2014 Kia Forte

LX FWD 4-Dr Sedan I4 man trans

2014 kia forte Reviews and News

8 Compact Sedan   Day Four   4 Car Group Image 1
We’ve reached the fourth day of Automobile Magazine’s 2014 Compact Sedan Comparison, and it hasn’t been easy.
As we explained on Day 1, if you can’t build a great car for $200,000, probably you should just quit trying. It’s actually much harder to build a good $20,000 car with a spacious cabin, everyday comfort and convenience, and thrifty performance without forcing people to turn their wallets inside out to find the last dollar.
These days, the average compact sedan must be as roomy as a Honda Accord from the last decade, deliver an array of features that any high-style Bentley would be happy to offer, and let you sail past the gas pumps besides. We’ve gathered eight of the best compact sedans on the market, and we’re sorting them out by driving all of them at the same time on the same roads. We’ve made our notes, organized our facts, and argued about the results. We hope to find the best compact sedan in America as a result.
On Day 4, we give you some of the arguing, as we present here the notes from the discussion that ensued as we went about choosing the finalists for Day 5.
On Day 2, we started the tournament with these match-ups:
  • Mazda 3 prevailed over the Dodge Dart
  • Kia Forte edged out the Ford Focus
On Day 3, the tournament continued with these results:
  • Volkswagen Jetta moved past the Chevrolet Cruze
  • Honda Civic left behind the Toyota Corolla
As the tournament continues, the competition involves less driving and a lot more arguing, as the comments below indicate. It’s not just about whether these compact sedans excel -- because they all do -- but instead it’s about finding the right combination of virtues that meets our expectations.
As the tournament continues, here are the Final Four match-ups:
  • Kia Forte vs. Mazda 3
  • Honda Civic vs. Volkswagen Jetta
2014 Mazda 3 And 2014 Kia Rio Front Three Quarters View

2014 Kia Forte Vs. 2014 Mazda 3

2014 Kia Forte EX

  • “I want to mention something that is not this car’s ‘forte,’ ” jokes associate editor David Zenlea, “but I can’t think of one off of the top of my head. Maybe this is a good mark for the Kia.”
  • “How about its steering?” responds another editor. “Three modes that adjust steering effort? Basically Kia is admitting that it has no idea what’s best for the buyer.”
  • The Forte, the cheapest car of the bunch, has standard power-folding mirrors, automatic headlights, LED running lights, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, satellite radio, and a rearview camera. Oh, and a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty. And it needs all of those things to keep buyers from being scared off by the Korean badge on the hood.
  • Drive the Kia Forte if you eat protein bars for two of your three square meals, wear Ray-Ban Wayfarer sunglasses wherever you go, and listen to one of those EDM songs (or is it just one long song?).
  • “The previous Forte was abysmal to drive, uncomfortable, and felt like it might fall apart at any given moment,” says associate web editor Jake Holmes. “This one, I never noticed the ride, and that’s a really good thing.”
  • The infotainment system is simple to operate and looks modern.
  • You get the feeling that Kia is really trying. Some of the Forte works, some of it doesn’t, but you can see the effort behind it. Note the sliding covers over the USB ports in center console. We’ve seen that only in a small batch of other cars. It’s a sign that the Koreans are minding the details.

2014 Mazda 3i Touring

  • “I’m not sure the Mazda 3 has a better interior than the Kia Forte, but it feels more expensive,” says West Coast editor Michael Jordan. “You’d only expect to see climate control knobs this nice in a $40,000 car.”
  • The styling is striking—the front end’s big, wide, gaping mouth is very dramatic, which is novel for this segment—but the Mazda needs to focus a bit more on better forward and rearward visibility.
  • Associate editor Greg Migliore notes that the Mazda 3 weighs less than 2900 pounds, which is a reminder that Mazda “does it their way.” Deputy editor Joe DeMatio responds, “Can you sing that?”
  • The 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is quiet and smooth yet spins up quickly, and what’s best is that it gets more than 40 mpg on the highway.
  • Drive the Mazda 3 if you eat at Chipotle every week, wear shirts from Blipshift, and already listen to all of the bands scheduled for the music festivals this summer.
  • Why is there a touchscreen when there’s also a command knob for the infotainment system on the on the center console? Because the software for the control knob sucks: it’s not possible to perform simple tasks like spinning the knob to change the song selection. We hope Mazda sorts this system faster than BMW did with iDrive.
  • This is a compact car you get into and feel like you’ve been there before. It’s a balanced and sensible package for an enthusiast.

