Sometimes, we get as excited over a modestly priced car as we do over the latest exotic. We're serious. An economy car has to provide more bang for the buck in areas that matter to busy families. So we appreciate when a car delivers. Kia's all-new 2014 Forte sedan does this surprisingly well. It should hit dealerships any day now.
Appearance: Overall, this new Forte is longer, lower and wider than its predecessor. If you say it resembles the Honda Civic, we won't correct you. We think so too — especially in profile. And while Kia probably doesn't like to hear it, we submit that such suggestions are high praise. (Peter is a Civic owner). This new Forte looks more aggressive; it has Kia's distinctive black-mesh "tiger-nose" grille and is framed in chrome. The design is tied into aggressively upswept headlights that feature LED "eyebrows." The lower black-mesh air intake is flanked by foglights. The body side panels are tastefully creased, recalling its Hyundai cousins' "fluidic" design. Complementing this handsome package are sculpted 17-inch alloy wheels.
Performance: The Forte now comes with two choices: 1.8- and 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engines. Our top-of-the-line EX tester had the latter, which gets Kia's GDI (gasoline direct injection) technology and produces 173 horsepower. The gearbox is a smoothing-shifting six-speed automatic transmission. This all translates into steady acceleration and more-than-adequate merging power on the highway. Despite its light weight — 2,857 pounds — the Forte's ride feels solid and assuring, even in high winds. In an example of technology filtering down to more modest cars, our tester came with Kia's new Flex Steer system that lets the driver choose the feel of its electronic power steering with comfort, normal and sport modes. (Peter didn't feel much difference between the three settings.) The estimated MPG is a respectable 24/36.
Interior: The cockpit is quiet, roomy for its class and sensibly laid out with controls all in easy reach for the driver. The cabin has plenty of head, leg and elbow room. Our tester had the EX Premium ($2,600) and EX Technology ($2,300) packages, which include luxury-car features including power sunroof, heated leather seats (including rear), ventilated driver's seat and heated steering wheel. Overall, Kia does the details well. A few examples: The 7-inch touchscreen is slightly angled on the dash to give the driver a better view. The clock and exterior temperature are placed well within view in a small dash-top screen. One not-so-good placement: The chrome exhaust tip extends out a bit, so if you're reaching far into the trunk at a certain angle, you might feel the hot metal.
Our 3 favorites
Paint: Our tester's Blue Abyss is quite a striking color.
Engine: The 2.0-liter GDI engine was quiet and only "buzzy" under really hard acceleration.
Details: Even side-view mirrors power-fold.
Voice command: I didn't have to repeat myself several times.
Luxury on the cheap: So many features for a car in this class.
Quality cabin: The interior feels solidly built, and the faux carbon-fiber trim doesn't look cheap.
The bottom line: Granted, our tester had every possible option, but the new Forte rises to the top of its class with its comfort, driveability and technology. Who needs a luxury car?