They don't make compact cars like they used to, and that's a good thing. No longer simply no-frills transportation, today's compacts often flash the same style and technology as their larger siblings. Case in point: the Kia Forte sedan. (There also are two other Forte models: The Forte5 hatchback and the Koup.)
Appearance: The overall design has been refreshed for 2017 and the Forte now resembles its bigger sibling, the midsize Optima, with a angled beltline and a sloping roof that extends into the rear deck and gives it a coupe-like profile. Other changes include a new front fascia highlighted by large gloss black grille and stern-looking headlights that sweep up and back into the fenders. A curved character line extends across the bottom of both doors, echoing the arc of the roofline. Overall, the look is more elegant than aggressive, and not as showy as some cars in this class.
Performance: Our S tester comes with a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder that puts out 147 horsepower and 132 pound-foot of torque. The engine is capable in typical commuting — both in the city and on the interstate. But if you want a bit more power, you can opt for the EX trim which produces 164 horsepower.)The MPG for the smaller engine is a respectable 29 city and 38 highway. The transmission in the front-wheel-drive Forte is a smooth-shifting electronically controlled 6-speed automatic; the base LX has a manual gearbox. Our tester was loaded with optional safety features: blind-spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-departure warning, lane keep assist, forward collision warning and autonomous emergency braking.
Interior: You can see the work Kia put in to make cabin read more than as just a budget compact. In our S, there were faux carbon-fiber accents and bright chrome trim to break up the dark gray-and-black scheme. The dash even has a driver-centric design; its features — the AC vents, for example — seem to "radiate" from the steering wheel. The sport cloth seats in the S are nicely padded with surprisingly good bolstering. The rear seats have plenty of room, as Lyra found on a recent drive with teen passengers. But the roomy cabin's real strength is in its user-friendly controls and tech. The center console has dials for the AC temperature controls, for example. And Kia's UVO infotainment system also is a mashup of dials (volume and tuning — thank you very much) and on-screen button touch controls. The 7-inch infotainment screen is a bit small, but the images are crisp. We've always liked the UVO system and put it among the best in the industry. But the system is starting to feel a bit dated. That said, Apple Car Play and Android Auto compatibility are now available. The center console has a large bin with an rolling cover, plus USB connection. It's a perfect place for your gadgets.
Our 3 favorites
Trunk: Lyra recently packed in a 10- by 10-foot fold-up canopy, several folding chairs, cooler and soccer gear. Plus with the available Smart Trunk, you can open it with no hands. Just stand close to it with the key fob.
Price: $16,490 to start. Stretching into the option- and tech-laden EX, you're still well below $27.
Tech: The Forte comes with lots of safety options and the delightfully usable UVO system.
The bottom line: If it seems like Kia is playing catch-up to the stars of the compact sedan segment, that's okay, because it now deserves your consideration.