2014 Kia Forte Sedan first drive
New Forte is a better deal than ever
Scottsdale, Ariz. — The Kia story has always been about value. Lots of features, low prices, good warranty. But hey, everybody knows you can't compete on price and quality, so it goes without saying that quality has to suffer when price is the point. Right?
Not this time. With the 2014 Kia Forte Sedan, the low-ball brand has pulled off a pretty neat two-fer: buy the value, and they throw in the quality for free. This new Forte is an amply capable, comfortable, attractive, and — dare I say it? — sporty contender in a heated segment. Stacked up even against the perennially popular likes of Civic, Mazda3, and its cousin the Elantra, Forte more than holds its own.
Aimed dead at the top-selling twosome of Civic and Elantra, the Forte nevertheless appeals to its fanbase first: "More luxury and convenience at every trim level," says the helpful PowerPoint presentation at its recent Arizona launch, and, "The most luxurious compact car in Canada!"
Just how much equipment do you get?
But it's more than just a junior-sized luxury car. The new Forte is wider and lower than Civic and Elantra (and the old Forte). The base car — not that you could call it that — comes standard with Bluetooth, satellite radio, and steering wheel audio controls — on top of a massive airbag count and plenty of power goodies. Our volume trim (LX+), only has all of those goodies, plus fog lights and wiper de-icers. Our top trim's only got a heated steering wheel and a cooling glovebox. And that includes not only the Elantra, Civic, Focus, and Mazda3, but also the bigger and badder (in a good way) Chevy Cruze. Did we mention it's cheaper than all of them too? All good stuff, well worth hearing about, but I am not that easily won over. Only road time can do that.
Patience. We're getting to that. Here's a little engine stuff first: there are two "Nu" engines, which are also new engines. One new Nu is standard on the LX trims, a 1.8-litre four with 148 hp and 131 lb.-ft. of torque (available with standard six-speed manual or optional automatic); the other, standard on EX and SX, is a 2.0-litre Gasoline Direct Injection engine that produces 173 hp and 154 lb.-ft. (coupled to a six-speed Steptronic tranny and featuring steering-wheel paddle shifters). The former is cribbed from Hyundai's Elantra, the latter has yet to be featured in any Hyundai or Kia product.
Matter of motor
We set out in the automatic-equipped LX+ Kia says will account for more than 40 per cent of its sales, passing block after block of perfect terracotta-tinged retail plazas and big, beautiful homes with dirt for front lawns, but it's not long before the suburbs give way to the moonscape of the Arizona desert and a few of the Tonto National Forest's three million acres.
It's clear pretty quickly that Arizonans and Canadians don't take "forest" to mean the same thing, as at times there is nary a tree in sight. It's sure an interesting moonscape of a place, though, and these roads through the "forest" and nearby towns such as Globe, Miami, and Superior offer a nifty array of twisty bits and highway bits as well as myriad photo ops.
But before we stop, we go. The 1.8 Nu proves itself a fine enough engine; it protests some when pushed, but gets the job done without resorting to desultory shudders or shakes. Overall handling is decent, and there's a heavier steering feel here than in many Asian marques, bordering on downright European. A nifty FlexSteer electric power steering system lets the driver choose among Comfort, Normal and Sport settings. On the twisty bits, it's enough of a difference to make the sporty setting worth the while, but as my driving partner points out, it's a feature most drivers will forget about somewhere around week three. A stiffer body and retuned suspension make for a near-perfect combination of handling and comfort, especially considering the price of entry.