Winner: 2014 Mazda 3i Touring.

The Kia Forte is much improved, but it still can’t beat the formidable Mazda 3. The Mazda 3 moves into the final round.
2014 Honda Civic And 2014 Volkswagen Jetta Front Three Quarters View

2013 Honda Civic vs. 2014 Volkswagen Jetta

2013 Honda Civic

  • Zenlea says, “If a non-car person asked me what to buy, I’d say the Civic. I’d always say the Civic. It would never give them any problems. It’s easy to drive, it’s efficient, and it’s easy to see out of. That’s what most people want.”
  • Holmes chimes in: “Driving the Civic is like having oatmeal every day for breakfast. You’re not really happy you’re having oatmeal every day, but you’re not really upset about it, either.”
  • The split dashboard is still the weakest point of this car. It absolutely needs to change, and we can’t imagine why it hasn’t already.
  • It seems that Honda is using the same cloth for its seats that it used in the early 1990s. “But the seat under that cloth is fantastic,” says DeMatio.
  • Drive the Honda Civic if you eat kale, wear gently used Toms, and listen to that new artist that no one’s heard of yet (and probably never will).
  • If you post a Civic for sale on Craigslist, you will sell it in eight minutes. People will be banging on your front door, cash in hand. Even if it’s based on twenty-year-old logic, it shows that people still perceive the Civic to be king of the compact segment.
  • The Civic shows that once you get it right, stick with it and people will keep coming back.

2014 Volkswagen Jetta

  • “I’m blown away by how good this car is,” says DeMatio.
  • “This turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder is much better than the five-cylinder engine,” adds Zenlea.
  • That said, the Jetta’s lingering reputation for indifferent reliability makes us a bit worried that the new engine is being made in Mexico at an assembly plant that was just a dirt field a year ago.
  • Drive the Volkswagen Jetta if you eat granola, wear jeans that are snug but don’t reveal too much, and listen to NPR (rock is alright sometimes, but never too loud).
  • The Jetta requires a buyer who recognizes that there are decades of German automotive engineering behind the badge. This sounds like a cliché, but the German-engineered refinement of the Jetta puts it in a different class of sophistication than all of the other cars in this comparison.
  • Volkswagen’s leatherette is better than some leather.
  • “For me, this whole exercise comes down to the Volkswagen Jetta and the Mazda 3,” says deputy editor DeMatio.

Winner: 2014 Volkswagen Jetta SE

The Honda Civic doesn’t feel as modern as the Volkswagen Jetta, and the Jetta moves into the final round.
Check back tomorrow for Day 5 of Automobile Magazine’s 2014 Compact Sedan Comparison Review as the 2014 Mazda 3 faces the 2014 Volkswagen Jetta to determine the best compact sedan in America.
8 Compact Sedan   Day Two   4 Car Group Image 1
Welcome to Day 2 of Automobile Magazine’s 2014 Compact Sedan Comparison Review, our test of the affordable, multipurpose small sedans that are ubiquitous on American roads.
As we noted in our Day 1 introduction, we gathered eight four-door compact sedans and drove all of them at the same time on the same roads. We made our notes and organized our facts. And then we argued about the results.
The way we see it, these are the best compact sedans in America right now. We tried to ensure that our test vehicles represent a useful level of features -- nicely equipped, as they say -- yet don’t cost too much. Given the practical realities of acquiring so many test vehicles at the same time, they aren’t all priced exactly the same, but we did our best.
The assembled group includes: the Chevrolet Cruze, Dodge Dart, Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Kia Forte, Mazda 3, Toyota Corolla, and Volkswagen Jetta. To make our comparisons as direct as possible, we organized a scheme where we matched the vehicles in brackets, like you would see in an athletic tournament (think March Madness). The losers will be knocked out one by one until the winner presents itself.
Today, on Day 2, we present an accounting of four vehicles, and two contenders will be eliminated. Tomorrow, on Day 3, we do the same, matching four vehicles and reducing the field to two. On Day 4, we’ll present excerpts from the test notebooks on our final four contestants and will select our two finalists. On Friday, Day 5, the two finalists will go head to head and we will declare the winner.
We start the tournament with these match-ups:
  • Dodge Dart vs. Mazda 3
  • Ford Focus vs. Kia Forte
2014 Dodge Dart And 2014 Mazda 3 Front View

