2019 Kia Forte S – Road Test Review – By Ben Lewis

It pays to have a good-looking sibling in the family.

Especially an automotive family.

Let’s say you’re drawn to your friendly neighborhood Kia dealer to see the hot ‘n sexy Stinger sedan.

And it’s more than a looker – the 6-cylinder rear wheel drive Stinger we tested was a great performance sedan, with the credentials, capabilities and feel-good pricing to keep the European brands looking over their shoulders.

So, when it came time to redesign the company’s small sedan, the Forte, Kia was clever enough to make it’s reasonably-priced, fuel-sipping, value player look like its handsome big brother. So, we have a question –

Is the new Forte a baby Stinger…or just stingy?

Well, the looks say…hello baby!

The previous model was nice looking, blending in the with the crowd of compact sedans. But the new model has picked up the cues of the handsome Stinger, with a long hood, short deck, and a fastback-like presence. It’s notably longer too, with 3 extra inches giving it some visual heft. It also looks like a Kia, with the signature “Tiger Nose” grille, the swept back headlamps, LED driving lights and large lower fascia grilles all say performance. At the rear, the look is crisp with separate reverse and turn signals under slick, sliver LED tail lights.

Our Forte S, sitting on 17” 5-spoke alloy wheels and a very Stinger-esque Deep Sea Blue, looked handsome, aggressive and upscale. A very positive step in the right direction.

Audi partner!

The inside carries that theme – Kia interiors always remind us of Audi – thank you former Audi Design Chief and now overall boss at Hyundai/Kia Peter Schreyer. Our S trim tester impressed with handsomely turned out materials, including a fat leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, and a tablet-style infotainment screen. Little things like faux stitching throughout the cabin, piano black and chrome-like trim – heck even the pattern on the cloth seats looks upscale and tasteful.

Those front seats are very comfortable, and with the longer wheelbase the rear seat is notably larger and adult friendly. While the Forte is a sedan, we were pleasantly surprised to find that the rear seats fold flat, and with a large trunk opening and equally large pass-through, you have plenty of cargo carrying ability. You might not need that hatch or crossover after all.

Along with all this goodness comes loads of goodies – Kia and sibling Hyundai made their reputations on good value. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto? Of course. Dual zone climate control, 8” info-tainment display, Bluetooth, remote keyless entry, tweeter speakers, and rearview camera? Yep. Pushbutton ignition? Nope! In a clear head-scratching moment, in the middle of all this lovely stuff, you still have to put a key into the ignition. Ugh.

Well if they forgot that, you can thank them for remembering important stuff, like Forward Collision Warning and Forward Collision Avoidance Assist, Lane Departure Warning and Lane Keep Assist, and Driver Attention Warning. Impressive.

Does it Sting?

Uh…two out of three? Well, you can’t really blame the Forte entirely for this, the Stinger is a high-performance, premium-priced, rear wheel drive performance sedan aimed to take on the best from Audi, BMW and the like. And it succeeds, too. The Forte has more modest goals – it competes in a world of Corollas, Civics, and Sentra’s.

If you can accept that, you’ll like the drive. Under the hood is a normally-aspirated, 2.0-liter four-cylinder that pushes out 147 hp, and 132 lb.-ft of torque. It’s a nice, smooth motor, and it feels strong around town with a good leap off the line.

Doling out the power is Kia’s first CVT automatic transmission. And it’s a good one. Unfortunately, CVT’s just don’t satisfy like a traditional automatic or Kia’s excellent DSG gearbox. (More on that later). Like most CVT’s, it’s smooth, slurring between the gears, but does occasionally “motorboat” – hanging at rpm’s as the vehicle moves along.

For best results, we recommend Sport Mode, that has the tranny imitating shifts like a regular automatic, and serves up a livelier response to the throttle. What it may lack in oomph, it makes up in sip, sip, sip. We easily saw over 30mpg combined.

And it seems the Forte’s mission in life is to get you there in comfort. The ride is surprisingly supple and very quiet. Handling is responsive, and it’s easy to drive quickly, with nice steering effort. While it doesn’t goad you into tackling twisty roads, you still get a grin zipping around on-ramps. An all-around nice drive.

For us enthusiasts, there’s excellent news on the horizon. The 2020 Forte GT is coming with a 201 hp turbo motor, that crisp DSG automatic, and more aggressive suspension tuning. We can’t wait – we’ve always been thrilled by this powertrain combination and it shines in everything from the Kia Soul Exclaim and the Hyundai Kona to the larger Kia Optima sedan.

So, what is the Forte’s forte?

Value. This is a very nice car at a great price. The Forte FE model starts at $17,690, and includes an 8” rear camera, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Dual zone climate control and Forward Collision Avoidance.  The LX-S start at $19,090, and adds Intelligent Variable Transmission, 16” alloy wheels, 60/40 split-fold rear seats, Drive Mode Select and Black Gloss Sport Bumper Accents.

A Forte S like our tester begins at $20,100. And it’s a worthy upgrade with the handsome 17” alloys, fog lights, LED daytime running lights and combination lamps, a plush leather-wrapped steering wheel, one-touch auto-up/down driver’s power window, UVO eServices, voice recognition, and SiriusXM satellite radio.  We also had the optional S Premium Package ($1,200), which gives you a power sunroof, LED overhead lights, and LED headlights with High Beam Assist. Throw in carpeted floor mats ($125) and Destination ($895), and we totaled out at $22,410.

In this hard-fought segment, a comparably-equipped Corolla SE stickers out at $23,100, while a Civic Sedan Sport comes in at $22,845 – but a sunroof is not available on this trim. So, we’d say that the Forte is a strong value – especially considering the upscale exterior, interior and tech.

If you’re looking for even more luxury, the top-of-the-line Forte EX adds a 10-way power driver’s seat with power lumbar support, Blind Spot Collision Warning (BCW) and Rear Cross Traffic Collision Warning (RCCW), smart key with push-button start and immobilizer, SOFINO leatherette with heated and ventilated front seats, and USB charging ports. Excellent value at $21,990.

While the all-new 2019 Forte may not be the bargain basement Stinger, it’s an excellent package. And the upcoming Forte GT may be the busy little bee enthusiast are waiting for.

Handsome, capable, comfy and luxurious, the value-packed Forte S is an excellent choice in a compact sedan.

Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.

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