Nowadays with blockbuster competition like the Hyundai Elantra, Chevy Cruze, Honda Civic and Ford Focus, it’s now easier than ever for a compact and economical family vehicle to get lost in the shuffle. Especially one that is “good” rather than in any way “mind-blowingly spectacular.” Suddenly, this segment of car has become one of the most competitive and cutthroat in the whole auto industry.
Unfortunately, the 2012 Kia Forte falls into the “good" compact car category—it means you won’t really regret buying one but it doesn’t stand out as a class leader (or laggard) in any particular area. So while that’s a “good” thing, it’s not enough to get this car the type of attention that would generate monster sales figures. Particularly given that the last big news announcement surrounding the Forte (besides the addition of this new 5-door body) was about the new 6-speed automatic.
We must admit that the 5-door version of the Forte is the much sportier and appealing than the four door, which gives off a bit of a “rent me” vibe. The pert rear taillight design helps bring out the sporty touches that the bland sedan’s posterior covers up. So if you are sold on a 2012 Forte we recommend the 5-door for plenty of reasons, mostly the huge improvement it makes in the appearance of this compact family car.
As part of the SX Technology Package ($1,850), the Forte hatch gains classy looking exterior chrome door handles to offset the chrome grille as well as in-dash navigation, automatic climate control and a push button start with smart key system.
There are two main problems with the interior of the 2012 Kia Forte SX 5-door: the scratch-prone plastics that are not very dog friendly, and the cheap, quick-to-wear leather upholstery (which is an optional extra). If it was our money, we would skip the leather seats as they feel less like supple, treated cowhide and more like buffalo jerky. The leather package costs $1,000 and adds heated front seats and an auto dimming rear view mirror.
Other than those two interior qualms, the Forte 5-door truly impresses from its handy 19.4 cubic foot cargo hold to its decently roomy rear seats to its easy to use in-dash navigation/audio/back-up camera system. Even the automatic climate control system is adjustable with one giant, oversized knob. And by oversized, we mean that it is probably visible from space. That is, if NASA still sent astronauts into space.
Our $23,640 equipped tester also boasted a power moonroof, a sporty set of 17-inch alloy wheels, a six-speed automatic and a 2.4 liter 173 horsepower/168 lb. feet of torque 4-cylinder that didn’t feel quite as fast as an engine that size should. We assume the lag was due to the extra wide gearing meant to aid in fuel efficiency.
They certainly seem to have achieved this, as EPA estimates are 23 city/32 highway and we averaged 25.4mpg over the course of one week. This return is better than what we saw in the 2011 Hyundai Elantra, which is rated at 40 miles per gallon highway and returned about only 21 with us over a week. This, along with the 20.5 miles per gallon from a 2012 Ford Focus, were the lowest averages we've recorded during real-world testing of the segment. Most other models averaged between 25 to a high of 32.4 - the latter coming from a Corolla S despite consistently driving it like stole it.
The Forte, while decidedly capable, definitely falls mid-pack in our testing in terms of performance, pricing, build and fuel economy. We would rate models like the 2012 Mazda3 SkyActiv, Honda Civic EX-L, Hyundai Elantra, Toyota Corolla S, and the perpetually underrated Mitsubishi Lancer GTS higher while we would rate the trouble-prone Ford Focus and corpulent VW Jetta much, much lower.
The steering feel, while somewhat artificial, did have a nice heft and sporty vibe that was a surprise from such an economically minded hatchback. The six-speed automatic shifted lazily under its own power but when you use the paddle shifters, the 2.4 liter 173 horsepower/168 lb. feet of torque 4-cylinder’s powerband is much easier to access. So if you want a powerful hatch, be sure to use the paddle shifters which react confidently and quickly. Kudos to Kia.
Handling is also another surprising high point with the 2012 Kia Forte SX 5-door with plenty of cornering prowess to keep most other of its competitors in check barring perhaps the somewhat floaty yet still fun Corolla (at least in five-speed manual S trim—we can’t say anything about an LE automatic, however.) It may lack the razor sharp handling and precise feel of the Focus but it lacks that cars obnoxiously high level of bugs and has a much better automatic. Overall, the Forte SX hatchback has a lot to recommend it as a highly competent and even fun to drive commuter.
Again, the only low point is the somewhat anemic 4-cylinder which is no match for sister brand Hyundai’s new peppy 2.0 liter 4-cylinder. There is, however, a new Forte hovering on the horizon that is expected to address and correct the underpower issue.
Braking power was strong and interior wind, road and engine noise were all well suppressed. Mostly, however, the Forte does still feel a step behind the new Mazda3 SkyActiv and even the 2012 Honda Civic when it comes to refinement and overall build quality. But you can’t argue with the value for money equation and those sexy hatchback looks.
The 2012 Kia Forte SX hatchback is definitely the looker of the range and we recommend it as a strong mid-pack choice. Kia has repeatedly demonstrated significant improvements year after year, and nowhere is this more evident than in the new Forte. The fuel economy does leave a little to be desired, but all-in-all it's a pleasant car to drive and would make an comfortable commuter.
Though backhanded as that praise may seem, the Forte SX holds a strong appeal for bargain hunters on the prowl for affordable, reliable, well equipped, fun-to-drive and nicely styled transportation. And boy, does that cargo hold carry a lot more than the sedan.
Things We Loved About The 2012 Kia Forte SX 5-Door
Exterior Style Very European
Easy Layout of Interior
High Feature/Value Content
Great Cargo Layout
Paddle Shifters Aid in Performance
Excellent Steering Feel
Things We Didn't
Some Questionable interior Trim Choices
A Little Bit Slow with 6-speed automatic
Turkey Jerkey Leather Trim Interior
Photos courtesy of Kia