2013 Dodge Dart vs. 2014 Mazda 3

2013 Dodge Dart GT Limited

2013 Dodge Dart GT Front Three Quarters View

The Dodge Dart GT was easily the most polarizing car in our field of compact competitors. People liked it; people hated it. The Dart was controversy on wheels, and we had a field day obsessing over what it all means. At the end of the day -- quite literally, since we drove these cars from Egg McMuffin time into the early evening -- we reached the conclusion that the Dart misses the mark in the compact-sedan segment.
Early in our deliberations, deputy editor Joe DeMatio called this car “the antithesis of the Honda Civic,” spelling trouble for the front-wheel-drive Dodge. We’ve long held the belief that compact cars should measure on the small side and have airy interiors with good visibility. That’s not the Dart, which has thick A-pillars and overstuffed seats, and it seems like there’s less room inside than its impressive 97.2 cubic feet of passenger volume and 42.2 inches of rear-seat legroom promise. Just a few years ago, this Dodge could have passed as a mid-size sedan, but now road test editor Christopher Nelson says, “I don’t think it fits and plays in this segment very well.”

Lots of stuff to like

There are still a lot of things about the Dodge Dart GT that we like quite a bit. Even the most vocal critics praised the brash, curvaceous styling. We also rated the Dart as one of the better values in the compact segment, since you get a lot of features for your dollar. Our Limited model came standard with LED-type ambient interior lighting, an 8.4-inch touchscreen interface for its entertainment and connectivity electronics, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. It had plenty of options, too, including seats upholstered in nappa leather, heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, satellite radio, a sport suspension, 18-inch wheels, and black-chrome headlight bezels. Even the most fanatic supporters of minimalist compacts had to admit that the Dart is one of the nicest-equipped cars in this comparison.
In selecting the Dart GT model, we got a car with Dodge’s conventional six-speed automatic transmission instead of the clumsy-shifting dual-clutch automatic. Most of us liked the Dart’s powertrain. When you lay into the throttle, the peppy Tigershark four-cylinder comes to life with a growl; none of the other cars make much more than a grunt or a rasp when prodded. Associate editor David Zenlea noted that this engine is easily the best-sounding powerplant among our eight compact sedans.
Meanwhile, all of our options and upgrades did add up. The as-tested price of this 2013 Dodge Dart GT is $25,520, which is steep for many compact-car customers. Sticker shock could be a problem for the Dodge. Associate web editor Jake Holmes notes, “Pretty often there’s a Jeep showroom right next to the Dodge dealership. You can get two different Jeeps for the same price as this Dart GT, and they’re crossovers with all-wheel drive.”

One small step for quality

As DeMatio points out, the Dart is an easy car to overlook simply because it’s been so long since anything from Chrysler proved very competitive in this class. The Dodge Neon and Dodge Caliber both represented good ideas -- one a small car with personality that really set the stage for the Volkswagen New Beetle, the other a miniaturized crossover utility vehicle -- but both underachieved in the marketplace. “A whole generation has never been exposed to a decent small car from the Pentastar,” DeMatio says.
The Dart promises to change all that. While it’s not our favorite compact, it’s much better than simply decent and, most significant, it is the first vehicle that really leverages the full strength of the Fiat-Chrysler alliance. The Dart combines a Fiat four-cylinder engine, an Alfa Romeo package, and Dodge’s smart, muscular styling. It is assembled in Illinois (although only 57 percent of the parts are actually from the United States and Canada).
All this makes the Dodge Dart a truly international car designed and built with expertise from around the world. The Dart is not that far from becoming an impact player, and we expect Fiat and Chrysler to leave no stone unturned in their vast industrial empire to make this compact sedan better.
—Greg Migliore

