2014 Kia Forte Sedan Road Test and Review: Introduction
Want to know what happens when a company gets out of its own way and focuses on delivering a trustworthy, value-laden product wrapped in an appealing package? Take a look at Kia. Two decades ago, Kia arrived in America with a compact car and a small SUV to combat a negative perception of Korean quality. Today, Kia builds some of the most stylish and advanced vehicles available, backed by the best warranty protection in the business.
The 2014 Kia Forte is the latest weapon in the automaker’s arsenal. A descendant of the original 1994 Kia Sephia, which became the Spectra, which became the Forte, the redesigned 2014 version joins the all-new Kia Cadenza, the popular Kia Optima, and the capable Kia Rio in an all-out assault on the car market. It goes grille-to-grille against well-established players such as the Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Mazda 3, Nissan Sentra, Subaru Impreza, Toyota Corolla, and Volkswagen Jetta, and it will battle relative newcomers including the Buick Verano, Chevy Cruze, and Dodge Dart. It also lines up against its corporate cousin, the Hyundai Elantra, in its bid to woo small car buyers.
Kia approaches the front lines armored with 2-door coupe, 5-door hatchback, and 4-door sedan body styles, a level of diversity matched only by the Elantra. Each of the redesigned Forte models looks terrific, and can be optioned with a variety of luxury and technology upgrades uncommon to the small car class.
For this review, we drove the 2014 Kia Forte EX Sedan with all the extras, and we’re impressed. Unfortunately, what could have been a great car is merely a good one.
2014 Kia Forte Sedan Road Test and Review: Models and Prices
Kia sells the 2014 Forte in two levels of trim called LX and EX. The Forte LX starts at $16,700 including the $800 destination charge, and is equipped with a 6-speed manual transmission. An automatic with Active Eco technology and a Sportmatic manual shift gate adds $1,500.
A Popular Package adds another $900 to the price of the Forte LX’s optional automatic, bringing the total to $19,100. This is the car you’re most likely to find at a dealership, and this is the car you most likely want anyway. The Popular Package expands the exterior color palette, adds black as an available interior color, and dresses the Forte LX with 16-inch aluminum wheels and body-color heated exterior mirrors with LED turn signal indicators. Interior upgrades include nicer seat cloth, soft-touch upper door panel and dashboard trim, a sliding center console armrest, and an illuminated ignition slot. This model also includes remote keyless entry, cruise control, a better stereo, dual overhead map lights, a sunglasses holder, and a map pocket on the back of the front passenger’s seat.
At some point in the future, an Eco Package will be offered for the Forte LX. It will contain the company’s Idle Stop & Go technology, which shuts the engine off while idling in traffic or at an intersection in order to conserve fuel. This package will also include dual-zone automatic climate control with rear seat vents.
The 2014 Kia Forte EX is the model we drove, and it starts at $20,200. In addition to the LX Popular Package contents, the Forte EX is identified by its power folding exterior mirrors, chrome door handles, fog lights, automatic headlights, LED positioning lights, and a chrome exhaust tip. Inside, the EX model has standard UVO eServices technology with a color touchscreen and a reversing camera, FlexSteer driver-selected variable steering assist, dual illuminated visor vanity mirrors, a cooled glove box, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob.
My test car had the EX Premium Package ($2,600), adding leather upholstery, a heated and ventilated 10-way power driver’s seat with memory, a heated front passenger’s seat, heated rear seats, and a heated steering wheel. Clearly, this package is something you want if you live in the colder or muggier parts of the country. Additionally, the Premium Package provides a power sunroof, Smart Key passive entry with push-button starting, an auto-dimming rearview mirror with a universal garage door opener, a vehicle immobilizer system, and exterior puddle lights with illuminated door handle pockets.
The Forte in the accompanying photos is also equipped with the EX Technology Package ($2,300). This option adds Xenon HID headlights, LED taillights, dual-zone automatic climate control with rear center air vents, HD Radio, a navigation system, and Supervision gauges with a new 4.2-inch LCD center display.
Add a set of floor mats, and my test sample tallied $25,515. That’s not chump change for a small car, but clearly, a loaded Forte EX isn’t just any small car.
2014 Kia Forte Sedan Road Test and Review: Design
- Redesigned inside and out
- Available Xenon HID headlights
- Available LED taillights
The head honcho at Kia is a guy named Peter Schreyer. A German-born designer, Schreyer joined the Korean company in 2006, leaving Audi to transform design for both Kia and Hyundai. You may have noticed that since his arrival, the cars and SUVs from both automakers are much, much more attractive than they used to be. Anyway, perhaps as a reward for his efforts, Schreyer is now president of Kia Motors, and he remains based in Germany.
I’m sharing this backstory because it puts modern Kia design into context, and goes a long way toward explaining why the redesigned 2014 Forte is undeniably attractive, inside and out. Especially in EX trim, this car doesn’t look or feel like most other small cars, and my only complaints about the exterior styling pertain to the oversized, almost garish LED running lights and the enormous LED taillights on my Abyss Blue test car.
