I live in a part of the country where one is likely to feel out of place if not driving an SUV or a pickup truck, and I like driving a big SUV. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy taking the 2014 Kia Forte out for a test drive while recently attending the Kia First Drive event in Scottsdale, however, because there’s just something *fun* about sitting lower to the road and really feeling what’s going on that can’t be duplicated when riding in a jacked-up rig. Kia gave me ample opportunity to experience that sensation during my ~115 test drive last week, and when I was done I came away with a new respect for family sedans in general and Kia in particular.
Just as I did in my Sorento writeup, we’ll start with what’s new for 2014, and then I’ll jump into how the drive went …
The 2014 Forte is Kia’s 5th generation compact sedan; in four short years they have already replaced the last generation’s model, which Kia says should serve as an indicator of this market segment’s importance to Kia’s continued growth. Kia has replaced their compact sedan twice in the current generation of the Toyota Corolla because they want to continuously improve and compete.
From the development focus of the Kia Forte, they have enhanced the vehicle’s strong points — its design, the packaging, and the power train performance — and they made an “assertive leap” in terms of refinement by giving it better ride comfort, better miles per gallon, and by introducing premium amenities to this segment.
The design team drew inspiration from the cheetah and an archer for the new Forte, and the US design Center took the lead for the interior and exterior styling. Kia believes that people want to “look good in their car, that they want to be able to connect to the outside world from inside their vehicle”, and they want to “be seen as making a smart choice” in the vehicle they drive.
Some of the 2014 Forte’s key design elements include its broad shoulders, its voluminous hood, and on the EX — the 12 LEDs in the positioning lights. Kia added front and rear corner glass to not only make the interior seem bigger, but to also enhance visibility; it does both.
The EX has added upscale features including a chrome accents on the outside door handles and the lower window beltline, or “hockey stick” as Kia called it. You can see why they gave it that name by looking at this picture …
The rear end, short deck lid, the color matched bumpers — and on the fully loaded model — 81 LEDs in each taillight make the Forte a “sporty and yet sophisticated car, unlike any other in this segment.”
It’s not immediately obvious, but Kia has increased the Forte’s trunk opening width by two inches, which will make inserting bulky items — such as a bicycle — that much easier.
The center console is canted 10 degrees toward the driver, as it is in the more expensive Kia Optima, which makes the controls that much easier to reach. This space is meant to emphasize “that the driver is in control”.
To give the Forte its more athletic proportions, Kia made it wider, longer and lower, as they have done with their other recent sedans; to increase its sportiness, they increased the Forte’s wheelbase.
The inside is a comfortable space for passengers. Front seat riders benefit from an increase in head, leg and shoulder room; the Forte remains “one of the roomiest compact sedans in this segment”.
Two all new engines will be introduced with the 2014 Forte: the 1.8 liter is standard on the LX, and it generates 148 horsepower; the new 2.0 liter engine is standard on the EX, and it produces 173 horsepower. As was done with the Sorento’s new engine, these engines have also been stress tested by running them for 200 hours at wide open throttle, and on top of that additional time at red-line. Kia’s engines “are built to last”. Some of the key elements of the new engine are an aluminum bed plate, which when compared to the last generation’s is lighter and stiffer. The 2014 Forte also has an offset crankshaft which reduces the friction between the pistons and the cylinder wall. The final feature was the lightweight material that Kia used for the intake manifold, which saves 30% in weight compared to the aluminum they used on the last generation.
The Forte has a MacPherson strut front suspension and a coupled torsion beam rear axle; the front bushing sizes have been increased from 66mm to 70mm to make the ride more comfortable and to help isolate noise from the road. Flex steering is standard on the Forte EX model, and the switch that controls it is on the right side of the steering wheel; it has the same three settings as the Sorrento — comfort, normal and sport.