2014 Mazda 3 i Touring

2014 Mazda 3 I Touring Rear Three Quarters View

The 2014 Mazda 3 wins style points in our comparison test, but it gets nicked for its lack of attention to detail. While most of our staff like the Mazda’s looks, chassis, and powertrain, several issues arose as we delved into the intricacies of the all-new front-wheel-drive compact from Mazda.
The devil is in the details, as the saying goes, and we found several little devils lurking in the Mazda 3. While we were keen on the rotary controller for the electronic screen on the dashboard, it was confusing to actually operate and scroll through the various infotainment screens. “I like the knob, but the software is not that simple,” associate web editor Jake Holmes lamented.
We also found plenty of little “yes, but…” annoyances. Deputy editor Joe DeMatio quibbled with the shift lever, which had an unusual manual mode. “Hate the up for downshift, down for upshift,” he said. Meanwhile, Molly Jean, senior editor of JeanKnowsCars.com, took issue with the driver’s seat, saying that “it seemed cheap and wasn’t that comfortable.”

Quit whining and drive

As car enthusiasts, our heads are turned by shapely sheetmetal. The 3 borrows its well-tailored look from its larger sibling, the Mazda 6. The gentle curves enclose some 96.3 cubic feet of passenger volume. Molly Jean, our fashion expert, said the 3 was the “best-looking car in the bunch.” Road test editor Christopher Nelson called its front end “striking” and “dramatic.”
Aesthetics aside, the Mazda 3 is an excellent expression of the brand’s familiar, satisfying, and sporting DNA. The new chassis with a long, 106.3-inch wheelbase is tight and handles well through corners. The electric-assist steering responds properly and even athletically, and the car as a whole has an eagerness others in this segment can’t match. Equally important is an overall improvement in ride quality; this car feels supple and composed on the road, like a fine European sedan.

40 mpg is the new standard

Our test car had a 155-hp, Skyactiv 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. DeMatio noted the seamless power delivery, and West Coast editor Michael Jordan was impressed with the quietness. Neither comes at a cost to efficiency. The EPA rates the Mazda 3 with this powertrain at 30 mpg in the city and 41 mpg on the highway, which reminds us that 40 highway mpg is now the standard of measure in the compact sedan class.
As it turns out, the 2014 Mazda 3 sets a new standard in more than just sportiness and fuel economy. As much as we were occasionally vexed by some of the details, we appreciate how the 3 incorporates an array of comfort and convenience features, not to mention the sort of active-safety technology not often found at this end of the price scale.
As Nelson says, “When I got into it, I felt as if I had been here before. The steering is nicely weighted, the seats hold me well, and the car has a lively personality, even though it’s a lot more refined than ever before. This is a really balanced package for a car enthusiast. The Mazda 3 is the most fun car to drive.”
If that’s your priority for a selecting a compact sedan, then don’t sweat the details.
—Greg Migliore

Winner: 2014 Mazda 3

2014 Ford Focus And 2014 Kia Forte Front View

2014 Ford Focus vs. 2014 Kia Forte

2014 Ford Focus SE

2014 Ford Focus SE Front Three Quarters View

How quickly things change. We named the Ford Focus one of our 2013 Automobile Magazine All-Stars, but as soon as we laid eyes on this 2014 Ford Focus SE, the barrage of complaints began. In fact, laying eyes on the car was the catalyst for annoyance.
Despite the clean geometry of its shape, we aren’t very excited by this plainly trimmed, three-box sedan. The most interesting elements of this car are a spoiler on the trunk and 17-inch cast-aluminum wheels, and even these are part of an optional appearance package. For us, the Focus hatchback looks considerably sharper and even offers more cargo room, although we acknowledge that a large part of the marketplace is still stuck in the ’70s and thinks a hatchback configuration is about as tasty as Marmite.
Nor did the Focus cabin win much applause, as it is far more cramped than the front-wheel-drive sedan’s exterior dimensions suggest -- kind of like the Tardis, only in reverse. The dash’s featureless expanse of hard plastic is too high for drivers to see the Focus's hood; the tall beltline will preclude small children from playing I Spy; and the back seat offers 38.0 inches of legroom, which feels more appropriate for a Ford Fiesta.

