Last year, a new hatchback model brought some fresh features to the Forte lineup. This year, Kia is sticking pretty closely to what the company brought out for the 2011 model year. For 2012 there are only minor mechanical changes to the Forte five-door and minimal changes to the interiors of the Forte Koup and sedan. There is an impressive list of features meant to take Kia away from its reputation as a budget brand. Since its introduction, the Forte has offered leather, heated seats, and Bluetooth. Push-button start, shift paddles, and navigation are optional. Power comes from a 2.0-liter or a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, and the two transmission choices are a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic. All available powertrains deliver good performance and return respectable fuel economy. The top SX model aims for a sporty feel inside with black surfaces accented by silver trim and red lighting. Unfortunately, driving the SX, or any of the Forte models, is far from a dynamic experience. Plenty of competitors in the small-car segment are more composed, refined, and fun. Manufacturers have gotten much more serious about their small cars lately, and models like the Mazda 3, the Ford Focus, and the Hyundai Elantra -- to name a few -- have really raised the bar in refinement, dynamics, and efficiency. That has left the handsome Forte playing catch-up.
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