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Thread: 2010 Kia Forte

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    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    2010 Kia Forte

    Economy cars don't exist anymore.

    At least, not in the way we used to understand the term.

    It wasn't too long ago that "economy car" was a discreet marketing euphemism for "Pathetic Losermobile." Economy cars were miserable looking and underpowered; tinny, stripped-to-the-bones you-know-what-boxes whose only virtues were the cheap price and the good gas mileage.

    No person in his right mind wanted an "economy car." You drove one because you had to - or because you needed cheap/basic/bare-bones transpo.

    That's not how it is anymore - and the new Kia Forte's a case in point.

    WHAT IT IS

    The Forte is Kia's entry-level small sedan. It replaces the Spectra, a car that was an "economy car" in the fullest sense of the term. Prices start at $13,695 for the base LX with a manual transmission and run to $18,995 for the sport-themed SX with an automatic. The Forte competes in the same class as other small sedans like the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic but undercuts its name brand rivals on price, power and warranty coverage.

    WHAT'S NEW

    The Forte is an all-new model from the tire tread up. A sporty coupe version is expected to join the lineup in early 2010.

    WHAT'S GOOD

    Does not even remotely look low-rent. Very strong (156 hp) standard engine; even stronger (173 hp) available engine. Standard MP3 player/USB port and Bluetooth. Best warranty coverage available.

    WHAT'S NOT SO GOOD

    Optional automatic in base LX trims only has four speeds (not ideal for economy or performance). A more technologically current five-speed automatic is available but only in higher-trimmed EX models and even then, it's another $600 extra as part of an "economy" package. AC is not offered in the base LX, either. To get it you have to move up to the more expensive EX trim, too - which begins at $15,795. Ditto the telescoping steering wheel (and it's only available in the even more expensive SX version, which starts at $17,195.

    ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

    One of the Forte's fortes is power. Even the least expensive versions come standard with a 156 hp, 2.0 liter four-cylinder engine. (For comparison, a 2010 Toyota Corolla's standard 1.8 engine is rated at 132 hp; a 2010 Honda Civic's standard 1.8 liter engine at 140 hp. And the Honda and Toyota's base prices start out around $2,000 higher than the Kia's, too.)

    The 2.0 liter engine is offered with either a five-speed manual transmission (standard) or, optionally, a four-speed automatic. The latter is the combo's only weak point. It's not that there's anything wrong with the four-speed automatic; it's just not as technologically current as it should be for a 2010 model year car. A five (or even six-speed) transmission would improve both economy and performance - and really should be the Forte's "standard" optional transmission.

    Nonetheless, published gas mileage with the 2.0 liter engine and four-speed automatic is exactly the same as with the five-speed: 25 city, 34 highway. The more expensive Corolla is only slightly better: 26 city, 35 highway. A Honda Civic (with manual transmission) is even less slightly better: 26 city, 34 highway.

    As far as scoot: The Forte with 2.0 liter engine and five-speed manual can reach 60 mph in just over 8 seconds; automatics are 2-3 tenths of a second slower.

    If you'd like to go faster, Kia offers a larger 2.4 liter engine in the SX version of the Forte that makes 173 hp - putting it at the top of its class as far as power and performance among cars in this price range. This engine comes standard with a six-speed manual transmission or (optionally) a five-speed automatic. Fuel economy drops to 22 city, but the highway figure (32 mpg) is still very good.

    Performance is even better. An SX Forte with the six-speed manual can reach 60 mph in about 7.3-7.5 seconds.

    All versions are front-wheel-drive.

    DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

    The Forte's only real fault is the LX's so-so optional four-speed automatic. As mentioned previously, four-speed automatics are becoming dated technology. Five and six-speed automatics have tighter gear spacing (less RPM drop between each upshift during acceleration) which provides a fuel economy benefit as well as performance benefit - especially with smaller engines that need to rev to make power.