Wait, didn’t Ford invent connectivity in small cars?

Focus’s complex infotainment system was the object of much criticism. Editors likened the smattering of tiny plastic switches on the center stack to an old Motorola Razr flip phone, and that’s not meant to be a compliment. Above the maze of buttons, a tiny color screen squeezes so much information into so few pixels that we squinted to read it. "Ford has hung its hat on in-car connectivity, and you get this mess?" deputy editor Joe DeMatio wondered aloud.
Upgrading to MyFord Touch replaces those tiny buttons with a larger color screen, but we're not big fans of the Ford’s touch-type interface, either. Our Focus test car also lacked a backup camera and push-button start despite being the third most expensive of the eight cars in this test.

Getting it together on the road

Communicative steering and a taut chassis swing things back in the Ford's favor. The Focus is one of the most enjoyable of these cars to drive on twisty rural roads, as the chassis clings to the pavement through the bends with a handling balance that is decidedly European.
This precision doesn't come at the expense of ride comfort, as the Focus suspension smothers most road imperfections before they reach the cabin. The effort level required by the steering and brakes is on the firmer side, yet there’s lots of feedback to the driver, which makes the Focus more interesting to drive than most of its rivals. Some shoppers might be put off by the sporty bent, but we find it refreshing in a sea of anodyne compacts.
A 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine delivers 160 hp smoothly with a plain but not unpleasant sound. Compared with earlier versions of the Ford Focus, the six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission in our 2014 tester shifted with significantly more smoothness and responsiveness, without hunting, lurching, or hesitation. While we nonconformists still prefer the Focus's excellent five-speed manual transmission, the improved dual clutch is no longer a deal breaker. This Focus SE’s powertrain is EPA rated at 28 mpg city/40 mpg highway.
The 2014 Ford Focus is not a bad car and is still one of the best-driving entries in its class, but its struggles here demonstrate just how quickly this segment has advanced. Since the Focus launched, rival compacts have debuted simpler in-car technology, roomier cabins, and crisper sheetmetal. What was worthy of an All-Star nod just over a year ago is already starting to feel past its prime.
– Jake Holmes

2014 Kia Forte EX

2014 Kia Forte EX Rear Three Quarters View


Things have changed for Korean cars. We would have hesitated to recommend the original Kia Forte, as its brittle ride, thrashing engines, and plain-jane cabin made it an also-ran compared with the refined Japanese and American entries in this segment. Imagine our delight to find that continual improvement has produced a truly competitive compact sedan in the 2014 Kia Forte.
The 2014 Forte (you can also buy a Forte5 hatchback and a Forte Koup two-door) is totally new, with fresher looks inside and out, new engine choices, and, best of all, proper suspension tuning. The last part proves to be the most important step forward, as the 2014 Kia Forte acquits itself well on all road surfaces. Gone are the harsh impacts that the old Forte produced over cracked pavement. At the same time, the new car is considerably better to hustle around a corner. The taut suspension is responsive, and while the car isn’t exactly eager, it settles into bends without wallowing. "This car has resilient, well-damped ride motions,” says West Coast editor Michael Jordan. “It’s a huge leap forward from the old Forte.”
We were less impressed by the electric-assist power steering, which offers no less than three different levels of effort, not one of which truly appeals. The Forte's steering is too vague and doesn't offer a realistic sense that the leather-wrapped wheel is actually pivoting the 16-inch alloys. "I don't think they quite have the steering that measures up to the rest of the car," says associate editor David Zenlea.

