I must admit to really liking the new 2019 Forte sedan’s styling, as its lines are clean and modern instead of abstract like the more visually complicated Honda Civic or new 2020 Toyota Corolla. It’s not that I don’t like the latter two cars, but generally find the Forte easier on the eyes, and believe if placed in a row next to the two other cars with badges were removed, would be chosen more often than not.
Of course, the Civic and Corolla were highly successful long before their current designs were known, because they’ve always been very good cars, while their current shapes are obviously acceptable enough to the Canadian masses or they wouldn’t sit one and two in popularity, both selling within Canada’s top-ten, including trucks, crossover SUVs and vans. I just happen to like the Forte’s visual design more than these two segment leaders.
The Forte’s styling strengths include a longer looking, leaner, lower, more sweptback profile, which doesn’t require as much plastic body cladding to make more appealing. It does get a number of stylistic enhancements from front to rear, but I found the sporty bits on my top-tier Forte EX Limited improved its overall look instead of detracting from it.
It starts off with Kia’s chrome-edged, glossed-black notched oval grille at centre, which hovers above more glossy black-detailed air induction venting within the lower front fascia, which gets highlighted by nicely angled corner vents housing rectangular LED fog lights. A truly interesting set of “X” accented LED headlights are positioned above, offsetting conventionally shaped taillights at the other end, these infused with interestingly patterned LEDs. There’s a thin strip of reflective material spanning the two rear lamps, while just above on the rear deck lid is an integrated spoiler that no doubt aids aerodynamics. The rear bumper is formed into a diffuser-like shape, but I can pretty well guarantee it does nothing to improve airflow, although its inky black paint looks sporty enough, and matches the gloss-black triangular bezels at each corner, housing rear fog and backup lights. Lastly, my Forte tester rolled on sweet looking 17-inch double-five-spoke machined alloy wheels with black pockets.
The new Forte is even more impressive inside, besting the outgoing model as well as a number of compact rivals. Like its exterior design, its cabin comes across more tastefully conservative than some in this class that offer up less serious, funkier atmospheres. It’s also quite refined, with much of the upper dash and instrument panel finished in premium-like soft-touch composites. This pliable application covers the front door uppers, door inserts and armrests too, the latter items also transferring to the rear passenger compartment. It’s a really upscale environment, but I won’t go so far as to say the Forte is nicer than its competitors with respect to materials quality, fit and finish, etcetera, but they were one of the first brands to include such premium-like niceties to the compact segment. As it is, most of the Forte’s challengers’ interiors are now up to snuff.
Adding to my EX Limited model’s refinement quotient are perforated leatherette seats that feel a lot more like genuine hides than most rivals pull off, the aeration, incidentally, necessary for my tester’s three-way ventilation up front. This top-line trim also includes rear outboard seat heating, while three-temperature front seat heating is standard across the line, as is a leather-wrapped heatable steering wheel rim.
Yes, that wasn’t a typo. The Forte comes standard with a leather-clad, heated steering wheel. I want you to consider for a moment, that Toyota’s much pricier Camry doesn’t even offer Canadians such a highfalutin option, even when fully loaded. Optioning out a Camry would add almost $24k to the Forte’s $17,195 base MT MSRP, or alternatively $13k to this $28,065 Forte EX Limited, yet no heated steering wheel, plus it would also not provide cooled front seats or heated rear seats (be sure to learn about all 2019 Kia Forte pricing, including trim levels, packages and options, right here at CarCostCanada, plus don’t forget that you can save a lot by finding out about available rebates and dealer invoice pricing, also available right here at CarCostCanada).
After the last few Canadian winters, I would certainly rather live with a heated steering wheel than a cold leather rim first thing in the morning (if only they could find a way to heat the shifter knob too), and it would be nicer for my rear passengers to warm their behinds, just like my front passenger and I were able to. I enjoy cooling my butt mid-summer too, so if you’re like me, consider a Forte for such comforting features (and also take note that the 2020 Corolla sedan provides a heated steering wheel as part of an upgrade package, but then again no cooled front seats or heatable rear cushions).
Back to the 2019 Forte’s upgrades, Kia improved its automatic shifter with a great looking leather-wrapped and satin-silver knob design, while a stitched-leatherette skirt tapers outward as it meets up against yet more satin-silver surfacing. My Forte used this stylish silver treatment for its steering wheel spokes as well, plus some decorative trim across the instrument panel and the corner vent bezels, not to mention the inside door handles and power window/side mirror switchgear decoration, and lastly the thumb release button on the manual handbrake.
Say what? Agreed, a complete ground-up redesign that doesn’t come standard with an electric parking brake seems a tad old school this day and age, but truthfully it didn’t bother me one iota during my extended two-week test. Actually, I only noticed it on my last day when taking notes. Kia left this technological anachronism in the new design because of the car’s standard six-speed manual transmission, a gearbox that I only wished was available in my top-line trim, or at least in a dedicated sport model like Kia’s sister company Hyundai offers with its 200-horsepower Elantra Sport, a serious Civic Si rival that also improves its suspension and styling.