Inside, a Germanic design principle is clearly evident, with tasteful and complimentary textures and tones, including plastic control surrounds imprinted with a carbon fiber pattern that instantly transforms them into an element that adds to rather than detracts from the interior. Pair those with the perforated leather seat inserts, exposed stitching, and soft-touch dashboard and door panel materials, and the Forte looks and feels like a more expensive automobile.
The only drawback to this cabin is the glossy black plastic used for the turn signal and wiper stalks, and for the releases used to open the fuel door and the trunk. I understand why less expensive materials must be used someplace, but Kia should at least employ the stuff where the owner can’t easily spot it. In other words, don’t use cheap plastic on controls that are used every single day.
2014 Kia Forte Sedan Road Test and Review: Comfort and Cargo
- Midsize sedan interior room
- Midsize sedan trunk room
- Available sliding center armrest
- Available 10-way power heated and ventilated driver’s seat
- Available heated front passenger’s and rear seats
- Available heated steering wheel
- Available dual-zone automatic climate control with Clean Air ionizer
- Available rear seat center air vents
Scan through the bullet points above, and you’ll understand why, at more than $25,000, a loaded 2014 Kia Forte delivers real value. It makes a strong argument against purchasing a larger car, especially considering that the Forte is technically a midsize car by the EPA’s yardstick. Appropriately then, it has a surprisingly large trunk measuring 14.9 cu.-ft., which is bigger than some traditional family sedans. A 60/40-split folding rear seat helps a Forte owner make even better use of the cargo space.
For commuters who spend the majority of their time alone in a vehicle, the EX with the Premium Package is a sanctuary of sorts. The Forte is a surprisingly quiet car, except when the 17-inch tires traverse pavement with a rougher texture, and then a rumble enters the cabin from below. But the real draw is driver comfort, and when the available 10-way power driver’s seat is combined with the leather-wrapped tilt/telescopic steering wheel, sliding center console armrest, and softly padded upper door panel materials, few Forte owners will find cause for complaint. The driving position is perfect, the heated steering wheel is pleasing to grip, and the heated and ventilated driver’s seat is the icing on the cake.
Front passengers have plenty of legroom, but the seat lacks height adjustment and at least one of my co-pilots jealously griped about how only the driver’s seat is offered with ventilation. And while the Forte’s rear accommodations provide plenty of room for kids and decent space for adults, the rear seat is low, flat, and a little bit reclined, compromising comfort for the longer-legged members of the species. Heated rear seats, a rarity in small sedans, help to make up for this on cold winter days.
2014 Kia Forte Sedan Road Test and Review: Features and Controls
- Available UVO eServices
- Available 4.2-inch LCD information display
- Available power folding exterior mirrors
Thanks to logical control groupings, with the various buttons, knobs and stalks arrayed around the driver and sitting high enough to reduce driver distraction, the 2014 Forte is easy to understand and use. The EX model is equipped with a standard color touchscreen display with HD Radio, a reversing camera, and UVO eServices technology
Designed for use with an Android smartphone or an iPhone, the UVO eServices system requires no extra-cost subscription fees. Pairing to the Forte’s Bluetooth system is easy, and I had no trouble streaming music or making phone calls. It sure helps that the screen is responsive to touch commands, offers crisp graphics, and suffers a minimum of sun glare.
With eServices, the Forte provides a number of information and safety enhancements. Highlights include access to a Digital Jukebox, advance destination programming via My POIs and Google Maps, a Parking Minder system that helps owners find their way back to the car, enhanced roadside assistance access, and the ability to run diagnostic checks and to make service appointments right from the driver’s seat. Pandora Internet radio and Twitter applications will be available starting in the fall of 2013.
2014 Kia Forte Sedan Road Test and Review: Safety and Ratings
- Available front and rear parking assist sensors
- 911 Connect and Crash Notification Notice
- Speed, curfew, and boundary alerts
While we’re on the subject of UVO eServices, it’s important to know that the system includes direct access to emergency responders via 911 Connect and Crash Notification Notice technologies, the latter of which automatically activates in the event of an airbag deployment. Additionally, Forte owners can use the system to program speed, curfew, and geographic boundary limits. If someone borrows the car and exceeds those limits, the owner automatically receives an alert.
In addition to UVO eServices, the 2014 Forte is offered with a reversing camera as a part of the optional Technology Package. My test car also had front and rear parking assist sensors, but I can’t find reference to these in any official consumer or media documentation about the car, so they’re somewhat of a mystery. Standard safety equipment includes 6 airbags, stability control, traction control, and 4-wheel-disc anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist.
2014 Kia Forte Sedan Crash-Test Ratings:
As this review is written, neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has performed crash tests on the 2014 Forte Sedan.
2014 Kia Forte Sedan Road Test and Review: Engines and Fuel Economy
- Both engines are new for 2014
- Active Eco system with automatic transmission
- Available Flex Steer electric steering with three modes
- Idle Stop & Go technology is planned
Buy the Forte LX, and your new car will have a 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine making 148 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 131 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,700 rpm. In Super Ultra Low Emission Vehicle (SULEV) state of tune, horsepower and torque figures are slightly lower.