When it comes from Korea, you expect lots of style

From behind the wheel of the 2014 Kia Forte, the view is pleasant thanks to a modest architecture of curves and a selection of plastic materials that implies quality rather than dollar-conscious value. The touchscreen that dominates the center stack has intuitive software for operating the radio or Bluetooth phone, while the small trip computer provides lots of information in a simple format. The cabin is fairly spacious with 96.2 cubic feet of passenger volume, but there’s only 35.9 inches of rear-seat legroom, which is even less than the Focus. However, the Forte’s trunk capacity is 14.9 cubic feet, compared with the 13.2 cubic feet in the bustle behind the Focus, so we suppose some trade-offs are involved here.
The Forte doesn’t feature much in the way of flashy trim, yet it’s looks pretty good when you walk up to it in a parking lot. The swept-back headlights and "tiger nose" grille set the stage for a sedan that is modern and distinctive. LED running lights help the Forte stand out on crowded highways, and this reminds us that such jewelry was restricted to Audis not too long ago. The lone negative is the chrome trim around the windows and on the door handles, which looks cheap and distracts from the Forte’s otherwise smart appearances.

Power meant for cruising rather than play

There’s a 173-hp 2.0-liter, inline four-cylinder engine under the hood of the Forte EX. A six-speed automatic transmission is your mandatory companion as well. The car proves plenty quick when the powertrain is provoked, but mostly the engine is demur and tractable in everyday driving.
That said, the fuel economy of the Forte EX lags behind the segment leaders, coming in 24 mpg in the city and 36 mpg on the highway. These figures would have made any compact sedan blush with pride just five years ago, but that is no longer the case. The cheaper Forte LX has a 148-hp 1.8-liter engine that makes 25 mpg city/36 mpg highway, but we think the extra 1 mpg doesn't justify giving up 25 hp and several pieces of standard equipment.
As it turns out, the 2014 Kia Forte EX gives you all this for $20,315, making it the lowest-priced car in this test. Standard equipment includes LED running lights, automatic headlights, power-folding mirrors, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a touchscreen interface for the audio system, satellite radio, and Bluetooth. On top of this, buyers get a segment-leading 10-year/100,000-mile warranty to help assuage outdated fears that Kia builds only disposable, bargain-basement cars.
We're here to tell you those fears are misguided. The 2014 Kia Forte is a well-rounded, world-class compact sedan that is good enough to compete with the segment leaders. It's so good, in fact, that we prefer it to the 2014 Ford Focus.
– Jake Holmes

Winner: 2014 Kia Forte EX

2014 Automobile Magazine Compact Sedan Comparison   Day One   8 Car Group Image 1
If you can’t build a good car for $200,000, probably you should just quit trying. It’s actually much harder to build a great $20,000 car, one with a spacious cabin, everyday comfort and convenience, plus thrifty performance, all without forcing people to turn their wallets inside out to find the last dollar. Really, it’s much easier to build a Bentley than a simple compact sedan.
These days, the average compact sedan must be as roomy as a Honda Accord from the last decade, deliver an array of features that any high-style Bentley would be happy to offer, and let you sail past the gas pumps. You can get a stripped-down compact sedan with a washable interior and funky steel wheels if you want, but you can also slide into a compact sedan equipped with voice-activated features, an array of active safety measures, and a chassis agile enough to make the drive to the store feel like a trip to France.
In fact, compact sedans are getting so uniformly good that it’s harder than ever to pick out the best. Nevertheless, Automobile Magazine’s comparison review of the best compact sedans in America will lead you to the final answer. Although some blood was spilled in the process, we have begun our compact sedan comparison by selecting eight cars that are making news in the marketplace right now: Chevrolet Cruze, Dodge Dart, Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Kia Forte, Mazda 3, Toyota Corolla, and Volkswagen Jetta.
Over the next five days, we’ll compare and contrast these cars in our own, unique bracket-style format and then present the winner.

Compact sedans, Automobile Magazine-style

Our comparison begins with a broad selection of compact sedans, which we define as five-passenger, four-door vehicles priced within hailing distance of $20,000. Such cars are meant to be driven to work, pick up kids from school, run errands, and occasionally make cross-country trips on the open road. They are multipurpose vehicles in a convenient size and are affordably priced. For some households, it is a second vehicle, but for many it is the only car at the curb.
These eight finalists represent the best aspects of the category, whether that means packaging efficiency, simple drivability, or electronic connectivity. By choosing one winner, we hope not only to define the current state of the compact sedan in America but also the character that people who read Automobile Magazine want in a practical, everyday compact car.
Just as you’d expect, we’ve picked models with thrifty engines, a useful array of convenience and safety features, and a spark of personality.