News flash (well, not exactly news as it was introduced last November): Kia will introduce a new Forte GT for the 2020 model year that’s pretty well an Elantra Sport in black-oval drag, and it looks fabulous with its 18-inch rims and even sportier design details, while it should drive brilliantly if it’s anything like the Elantra Sport, that I raved about in my road test review last year. Along with the 201-hp 1.6-litre turbo-four and short-throw six-speed manual gearbox (or optional paddle shift-actuated seven-speed dual-clutch automatic), it’ll get a sport-tuned fully independent suspension with a multi-link setup in the rear. Soon Kia will have the same kind of Civic Si Sedan fighter it’s always needed, along with a new five-door Forte5 GT.
As it is, this 2019 Forte only comes with one engine, a 2.0-litre four-cylinder making 147 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque. It’s a fairly competitive mill in this category, but other manufacturers provide a lot more variety and (until the 2020 model debuts) will therefore attract a greater number of performance, and/or green buyers. Toyota, for instance, offers up the choice of three engines in its latest 2020 Corolla sedan, including a hybrid, while Honda’s Civic Sedan offers three powerplants as well, the aforementioned Si boasting 205 horsepower, while the Insight, which is a Civic Hybrid other than mild styling revisions and a new name, features gasoline-electric hybridization as well.
Interestingly, the outgoing second-gen Forte four-door provided Canadians with two engines, the more advanced direct-injected version of the current model’s 2.0-litre four-cylinder, previously named “2.0 GDI”, no longer available despite its more engaging 164 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque. I initially thought we’d see this more formidable engine as a late arrival, possibly when the redesigned Forte5 showed up, but a quick visit to the “Upcoming Vehicles” section of the automaker’s Canadian retail site makes evident this all-new five-door hatch will go on sale this fall as a 2020 model, and shows no sign of the sportier GDI engine. Instead it will get the sedan’s “2.0L MPI” engine in base trim and the same optional 1.6-litre turbo-four used in the gen-two 2018 model (which is still available, by the way), good for 201 horsepower, 195 lb-ft of torque, and mated to the same paddle-shifted seven-speed twin-clutch automatic as noted above.
All this said, Kia’s reasoning behind simplifying the Forte’s engine lineup has to come down to 2018 calendar year sales that only reached 14,399 units (including the Forte5), this dropping some 12.1 percent from the previous year. If it pulled in more buyers, like the Corolla’s 48,796 customers throughout 2018, and the 69,005 Canadians who opted for the Civic over the same 12 months, Kia might even go back to offering a two-door sports coupe like they used to.
Right about now I should make note of Hyundai Elantra sales as well (which will soon be all-new for 2020), as it far outpaces the Forte’s numbers at 41,784 through 2018, and that was a 9.4-percent decline from 2017.
I expect another reason Kia chose its solo engine for 2019 is price related, both at the onset of the initial sale and afterwards at the pump. Canadians are ultra price-sensitive in this small car category, which would negatively impact sales if the more powerful engine caused the Forte’s price range to jump higher. What’s more, if the 2.0 GDI was the car’s sole offering its fuel economy wouldn’t measure up to the best in this class, and therefore would hamper acceptance of the entire Forte line.
Instead, the 2.0 MPI engine being used is considerably more efficient, with a glance back at 2018 Transport Canada fuel economy numbers showing a rating of 8.0 L/100km city, 6.1 highway and 7.1 combined, alongside the more potent GDI’s respective rating of 9.4, 6.8 and 8.3. That would’ve been a big gap to overcome.
Also notable, Kia’s made a lot of headway with the 2.0 MPI engine’s fuel economy in the new 2019 model too, with a new Transport Canada rating of 8.6 L/100km in the city, 6.4 on the highway and 7.6 combined when suited up in six-speed manual base trim, compared to 9.4, 6.8 and 8.3 respectively in the previous year. Additionally, the Forte’s completely new Hyundai/Kia-designed continuously variable transmission (CVT) is easier on fuel when put up against last year’s six-speed automatic, with the new model getting a 7.7 L/100km city, 5.9 highway and 6.9 combined rating, and the outgoing car only good for 8.0 in the city, 6.1 on the highway and 7.1 combined.
This CVT, dubbed Intelligent Variable Transmission (IVT), adds $2,500 to the Forte’s base LX trim and comes standard with all other models. It does a pretty good a job of putting power down to the front wheels, which is high praise for any CVT incidentally, this one of the best of its kind in my opinion, and easily good enough for a compact car that makes comfort its first priority.
The Forte is quick enough off the line and plenty smooth as well, its engine and transmission offering up nice linear performance, with untoward noise, vibration and harshness kept to a minimum. Kia includes a slew of Drive Mode Select settings including Normal, Eco, Sport and Smart, the latter being where I left it most of the time thanks to its ability to automatically adjust between each mode in order to optimize fuel economy and performance.