Giving the Forte a quiet interior was one of Kia’s goals, and the ways that they made it happen included using a special material to create the dash isolation pad; they also used premium carpeting that is not usually found in this class vehicle. A dual-layered engine mount with two different tuning frequencies was used, which allowed Kia’s engineers to target high frequencies like wind sounds and lower frequency sounds like auto vibration.
Kia wants you to notice how quiet the car is when you drive it.
The 2014 has improved aerodynamics, and tortial rigidity. Reinforcements have been added to the cowl, the under floor, and to other integral parts. 63% of the Forte’s body is made from high-strength steel to give it that stiffer and stronger structure that is needed to deliver their desired attributes.
There are a lot of premium features that have made their way into the compact sedan market, and the 2014 Forte delivers many of the features that consumers now expect … and it introduces a few more. The EX has a power ventilated driver’s seat with memory; the ventilated seat is a class-exclusive feature. On an EX equipped with keyless entry, the side mirrors will fold out and approach lighting will come on in various points, basically “welcoming you to your vehicle”.
The Forte will be available in two trim levels; the base LX and the EX. The LX has the 1.8 liter engine, and it starts at under $16,000. The well-equipped LX Automatic with Power Package will be priced in the mid $18,000. The power package will include 16″ alloy wheels, remote keyless entry and cruise control. The EX adds to the power package, and it includes 17″ wheels as an option. The premium package includes things like a sunroof, leather seat trim, heated front and rear seats, a ventilated drivers seat, and other goodies. The Technology Package includes navigation, LED taillights, and HID headlights.
The UVO eServices package that I described in the Sorento writeup will also be available in the 2014 Forte.
The Test Drive
As is usually the case when we are attending an auto event together, Helena from Chip Chick and I partnered up. I drove, and Helena navigated the course that Kia had charted; we started at the W hotel in Scottsdale and made our way out of town. The way Kia had set it up was that we were given a book with our course plotted out, so it would say things like ’0 miles turn right from W Hotel’, ’2.3 miles turn right onto …’
I hate to admit it, but even with great instructions — and probably because we had started talking and weren’t paying enough attention — we almost missed one of those turns. As a result, I got to see exactly how nimble the Forte could be as I cut across a lane and darted into the right turn leading to our exit; the Forte handled itself beautifully.
Once we were on the open road, I realized that the speed limit was finally 65, so I got a chance to goose the accelerator and feel the Forte quickly respond. Alas, I didn’t try the three steering settings because I felt like the Forte was driving and handling perfectly as it was.
It has been a while since I drove a sedan, and there were several things that really struck me during the drive. I loved the way Kia had put a little window in front of the side mirror; this is something I had never seen before, and it not only made visibility better, it also made everything feel more roomy. That there was a window on the back quarter of the rear window was another blind-spot conquering bonus; you wouldn’t believe how much easier it is to see when you aren’t having to jerk your neck around to compensate for solid panels.
As I drove, Helena fiddled with the stereo. It was no time at all before she had her iPhone hooked up to UVO, and even though it’s not listed as a feature, we were able to get Spotify to stream over the system — with displayed tags — albeit briefly. Perhaps because it’s not technically compatible (yet?), we kept getting kicked off of Spotify back into iTunes. The stereo system in the Forte sounded amazing, by the way.
I’m pretty sure that this was my first time to drive a car with keyless entry, and I’m not going to lie — it took me a minute to get used to the idea that there was no keyhole to deal with, the key could either be in my bag or in the center console tray, and the car would start with the touch of a button. Awesomeness.
And I loved the way the Forte rode; there was no doubt that it was lower to the ground and more responsive than what I was used to, and not only did the Forte hug the road — it felt very sporty while doing so.
Probably the most important thing I can tell you about my time driving the Forte was that after a while I stopped thinking of it as a Kia, and I started thinking of it as a really nice car. In fact, if I hadn’t seen a single maker’s badge, and if I didn’t know one sedan from another based on its shape, I would have thought I was driving a much more expensive car made by a much more prestigious manufacturer. And that is perhaps what impressed me the most about the 2014 Kia Forte.