Many have said that the small car is on the way out. That small crossovers like the Hyundai Kona or tall hatchbacks like the Mazda CX30 will pushing them out. And the numbers don’t lie, SUV crossovers are king. (outside of full-size pickup trucks). But the sedan isn’t ready to throw in the towel yet. In fact, struggling to stay relevant has brought some of the best 4-doors to market that we’ve seen in a long time.
The new Toyota Camry is excellent and fun. The Honda Accord, too. Heck they even put a turbo motor in the Mazda 6. As they like to say, these are the good old days. And in the smaller cars, the new Civic Si is a delight, the new Corolla is good fun, and now we have the Kia Forte GT, and it may be the best of them all.
The Forte got a full redesign last year, Kia said much of its look was inspired by its handsome big brother the Stinger. Key points were to give it a fastback-like profile, even though it is a sedan with a trunk. It’s a pleasant looking sedan. That is until you make it a GT. Sometimes it takes just getting the little things together, but to our eyes, this is a great-looking small sedan.
One of our favorite parts of the GT are the 18-inch two-tone alloy wheels, on our tester enjoying the available Michelin Pilot Sport 4 Summer Tires. Those rims really fill-out the fender line and give the Forte a hunkered-down, ready-to-play look.
We love the X-wing front LED headlamps, the traditional Kia “Tiger Nose” grille, slit-style LED driving lights and separate fogs. The signature rear LED lamps give off a definite Audi vibe. Our Gravity Gray tester made the most of the GT package which includes red grille inserts, rear diffuser accents and gloss black mirror caps, side sills, and rear lip spoiler. We also would be tempted by the awesome looking but questionably named Snow White Pearl. (Hi ho, hi ho..).
The interior continues the feeling of being a step above what you expect. When the Forte was redesigned last year, it was made a bit larger, and it pays dividends especially in rear legroom and headroom. There’s a big trunk as well, and with a good-size pass through and folding rear seats, plenty of space for larger items.
Up front, you notice the extra width, and also the design inspiration from the Stinger sport sedan.
The GT is an especially nice place to sit, with a thick D-shaped steering wheel with contrasting red stitching, sport seats with Kia SOFINO (leatherette, aka vinyl to you and me) and cloth are supportive with 10-way power adjustable for the driver, stitched GT logo, and red piping and stitching – they’re even heated and cooled – pretty darn ritzy at this price point!
There’s a nice analog 160 mph speedo and 180 mph tach, with a high-res, 4.2-inch TFT driver info display in between. In the center console the large 8-inch color touchscreen is nice and crisp, and holds a large cache of tech, including Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Voice Recognition, Sirius XM and a helpful rearview monitor.
It also connects you to UVO eServices, including Roadside Assist, Vehicle Diagnostics and super handy stuff like remote lock/unlock of doors, remote closing windows and sunroof, even finding your Forte in crowded parking lot. Cool.
Underneath that are well-marked controls for the dual-zone climate control, a tray for Wireless Phone Charging, and USB port.
Looking around you notice lots of nice detailing, the aerodynamically-designed circular vents are handsome, the stylish speaker grilles for the excellent 320-watt, 8-speaker Harman Kardon audio system, metallic-trim throughout the cabin for a sporty look. There’s even GT ambient lighting, featuring an illuminated GT logo on the dashboard!
You sit there and think, wow, I am getting a lot for my money.
Welcome to Turbo City
Ah yes. While the good looks, comfy interior and loads of tech could be enough to snag buyers, the GT is much more than that. This is one of the best sport sedans for the money!
Under the hood is Kia/Hyundai’s familiar 1.6-liter, turbo 4-cylinder. Pumping out a solid 201 horsepower and impressive 195 lb.-ft of torque at just 1,500 rpm, this is quality muscle. And it sounds terrific, the GT’s sport-tuned dual exhaust gives a throaty “whump” on startup and resonates with a deep purposeful growl. Not Fiat 124 Abarth loud, but not Hyundai Kona reserved. Just right….
And give it the beans, and it pulls hard and sounds enthusiastic doing so, running up to redline, and making you grin. Adding to the smile on your face is the 7-speed Dual Clutch automatic. While a 6-speed manual is available, we love the DCT auto. The shifts are super quick, you get a nice little bark on downshifts, and the response to the paddle shifters is excellent.
Another nice touch – while you can hit the Driver Mode button on the center console to pull up Sport Mode, if you slide the transmission lever over, it will automatically go to Sport. Great for a quick dash when you need it.
And we did flog it, repeatedly. It’s a combination of exhaust note, response, and turbo push that never gets old. And with all that we still managed 30 mpg.
The chassis is fully up for the game. The suspension is beautifully tuned. The ride is firm but remains supple on bumpy stuff. The steering is nicely weighted if not the most precise, and the large 18-inch wheels with summer compound tires give lots of grip. Our only gripe, the brakes feel a little spongy. They work well, though.
It’s an interesting contrast, the Forte GT ending up somewhere between the reserved but fun Mazda 3 sedan, and the light and lively Honda Civic Si. It is right up there with both of them, and that’s saying something – both Mazda and Honda have decades of experience making exhilarating small cars, and the Forte doesn’t take a back seat to either.
It’s also first class in standard safety. All Forte models features standard Forward Collison Warning, Forward Collision Avoidance, Lane Departure Alert and Lane Keep Assist and Driver Attention Warning. In Addition, the GT enjoys available Blind Spot Collision Warning, Forward Collision Assist with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Keeping Assist-Line, Rear Cross Traffic Collision Warning and Smart Cruise Control. Impressive.
Performance from the Back Road to Back Pocket
So much for Kia’s little road rocket? It starts with a Forte FE at just $17,890, No turbo, No DCT transmission, but the above-mentioned safety, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth and more. If you like the GT’s sporty looks, but don’t feel the need for speed, the GT-Line starts at $21,315.
Craving a little luxury? The EX gives you the SOFINO leatherette, 17-inch alloys, heated and ventilated front seats, rear camera with dynamic parking guidance, dual-zone climate control, all the safety goods of the GT except Smart Cruise Control, and opens up the door to options like Sunroof, Harmon Kardon Audio and more. Starting at $22,090 it’s a bit of a bargain.
But the bargain in our books is the Forte GT. The turbo, the DCT, the 18-inch alloys, Sport Seats, and more starting at just. $22,490. Wow. Our tester had the Automatic Climate Control Package ($200), The GT2 Package which gives the full boat of safety features, plus power sunroof, wireless phone charger, Harmon Kardon stereo, heated and cooled front seats. ($2,200). Those grippy summer tires add $200, a few accessories, an auto-dimming mirror ($350), and Delivery $920, we rang the bell at $26,445.
Competitors would include the Mazda 3 sedan, comparably-equipped at $27,645. More upscale, but probably less thrilling. The Honda Civic Si comes in at $26,155, but there’s a catch – manual transmission only. If you want a stick, it’s hard to beat the Civic. The CVT on other Honda models is a bit of a wet blanket, though
We’d also throw in the new Jetta GLI. You’ll pay a big premium for the European feeling – a maxxed out GLI is over $31,000.
The 2020 Forte GT is an awesome 4-door. Handsome, exceptional value, loaded with tech and safety, and best of all, a great, engaging drive. Long live the sports 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.