Compact sedans, bracket-style

We can’t pretend to be the average buyer, because, well, that would be impossible. Just like you, we are who we are. If you want complete objectivity unconfused by education, enthusiasm, experience, and just plain good taste, well, good luck to you.
We’ve again based our comparisons on bracket-style, head-to-head matchups, just as we did with our comparison of mid-size sedans. We’re not going to dumb down the process into some kind of SAT test, where like geeks we carefully add up the points scored in a thousand little categories of performance. When you do that, you reward broad-based mediocrity, not excellence. And at Automobile Magazine, we’re all about excellence.
We think the question of choice is personal and powerful, and a one-to-one confrontation between vehicles reveals character in a way that giant test groups do not.

Driving around pointlessly

Every car usually has a place to go, but when it comes to compact sedans, the destinations vary from the big old superstore to the nearest freeway on-ramp. So we didn’t overthink our route selection and simply headed to Kalamazoo, Michigan, from our editorial office in Ann Arbor. We took the back way there, running through fallow cornfields on the two-lane roads of America and then hammered home on the concrete slabs of Interstate 94.
As we’ve done in the past, we made our lunch stop at one of the local brew pubs for which Kalamazoo is known these days, and once again we picked Bell’s Brewery Eccentric Café. Naturally, no actual brew for us (rats!), but we did enjoy a selection of the usual organic stuff that you find in a college town, much of which involved bread, cheese, and potatoes. Ah, well, Kalamazoo is not exactly the Paris of western Michigan.

