX confidently carves through bends with controlled body roll, serviceable grip from the 225/45R17 Kumho Majesty Solus all-season tires and strong power from the brakes. The hefty-feeling steering is fairly quick to respond to inputs, making the Forte pretty entertaining to toss around.

Where the Forte has a leg up on the competition is in the ride comfort department. Its McPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension setups are nothing groundbreaking, but they’re stellar at absorbing impacts from ruts and potholes. Surprisingly, the more cost-effective torsion beam setup in back copes with mid-corner bumps well during normal driving. However, if you’re looking for a compact sedan to drive in a more enthusiastic manner, you’ll likely want to go with the Civic or Mazda3 for their multilink rear suspensions and overall more engaging character.

A quiet cabin and ride comfort are the new Forte’s biggest standouts.


Jon Wong/Roadshow

Wide appeal

When the 2019 Kia Forte arrives in dealers this month, it’ll begin at $18,585 including $895 destination for the FE manual. The Forte with the CVT begins at $19,485 to undercut the automatic transmission-equipped versions of the Chevrolet Cruze ($20,400), Civic ($20,635), Mazda3 ($20,040) and Corolla ($19,620). My well-equipped EX tester starts at $22,885.

On top of its value proposition, its combination of style, respectable handling, excellent ride comfort and tech position the new Forte well to play to wide audience. Nobody should be surprised if it continues to be Kia’s best seller.

Editors’ note: Roadshow accepts multi-day vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews. All scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms. However, for this feature, the manufacturer covered travel costs. This is common in the auto industry, as it’s far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists.

The judgments and opinions of Roadshow’s editorial team are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.


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