Road Test Review – 2019 Kia Forte EX – By Carl Malek

When we last met the 2019 Kia Forte, it was on the streets of Pittsburgh, where we had the opportunity to sample some of the newfound charms that Kia baked into the newest iteration of the Forte.

Kia engineers were eager to please when it came to redefining the driving and handling manners of the Forte for the 2019 model year.

However, while Kia did showcase a number of unique places in the area, we were eager to see how the Forte handled the roads in our home territory of Metro Detroit to determine whether extended exposure dampened our initial enthusiasm for this special compact or not?

The Stinger Effect, It’s For Real:

While the 2019 Kia Forte may not be a near identical twin to the Stinger visually, Kia is very keen on driving home the Stinger’s influence in the Forte’s design. This includes adopting some of the fore-mentioned models key features, which include a long front hood, the fastback-esque profile, as well as its swept back headlights.

When viewed against some of its rivals in this regard, the Kia ends up falling in the middle. It is not quite as attention seeking as the polarizing Honda Civic, nor the more elegant Hyundai Elantra, but it is not quite as mundane as the Nissan Sentra nor the Subaru Impreza. In short, it rides on a very solid middle ground that should still please buyers that crave a balance between the sporty elements that stand out in their daily commute, as well as the more functional essentials that are needed for the Forte to be a solid daily commuter.

Buyers that prefer even more sport can opt for the range topping Forte GT, which brings racier styling and even more Stinger inspired DNA into its flanks.

Meanwhile, our EX grade Snow White hued tester still looked very sharp, and from the rear, it does a very good impression of a more upscale Audi offering thanks to its new taillight design that incorporates a unified wrap around design.

The look is certainly an improvement over the outgoing Forte, which tried its best to look like the Optima, but ultimately fell short on delivering a unified appearance that caused it to not resonate well with some buyers. Unlike that iteration, this new chapter of Kia appears to finally hit the nail square on the head when it comes to styling, and it should do a better job aging over the long haul, especially when the Forte enters the used car market.


A Cabin That Punches Above Its Weight:

The sporty styling of the Kia’s exterior may do its part drawing in stares, but ultimately, the bulk of the driving experience is spent inside the cabin, and it is here where the Forte has perhaps seen its biggest improvement. Now entering its third generation, Kia designers and engineers wanted the Forte’s interior to punch above its weight class, and deliver an experience to occupants that would put some luxury cars to shame.

Heated and ventilated front seats do make a very good first impression, and the interior of our car had a very attractive black and red color combination that allowed it to look very sporty, and keeping with the theme, reminded us of the Kia Stinger, especially with its circular air vents. The seats lacked some of the bolstering that we were expecting from a car that spent some time in the shallow end of the sporty car swimming pool when it was under development, but they were still comfortable enough for long freeway jaunts, as well as running errands in the broader Metro Detroit area.

While our range topping EX example came fully loaded with standard equipment, the Forte improves on the one consistent quality that has always defined modern Kia offerings, their ability to deliver tons of features for the money. Even the $18,585 base model arrives with an enviable arsenal of standard equipment including an 8.0 inch touchscreen infotainment system that comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability, as well as dual-zone automatic climate control. This suite of standard features is not easily replicated, and is not even offered outright on the Honda Civic.

The touchscreen infotainment system benefits from the latest application of Kia’s UVO software which helps deliver crisp feedback, as well as sharp screen quality. For those that find this layout a bit daunting, a row of redundant hard buttons below the screen helps make things a bit easier, and that should help the little Kia cater to more buyers. Despite some cheap looking plastics being spotted in certain areas, the 2019 Forte makes up for it by being a very friendly instrument towards mobile technology, with several strategically placed cubbies being big enough for a couple of phones, as well as a wireless charging pad that managed to work with the heavy duty Otter Box that is employed on my mobile device.


Solid Dance Shoes That Lack Raw Beef:

Unlike some of the more sweeping changes that redefine other aspects of the Forte driving experience, Kia chose to play it safe with the performance hardware, and carried over the same 2.0 liter naturally aspirated four cylinder engine that saw duty in the outgoing Kia Forte. Like before, the engine is good for 147 horsepower, and 132 lb-ft of torque, but Kia engineers aimed to enhance overall fuel economy by adding Atkinson cycle technology to the engine, as well as a cooled EGR system. The end result is a driving experience that is decidedly more mundane than what its exterior styling initially advertises, but the addition of more adhesive as well as thicker glass for the front side windows did produce noticeably less noise and harshness during our time with the Forte, and that translates into less decibels than some of its segment rivals.

Buyers get to choose from two different transmission options with either a six speed manual gearbox for lower trims, or Kia’s first ever CVT which is standard fare on the EX. Kia claims that the CVT (dubbed the IVT) produces a more realistic shifting experience, and that it was designed to stand out from other CVTs in the marketplace.

Kia engineers also outfitted the CVT with a chain drive versus a conventional belt drive which is supposed to reduce the herky jerky effect seen in some other CVTs. We certainly noticed this effect during various commuting both on and off the freeway, but for a car that is named after the third loudest term in music dynamics, the combination is more mezzo piano when it comes to straight up acceleration with the performance hardware not having enough muscle for stoplight sprints. Buyers looking for more beef will have to upgrade to the soon to be launched GT version which packs a 201 horsepower 1.6 liter turbocharged four cylinder, and promises much livelier acceleration to boot.

With the engine’s lack of muscle, it falls on the Forte’s Elantra based platform to make up the slack, and we are pleased to report that it manages to do this with gusto. Unlike the old Forte, the new platform is decidedly more rigid, and when thrown into sharp corners, the Kia’s handling proved to be a very impressive surprise.

Bodyroll here is very minimal, and while the suspension is tuned more towards comfort than sport, our tester still managed to wow us with the high degree of poise that it displayed when pushed through corners. This platform has a lot of hidden potential, and while the GT will bring a lot of that potential to the surface, we hope that a bit more power from the base engine will help non GT models have a bit more vigor to there step.


Value Quotient:

Pricing for the 2019 Kia Forte starts at $17,690 for the base FE model which is a green focused model designed to get maximum fuel economy. The pricing here is the second lowest base price among compact cars, with this figure only being beat by the Forte’s sibling, the base Hyundai Elantra which has a lower base sticker of $15,600.

Moving up from here are the $19,090 LXS and the $20,190 S model which represent the mid way point in the current Forte pricing ladder (GT models have not made it onto the current pricing ladder as of this writing.) In the meantime, the $21,990 EX serves as the range topping Forte model, and it is this particular trim that allows the Forte to flex the full muscle of its value focused equipment list.

Our EX grade test car had a final price tag of $23,305, which was accompanied by a relatively light options list, with the $295 Snow White Pearl paint and the $125 carpeted floor mats being the notable additions. Buyers looking for even more equipment, can opt for the $3,210 EX Launch Edition package. This first year exclusive package brings even more goodies to the equation, including an eight speaker Harmon Kardon sound system, Forward Collision Avoidance Assist with Pedestrian Detection, 17-inch graphite hued wheels, and a wireless phone charging pad.


With a new perspective, as well as a renewed focus on providing customers what they truly want in the compact car class, the 2019 Kia Forte certainly has the tools to be a formidable disruptive force against segment benchmarks, especially in an era where CUV and SUVs have once again taken center stage in the eyes of customers. We look forward to driving the Forte GT in the future, to see if the extra horsepower allows the 2019 Forte to be a solid all rounder for compact car buyers.