The Kia Forte was introduced in 2010 and gets a full redesign for 2014. That's one of the shortest product cycles we've seen, giving you an idea of how competitive the small car market is. We drove two early-build 2014 Fortes to get a first look at how they'll stack up.
Buying a small car used to come with small expectations. In exchange for a modest price and good fuel economy, you had to accept multiple compromises, such as a cheap interior, stiff ride, noisy cabin, tight rear-seat room, and limited creature comforts. The outgoing Forte was short on refinement, with a choppy ride and lots of engine noise. Its fuel economy didn't win any prizes, either.
But newer small cars require you to make fewer and fewer sacrifices; the new Forte is an excellent example of this trend and the new model is quite different from the one it replaces.
Based on the same platform as the impressive Hyundai Elantra, the 2014 Forte tries to alleviate most small-car shortcomings. The cabin is airy and spacious, with a huge rear seat that can embarrass some mid-sized sedans. (I'm looking at you, Chevrolet Malibu.) The standard 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, shared with its Hyundai Elantra platform-mate, and an optional start/stop system should markedly improve fuel economy. Up-level EX models come with a direct-injected 2.0-liter four-cylinder, as well as offering decidedly upscale options like HID headlights, driver's seat memory, ventilated front seats, and heating elements for the steering wheel and rear seats.
In general, Kia buyers tend to load up their cars more than rival brands. That might be because the low entry prices give room to indulge on options. Likewise, you might scratch your head at the idea of pimping up a basic small sedan with a heap of upscale options that used to be found only in snooty luxury cars.
But our first impression of the new Forte is that it's a much more refined car than the last one. And it's quite a looker. In other words, loading up a Forte wouldn't be like putting lipstick on a pig. More importantly, given that the bulk of sales will be for modestly-equipped models, even the basic 1.8-liter Forte LX is a considerably more enjoyable car than before.
For more, check out our first drive video of the Forte. We'll buy a Forte of our own soon to see how it scores against the other cars in our small sedan Ratings.