PITTSBURGH — The new Kia Forte flies in the face of the market. It is a compact sedan in a sea of crossovers. However, from 2013 to 2017, Forte sales almost doubled. So there is little choice but to give buyers what they crave — a new Kia Forte.
For 2019, the third-generation Forte has grown. It is longer, wider and a tad taller than the outgoing model. What they’ve done is give it a sleeker look, using Kia’s hot new Stinger sport back for design cues. The new Forte had a drag coefficient of 0.26.
There was a long hood, short deck, fastback silhouette, LED headlights that curved into the front fenders, circular vents inside and a floating touchscreen. Kia said the cowl point was moved back five inches, creating a more athletic stance that makes the Forte appear well-planted to the ground. That is a little PR hyperbole but the car did have the sporty look of the Stinger.
Creases in the hood contributed to the Forte’s muscular appearance so did a newly redesigned signature tiger nose grille and aggressive black lower valance. Standard projection or available full LEDs can be had on the Stinger-inspired headlamps, while separate turn signal indicators are mounted near newly designed air curtains that help improve aerodynamic performance.
The rear bumper got the same treatment as the front with separate reverse and turn signal indicators located beneath available LED taillights. Similar to the Sportage compact crossover, a sleek horizontal trim piece connected the taillights.
Under the hood was a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that made 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque. It was mated to a continuously variable transmission. Kia called it an Intelligent Variable Transmission or (IVT).
Kia said the engine and in-house-built IVT are the first of a new line of highly efficient “Smart Stream” powertrains that will make their way into the Kia lineup in the future. They said that waiting before developing its own continuously variable transmission (CVT) allowed Kia engineers to research issues often associated with CVTs and apply their findings in the application used in the Forte.
One of the main criticisms of CVTs is that they can create a rubber-band-like feel. In an effort to address that issue, Kia engineers built the IVT with adaptive style shift logic with a chain-type belt instead of push belt. The results of this is a pretty smooth and drone free acceleration.
Noise is another issue with CVTs. Kia engineers wrapped the transmission case in a sound-insulating cover to help quiet the typical “drone” associated with this technology. In doing so, NVH levels in the Forte are reduced by 5dB from the outgoing model.
Indeed, the IVT was quiet. And though it didn’t feel like we were driving an automatic, the car did not feel like it had a CVT transmuting power to the pavement either. The 2019 Kia Forte had some spunk and it did so efficiently.
The FE with the six-speed manual gets 27 mpg in the city, 37 mpg on the highway and 31 mpg combined. Equip the FE with an IVT and the mileage increases to 31mpg in the city, 41 mpg on the highway and 35 mpg combined. The LXS, S, and EX trims are rated at 30 mpg in the city, 40 mpg on the highway and 34 mpg combined.
Inside, the new Forte had a clean minimalist look. The touchscreen was atop the stack or better said where the stack would have been but Kia has opted for a horizontal look. Forming the bottom of the touchscreen frame were control buttons.
Further down were the climate controls. The seats were comfortable, the frames were lighter and the center console was higher and a little longer for more comfort. I didn’t notice while I was driving and that’s exactly what you want.
The touchscreen was eight inches in diameter. The car had Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. We ended up using the navigation system on CarPlay when a road was closed. Unless you know where you are, and we didn’t, you could be on these backroads for hours.
The Forte’s interior was spacious. My driving partner had no problem getting in the back seat with me in the front. In other words, we didn’t move my driver’s seat forward. Overall length has increased by 3.2 inches to 182.7 inches, allowing for more rear legroom and for additional cargo in the trunk that was expanded to 15.3 cu.-ft.; getting in and getting out of the Forte was easy.
On this drive route we were in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio. There were a lot of two lane roads; the route was rift with inclines, different road surfaces and curves. It wasn’t mountainous but it was seriously hilly.
The 2019 Kia Forte was quiet, it handled really well and through the twists and turns the frame remained rigid. The frame used 54 percent advanced high strength steel. That resulted in a 16 percent stiffer body in white. Kia said a new subframe design improved lateral responsiveness, while steering feel was upgraded compared to its predecessor thanks to enhancements within the motor driven power steering system that reduced artificial steering feel and friction.
A redesigned suspension geometry provided a quick and nimble behind-the-wheel feel and evolutionary improvements were made to throttle and brake feel performance, yielding a smoother initial response at tip-in. That is in the press material, what I can say is that the Forte handled really well and the ride was great.
The top of the line EX that we were driving had a premium audio system that made 320 watts and had 8 speakers. We turned on the sounds and were duly impressed. The system sounded pretty good. There was wireless charging. The car had forward collision warning, lane keep assist, driver attention warning and lane departure warning. There were heated and cooled front seats, certainly satellite radio, Bluetooth and a navigation system.
There were normal, sport and smart drive modes. The 2019 Kia Forte was built on an all-new platform. The advanced high strength steel made its torsional rigidity 26 percent better.
They improved noise, vibration and harshness. One of the ways was to use thicker glass in the front door windows.
Base prices were $17,690 for the FE with a manual transmission. The FE with an IVT transmission was $18,590. The LXS started at $19,090. The S was $20,190, the EX $21,990 and the EX launch edition was $25,200. None of these prices include the $895 freight charge.
The Forte had a smart trunk that beeped three times and opened if you had the key fob in your pocket or purse. There was a USB charging jack, adaptive cruise control and the car came with either 15, 16 or 17-inch wheels depending on the trim line,
Suspension was so good we could hear the tires slapping on the seams of the road but we didn’t feel a thing. The Forte was kind of peppy, the seats were pretty comfortable and it handled well with a tight feeling for the steering.
Kia engineers and designers did an admirable job on the 2019 Forte. It was technologically up to date, handled well, rode well and was comfortable.
Frank S. Washington is editor of AboutThatCar.com.