2010 Kia Forte Koup SX road test
Kia proves it too can do cool
Twenty years ago, if you were in the market for an affordable compact coupe, you had plenty of choice. Virtually every Japanese brand offered something cheap and sporty. Nissan had its NX2000, Honda its CR-X, and Toyota its Celica. And if you had a bit of extra cash in your back pocket, you might splurge for an Acura Integra, Nissan 240SX, Toyota MR-2 or maybe even a Volkswagen Corrado. These were cool pocket rockets with snazzy styling and spirited performance that didn't dent your bank account too badly.
But since that time, the market wilted due in part to rising insurance costs and the absurd concept that driving pleasure on the cheap is some sort of cardinal sin. Two decades later, and your only real choice for cheap fun is the Hyundai Genesis Coupe, and at over $25,000 that puts it out of a lot of people's budgets. Other than that, it's the likes of two-door versions of humdrum economy cars - Focus, Cobalt and Civic. But every now and again, something clever comes along to spark things up, but this time it's from an unexpected source: Kia.
A head-turning Kia that isn't a box-on-wheels
Since 2009, Kia's Forte has been stirring the compact sedan pot - it's a well-engineered, handsome little sedan worthy of praise. Seeing the Koup, however, is like seeing that nondescript kid from the back of grade school geography class return from summer break wearing the latest threads.
With a sportier front valance, outlined with gloss black trim instead of chrome, plus black and silver-painted 17-inch wheels, the Forte is inarguably the looker among its peers. From some angles, its styling apes the cab-forward look of the Civic, but with its chiseled fenders and a more proportional backside, it's fresher and better looking. Pillarless door frames emphasize its coupe nature, as does the fact that the only body panel shared with the sedan is its hood. A six-centimetre reduction in height also gives it the look of an Audi A5 from the side and back side. A coincidence? Given Audi's former chief designer is now heading up Kia design, maybe not.
Not that you buy a two-door compact for practicality, but the Forte has a backseat that can swallow two adults without too much difficulty (headroom is slightly less generous due to a sloped roofline), and a trunk that's rather spacious too.
Looks good, but some areas need work
Though the interior may not have the same pizazz as the as the exterior in design - it's been carried over virtually unchanged from the sedan - it's a decent effort on Kia's part. Many of the plastics have a nice grain, but are on the hard and hollow side. They're also marked easily. But, bright red-hued instruments, seats with prominent side bolstering, and red-stitched accent trim do speak to its sporty intentions.
But what its styling lacks, it more than makes up for in content and toys. All Forte Koups receive Bluetooth, six airbags, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, stability control and heated seats as standard. And if you move up to an SX model like this, you'll find perforated leather-trimmed buckets, a sunroof and digital climate control - all as standard.
Our tester's stereo was well over-powered - so overpowered that despite having the bass setting on minus eight, songs not particularly bass-heavy would cause the driver's side door panel to buzz and vibrate. The doors also shut with a clunk that didn't convey a convincing air of solidity.
Your concentration required
As with the interior, it's a similar story under the hood. The Koup shares the same powertrain as the sedan, but with a few mild tweaks. In the SX, you get a 2.4-litre inline-four with variable valve timing, which makes 173 horsepower. It's a strong engine, but it doesn't like to be worked too hard and all the better for it - the harder you rev, the coarser it gets. But given its 168 lb.-ft. of torque is produced at 4,000 rpm, you never really have to rev it. It's an all right engine, but reportedly something better - and turbocharged - is on the way.
Nippy is probably the best way to describe the way the Koup SX accelerates. The 100 km/h mark is reached from still in a tick over seven seconds with the manual, a figure with lengthens itself to eight and a half when the optional economy-geared, zip-sappy five-speed automatic is had.
But not all is perfect. The Koup SX is a car you've got to give your undivided attention to in order to drive smoothly. A featherweight clutch with a vague and high take-up point, in combination with live-wire throttle response, means you'll either stall it or have a neck-snapping full-out start. Add to that a shifter that balks when rushed, and feels generally clumsy to the hand, and you might actually be better suited to the automatic. That said, the gear ratios are well chosen, and a long sixth gear keeps the Forte's engine noise and a thirst for fuel at bay. Over 1,200 km rolled under its wheels while in my possession, and it averaged 7.2 L/100 km.
A 1967 Shelby GT500 Super Snake sold for $1.3 million. Do you think classic cars were made better than modern rides?
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- Yes, the quality of cars from the 1960s and '70s is the best
- No, modern technology makes cars better today
- Maybe, it's hard to say since most Canadians get a new car every 10 years