Road Test Review – 2017 Kia Forte S – By Carl Malek

With the 2019 Kia Forte embracing some of the successful DNA that has turned the Stinger into a compelling BMW fighter, the current generation Kia Forte has the unenviable task of staying fresh and relevant against a relatively fresh crop of contenders. The Forte offers tweaked styling and versatile feature content for a new generation of buyers, but can these wholesome charms keep the Forte in winning form until its replacement arrives? or will the 2019 version be forced to regain lost ground when it eventually arrives in dealer lots.

The exterior styling of our Currant Red “S” grade tester does not have Stinger DNA, but it does have alot of cues from another solid Kia offering, the Optima mid-size sedan. The front fascia of the Forte is somewhat generic, but we will give Kia designers credit for adding slick looking headlights, as well as a sharp looking front grille. Unlike the base LX model, “S” grade models like our tester amp up the excitement a bit thanks to features such as 16-inch 10-spoke aluminium wheels, LED driving lights, a chrome exhaust tip, and a tasteful rear spoiler. Our car even came equipped with the $1490 Technology package that brings LED taillights, foglights, as well as a whole suite of driving aides and convenience features. This helped our tester stand out at night, with the lights sparkling like they would in a trendy fashion district in Seoul, while the red paint added its own dash of flair to the design.

The interior of our tester continues this subtle injection of sport with snazzy looking black cloth seats that feature white contrast stitching, as well as leather trim for the steering wheel and shift knob. The seats in our tester had great upper back support, and delivered decent amounts of leg and head room. However, lower back support was lacking, and its absence ultimately proved to be a back breaking affair, with this author throwing his lower back out after an extended trip around town in the Kia.

Once I was fully mended, the Forte made up some ground thanks to its solid arsenal of interior technology. A 4.2 inch TFT display nestled between the tach and speedometer records trip mileage, while the 7.0 inch touchscreen infotainment system houses Kia’s latest iteration of its UVO connectivity platform. Both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality are included, while the radio features physical knobs for volume and tuning, with three other knobs covering climate adjustments. This seemingly minor detail is welcome, especially in an era where many touchscreens focus on burying functions in a sea of menus and steps. Our car did not have navigation, but buyers can add that as part of the $2500 Premium package, which also adds heated seats, a sunroof, as well as a richer center arm rest.

Performance for our tester came from a naturally aspirated 2.0 liter four cylinder that’s good for a rather modest 147 horsepower and a rather leisurely 8.7 0 to 60 time. The 2.0 liter is actually an improvement over the old 1.8 liter four cylinder it replaces, but its equally meager 132 lb-ft of torque doesn’t hide the fact that despite its upbeat name, the Forte is a slow almost mellow car. In fact, it is actually 2.1 seconds slower to 60 mph than the 1.5 liter turbo in the Honda Civic which is a key rival for the Forte in the small car segment. All “S” Fortes come equipped with a six speed automatic (LX grade cars can be had with a 6-speed manual) and while it is nice of Kia to add a manual shift mode, we ultimately preferred to leave it in automatic mode where it was in its element.

The lone item that stood out was our tester’s balanced handling characteristics. While they won’t quite match the demeanor possessed by the Volkswagen Golf and the Honda Civic, The Forte still put on a spirited showing, with body roll precisely tuned to a minimum, and steering that is reasonably quick and accurate. Our tester’s Nexen 55-series all season tires also try there best with good amounts of grip. However, push them hard, and the tires are very quick to vocally voice their displeasure with copious amounts of understeer making its presence felt. Braking was also solid and secure, and that should please buyers that take their Forte out in urban environments. In short, while the 2017 Forte will not light the world on fire with its driving dynamics, it is a considerable upgrade over older Fortes.

Pricing for the 2017 Kia Forte starts at $16,600 (2018 models arrived with minimal updates) for a base LX model, with “S” grade units like our tester starting at a slightly higher $19,300. Our lightly optioned “S” tester had a final price of $21,685 which included the $1,490 “S” Technology package, as well as the $895 destination fee. This pricing puts it firmly in the hunt with the Civic EX and EX-T models, as well as the Chevrolet Cruze, and Volkswagen Jetta. However, buyers that step up to the EX trim level will face some compelling cross shops, including the Civic Si which starts at $24,100, and brings more performance and refinement to the table than the Forte. The spunky Kia does make up some ground in transmission offerings, with the fore-mentioned Civic only boasting a manual transmission versus the Forte’s more conventional automatic.

While the upcoming 2019 Kia Forte will bring Stinger inspired flair and substance to Kia showrooms, buyers that prefer to have a decidedly more conventional suit of clothes will be pleased with the 2017 Kia Forte. Boasting a potent combination of style, feature content, and value oriented pricing, the Forte should continue to do a good job at retaining the young budget oriented customer base that Kia is aiming this car at. We look forward to seeing whats in store for 2019, and whether it will bring better seats and a more refined transmission to an already compelling bowl of oatmeal. In the meantime, we have added a few pictures of the 2019 model above, and we look forward to hearing which flavor of Forte you like best.