A 6-speed manual gearbox is standard, and a 6-speed Sportshift automatic is optional, the latter equipped with an Active Eco driving mode designed to help conserve fuel. Models with the manual are rated to get 25 mpg in the city, 37 mpg on the highway, and 29 mpg in combined driving. The automatic is EPA-rated to deliver the same numbers, except the highway rating drops to 36 mpg.
My test car, the Forte EX, has a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine with direct fuel injection, rated to generate 173 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 154 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,700 rpm. The Sportmatic transmission with Active Eco mode is standard for this model, and fuel economy ratings are 24-city/36-highway for a combined driving estimate of 28 mpg.
I averaged 23.6 mpg, less than the city fuel economy rating, and much less than the combined driving rating. Granted, more of these miles were covered in the city than on the highway, but considering that I had the Active Eco mode engaged for at least half the time, there’s definitely room for improvement here.
2014 Kia Forte Sedan Road Test and Review: Driving Impressions
If the most disappointing aspect of the new Forte EX is fuel economy, the second most disappointing thing about this car is the way it drives, and it’s flawed dynamics are what keeps this very good car from being a great car.
I could accept the Forte’s unimpressive fuel economy if the EX model’s powertrain were zippy and entertaining, but it’s not. At idle and low speeds, clatter from the direct fuel injection is evident, and the car sounds labored as it accelerates to freeway speeds. Engage the Active Eco mode, and the powertrain responds like a medicated patient, the transmission kicking down to provide added oomph only if you’re persistent in your request and are willing to push hard on the accelerator pedal.
In contrast to the accelerator pedal, especially with Active Eco mode engaged, the Forte’s brake pedal often behaves like an on/off switch. Under all conditions, the pedal delivers good feel and natural progression when applying the brakes. My complaint pertains to what happens when the driver releases a little bit of pedal pressure, such as when preparing to bend the car into a corner or curve, or when making adjustments while approaching an intersection or stopped traffic. Bleed a little bit of pressure, and suddenly it feels like the brakes are disengaged, delivering a small jolt of momentary panic while the driver re-applies the brakes.
As for the electric Flex Steer steering, though I appreciate Kia’s attempt to please several masters with a single system designed to provide different levels of steering effort and artificial feel, Flex Steer falls short. Because I often prefer the drive more than I do the destination, I’m almost embarrassed to admit that my favorite Flex Steer setting is Comfort. That’s not because I lack the extra muscle required by the Normal and Sport modes. Rather, the Comfort mode feels the most natural to me, whereas the Normal and Sport modes frequently reveal their electric nature through an artifice of heft combined with disconcerting on-center disconnectedness.
That disconnectedness is most noticeable when the Forte EX is traveling on grooved concrete, common on the freeways around Los Angeles. The tires tramline a little bit in the grooves, causing the car to feel like it’s wiggling underneath the driver’s butt. However, the steering is utterly clueless about this condition, and the resulting lack of communication at the tiller is eerie.
Suspension tuning could use a little bit of tweaking, too. Toss the Forte EX down a twisty mountain road, and the MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension do an excellent job of controlling roll while the P215/45R17 tires deliver impressive grip. While I found myself frequently correcting cornering lines due to the somewhat ineffective steering, it was clear that somebody who enjoys driving worked on the handling part of the equation.
The ride quality part of the equation is where some additional attention to detail is required. Following larger dips in the road, the Forte exhibits excess lateral and vertical body motions. Over sharper road zits and bumps, the car jitters. Instead, the suspension needs to soak up minor road imperfections while arresting body motion over dips.
Fixing these issues should be easy. I would implore Mr. Schreyer to apply the same Audi-influenced approach to Kia engineering as he has to Kia design. At the very least, the Forte team should buy a Focus Titanium and tear it down to see what makes it tick.
2014 Kia Forte Sedan Road Test and Review: Final Thoughts
The 2014 Kia Forte’s driving dynamics require refinement, and the Forte EX model needs to deliver more engaging performance or better fuel economy. As it stands, power is merely adequate and gas mileage is appallingly low.
Nevertheless, despite its flaws, the new Forte deserves careful consideration not only by compact car shoppers, but also by consumers who are considering a midsize car. The Forte sets affordable car standards in terms of exterior design, interior layout and materials, driver comfort, trunk space, and technology, all backed by an industry-leading warranty and roadside assistance program. It is a compelling package, even if it’s not terribly compelling to drive.
2014 Kia Forte Sedan Road Test and Review: Pros and Cons
- Cabin layout and materials
- Roomy interior and trunk
- Luxury features at a non-luxury price
- Killer warranty and roadside assistance program
- Unimpressive fuel economy
- Lackluster acceleration
- Driving dynamics require fine-tuning
- Rear seat mounted too close to floor
Kia supplied the vehicle for this review
2014 Kia Forte EX Sedan photos by Christian Wardlaw