    With the four-speed automatic, the Forte's neither as quick nor as economical as it coud be - and that's a shame. The 10-20-something horsepower advantage it has over many similarly priced rivals isn't fully taken advantage of - at least, not in the lower priced LX versions of the Forte. The mid-priced EX, which can be had with a modern five speed automatic, accelerates more sharply - particularly when you floor it to pass someone and the transmission drops down two gears vs. just one in the base LX with the four-speed automatic.

    It's unfortunate Kia forces buyers to pay some $2,000 more just to get into the EX - before you can even order the extra-extra cost five-speed automatic ($600 on top of the EX with automatic's $16,795 base price).

    You do get a green "economy" light in the dashboard along with the five-speed automatic - basically, a digital version of the '70s-era vacuum gauge that tells you the obvious: When you're giving it gas, you're using more gas. The light comes on (economy!) when you're coasting or in top gear and barely touching the pedal. It goes off when you push down on the pedal. The light's pretty cheesy - but in addition to this, the "economy" package also includes genuinely useful (for fuel savings) upgrades, such as electric-assist steering and a low-rag alternator.

    The Forte's ride is softer and more isolated from the road than the typical economy car's - a desirable feature for most people. As a commuter or highway cruiser, it's one of the best available small cars going. Some reviewers have faulted the Forte for excess body roll and less than razor-sharp steering - and this is true, if you drive it like a high-performance sports car, diving into corners at 20 mph over the posted speed limit. Most people don't drive this way; even fewer who drive cars like the Forte. High-performance corner burning is not what this car is about - but it's not what it's supposed to be about.

    I liked the Forte's soft, plush, almost mid-sized car ride a lot more than the Civic's firmer, almost sports-car feel (and the Corolla's tinny/bouncy economy compact feel).

    STYLING & UTILITY

    It's hard to tell from looking at it that the Forte is Kia's least expensive model - and technically an "economy" car. The shape is modern and substantial, with a few un-economy car details such as the compound curves of the front quarter panels, which arc upward near the joint at the base of the windshield (the "A" pillar) to meet an upward swooshing front door sill. Ok, so the front end has some obvious Civic-inspired hints to it. But there's nothing wrong with borrowing a good look if you do a good job borrowing it.

    The interior's big selling point is its roominess compared with competitors. For example, the Forte has more front and rear legroom and headroom than the Corolla and Civic). But you could buy a Nissan Versa and get more backseat room - including about three inches more rear seat legroom - than all of them for around $10k with AC.

    Lots of trunk space - almost 15 cubic feet - which is significantly more than the Civic (12 cubic feet ) or the Corolla (12.3 cubic feet). The Forte's number also beats the price-busting Versa (13.8 cubic feet).

    And: The standard LX Forte does come with a USB port right there in the console, so you can plug in your iPod and play MP3s directly through the car's stereo.

    The $10k Versa 1.6 does not even come with a radio.

    QUALITY & SAFETY

    Kia must feel confident about the quality of its cars because it offers the most comprehensive and generous warranty coverage in the business. People talk a lot about the ten year/100,000 mile powertrain (engine and ad transmission) warranty - and that is indeed a fine thing. But even finer is the 60,000 mile (and five year) coverage on the whole car, wheels to roof. This is nearly twice the coverage Toyota and Honda offer (three years/ 36,000 miles). Which worth more to you - the "name" that comes with a Toyota or Honda? Or the sure knowledge that if something breaks or fails or otherwise causes you grief for the first five years and 60,000 miles of ownership, it'll be Kia's problem and not yours?

    This car comes standard with front seat side-impact air bags, curtain air bags for both rows, electronic traction/stability control and ABS with Brake Assist.

    THE BOTTOM LINE

    Kia shoots itself in the foot a bit by forcing buyers who want a modern five-speed automatic (and AC) to step up to the more expensive EX trim level - whose entry price point puts it directly in competition with the Corolla and Civic, instead of undercutting them on price and features.

    Still the overall package is very appealing - especially the high power and very good fuel efficiency.

    If Kia would at least put the modern five-speed automatic (along with AC and maybe the telescoping steering too) on the options list for the base LX - it would have one of the most appealing "economy" cars on the road.
    Last edited by Eric; 08-02-2009 at 12:09 PM.

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    Senior Member Mase's Avatar
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