Along with the Forte’s smooth powertrain is a comfortable ride, while its cornering prowess is quite responsive considering its rather low-rent torsion beam rear suspension setup. By comparison the Civic and new 2020 Corolla incorporate independent multi-link rear suspension systems, which give them an edge when pushed even harder over broken pavement, especially mid-turn, but just the same I found the Forte nimble enough for most high-speed handling situations, while its undercarriage was wonderfully compliant over rougher pavement in a straight line. The upcoming GT should be even better.
Maintaining control in all weather conditions is this segment’s usual assortment of active safety equipment, including electronic stability and traction control, while some other near-standard features (when upgrading to the CVT) include Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist (FCA), Lane Keeping Assist (LKA), and Driver Attention Alert (DAA).
Both manual and CVT endowed LX models also get auto on/off projector headlights, splash guards, body-colour mirror housings and door handles, heated outside mirrors, the heated leather-clad steering wheel rim noted earlier, heatable front seats, air conditioning, a truly impressive new tablet-style 8.0-inch touchscreen display with tap, pinch, and swipe gesture controls (plus really quick response to inputs), Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity, a backup camera with helpful active guidelines, an AM/FM/MP3 radio, Bluetooth hands-free with steaming audio, USB inputs, cruise control, Hill-Assist Control (HAC), 60/40-split rear seatbacks that fold down to make the 434-litre (15.3 cu-ft) trunk more accepting of longer cargo like skis, plus more.
Those who want alloy wheels can upgrade to $20,995 EX trim, which replace the base model’s 15-inch steel wheels and covers with sharp looking 16-inch machine-finished rims, while this trim grade also receives LED headlights, LED DRLs, LED positioning lamps, side mirror turn signals, a glossy black grille treatment with chromed accents, chromed window surrounds, aeroblade windshield wipers, a chromed exhaust finisher, the satin-chrome interior door handles noted earlier, a supervision LCD/TFT primary gauge cluster, a wireless smartphone charger, rear climate vents, a folding rear centre armrest, tire pressure monitoring, Blind Spot Detection (BSD) with Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA), etcetera.
Moving up to $22,495 EX+ trim adds everything above plus 17-inch machined alloys, LED tail lamps, LED interior lights, plus a powered glass sunroof, while $25,065 EX Premium trim further adds High Beam Assist (HBA) to the previously mentioned LED headlamps, as well as proximity-sensing keyless entry, pushbutton start/stop, dynamic cruise control, an eight-way powered driver’s seat, “SOFINO” leatherette upholstery, two-zone auto HVAC, XM/SIRIUS satellite radio, UVO Intelligence connected car services, Advanced Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist (FCA), a proximity-sensing trunk lid that automatically opens when someone with a key fob stands behind the car for three seconds, plus more.
Finally, my $28,065 EX Limited test model came standard with all of the above plus those ventilated front and heated rear seats noted before, as well as an enhanced multimedia infotainment interface with very accurate and user-friendly navigation, and lastly an impressive Harman/Kardon premium audio upgrade.
The driver’s seat was very comfortable for this class, while its two-way powered lumbar support thankfully fit the small of my back perfectly. Even better, when I adjusted the Forte’s standard tilt and telescoping steering column to fit my long-legged five-foot-eight frame, I was left comfortably in control. This isn’t always the case no matter the class of car, particularly with Toyota models, including the now outgoing 2019 Corolla. That car didn’t allow for enough telescopic steering column reach, either leaving the pedals too close or steering wheel uncomfortably far away, but fortunately I had no such issues with this Forte sedan.
After setting up the driver’s seat for my body type, I sat directly behind in order to test rear seat roominess. The result was loads of space for my feet, plus about five inches in front of my knees, another three and a half or so over my head, about five beside my outer shoulder, and four next to my hip. In other words, the Forte provides a lot of room for rear passengers, and plenty of comfort too.
The rear centre armrest was nicely positioned for my arm and included the usual dual cupholders, while a webbed magazine pocket behind the front passenger seat looked nicer than the bare seatback ahead of my legs. Still, I could hardly complain about not having a webbed magazine pocket behind the driver’s seat thanks to my butt and backside being warm and comfortable from those seat warmers noted earlier, plus I also appreciated the small rear quarter windows that allowed for a bit more light and outward visibility than some cars in this class provide.
That’s a nice positive thought to leave the 2019 Kia Forte review on, isn’t it? While not best in class due to a lack of optional power and less capable rear suspension, it’s easily the best Forte four-door ever created. These shortcomings help keep pricing nice and low, however, plus allow Kia to offer plenty of comfort-oriented features that I’d rather have in a city car anyway. The Forte also doesn’t come up short on styling, space, comfort or safety, and let’s remember that Forte buyers who want stronger performance can choose the old Forte5 and soon will have the GT and redesigned 5 for options.
Kia will soon have its bases covered two renewed body styles and truly sporty variants of both, while today’s 2019 Forte sedan makes an excellent case for affordable commuting comfort.
Story credit: Trevor Hofmann
Photo credit: Karen Tuggay