The map of the road ahead

Just like any road trip, it will take a while before this comparison test reaches its destination.
We begin the trip today by selecting the vehicles for our comparison: Chevrolet Cruze, Dodge Dart, Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Kia Forte, Mazda 3, Toyota Corolla, and Volkswagen Jetta.
For Day 2 and Day 3 of Automobile Magazine’s compact sedan comparison, there will be head-to-head matchups, with four vehicles involved each day. On Day 4, we’ll sum up some of what we’ve learned in our testing with excerpts from our big book of notes. On Day 5, we’ll stage the final head-to-head comparison and determine the winner.
If you want to compare our winner to a $205,825 Bentley Flying Spur, well, that’s up to you.
2014 Kia Forte5 Three Quarters
Las Vegas -- The old Kia Forte hatchback was well beyond its sell-by date, with a miserable ride quality, buzzy engines, and cheap interior materials. When the all-new version debuted in February at the Chicago auto show, it appeared that Kia had worked the same magic on its new Forte5 hatchback as it had on the Forte sedan, renovating the compact car with bold design, a smarter cabin, and myriad mechanical updates. The icing on the cake? The 2014 Kia Forte5's SX trim level is now geared toward performance and has a powerful turbocharged engine under the hood.
Although they ride on the same chassis, the differences between the Forte sedan and the 2014 Kia Forte5 are significant. The wheelbase is the same, but the hatch is 8.2 inches shorter. Every body panel aft of the front doors is unique to the hatchback, as are the side skirts and the entire roof. And whereas the sedan offers two efficient but humdrum four-cylinder engines -- a 148-hp 1.8-liter and a 173-hp 2.0-liter -- the introduction of the Forte5 (as well as the two-door Forte Koup) afforded Kia the chance to add a more exciting engine choice to the mix.
The base Kia Forte5 EX uses the same 2.0-liter mill available in the sedan, but the SX employs a 1.6-liter turbocharged inline-four with direct fuel injection and variable valve timing. It delivers 201 hp at 6000 rpm and 195 lb-ft of torque from 1750 to 4500 rpm. A six-speed manual transmission and a six-speed automatic with paddle shifters are available. Those power figures pitch the Kia Forte5 against some formidable competition, at least on paper, as it matches the output of the Honda Civic Si and exceeds the output of the current Volkswagen GTI by 1 hp.
The Forte5 SX receives numerous other changes compared with the Forte5 EX: more aggressive front and rear fascias, a carbon-fiber-look rear diffuser, blacked-out door handles and mirrors, dual chrome exhausts, LED taillights, and HID headlights. Within the cabin, visual tweaks are limited to stainless-steel pedals and carbon-look dashboard trim. As for handling upgrades, the front anti-roll bar is one millimeter thicker than in the EX model, at 23 mm; the front brake discs have been enlarged by 0.8 inch; the suspension has stiffer springs; and 18-inch alloy wheels are shod in 225/40-18 tires.
Grins Come Easily
We set off in the 2014 Kia Forte5 SX toward Mount Charleston, which rises to 12,000 feet above the flat Nevada desert, and instantly find that the six-speed manual transmission is a joy to use. Its rounded knob sits atop a stubby lever that slides directly into each gate with authority; close your eyes, and the transmission's light action, narrow gate, and palm-size shifter wouldn't be out of place in a rear-wheel-drive sport coupe. It's a welcome change from the old Forte -- and even some more recent stick-shift Kias -- in which mushy, imprecise gearboxes undermined the driving experience. The gear ratios are closely spaced and well chosen for brisk driving, although the engine does buzz above 3200 rpm at highway speeds.
Also satisfying is the way the transmission doles out the turbo engine's power to the front wheels. The fat torque band comes on sooner than you can say "turbo lag," lighting up the all-season tires all through first gear. The turbo engine's emphasis on low-end torque delivery makes for quick dashes through the gears, but it starts to feel dull as the revs swing toward redline and the engine runs out of zest.
Even the optional six-speed automatic transmission isn't a downer, as it snaps between gears at the flick of the small steering-wheel-mounted paddles. Some of the engine's direct, responsive nature is muted by the automatic, and we maintain that the delightful stick is the better option, but the Forte5 remains swift and eager when shifting itself.
On the sweeping bends of Nevada's rural two-lane roads, things are a little more mixed. On the upside, Kia has managed to keep the firmer springs and low-profile tires from ruining the Forte5's ride. The car is as taut and well polished as a more expensive vehicle, and the crashy nature of the old Kia Forte has been totally eliminated. The suspension upgrades are on the mild side and don't transform this hatchback into a corner-carving weapon, but it is notably more responsive than a regular Forte.
On the other hand, the electric power steering communicates barely anything through the leather-wrapped wheel. The Forte5 comes standard with three different modes for the electric power steering, and we strongly recommend leaving it set to Sport, as Comfort and Normal modes are over-assisted and light. Even then, there isn't much indication that the steering wheel is actually connected to any parts of the front suspension. We'd prefer one well-tuned steering setting to three dynamically compromised ones.
Healthy Ingredients
Performance chops aside, the SX trim level simply enhances the very capable 2014 Kia Forte5 hatchback. Compared to its predecessor, the Forte5's bold lines and modern interior propel it toward the top of its class visually. The mildly flared rear fenders and wide front grille give this hatchback a squat, purposeful look enhanced by the SX trim level's larger wheels and bolder body kit. The bodywork is more aerodynamic than the old Forte five-door, too, although Kia doesn't yet have fuel-economy ratings for the SX turbo.
The interior of the Kia Forte5 has likewise rocketed forward in terms of sophistication, with an intuitive touchscreen navigation system, options like cooled front seats and push-button start, and a smart color LCD trip computer between the round gauge binnacles. It may be filled with plastic, but the cabin looks and feels infinitely more modern than the outgoing model. The car also boasts more leg-, shoulder-, and headroom, the latter aided by a tall roof. Cargo capacity is up 20 percent to 23.2 cubic feet with the seats raised, beating out the Mazda3 hatchback (20.2 cu. ft.) and the Volkswagen Golf/GTI (15.2 cu. ft.) and essentially matching the Ford Focus hatch (23.8 cu. ft.). The rear seats fold flat easily, and the wide liftgate produces a large opening for carrying bulky loads.
A Kia official doesn't argue when we complain that the old Forte5 was loud and rattly, so it comes as a great relief that the 2014 model is considerably better put together. Extra insulation, foam-filled crossmembers, and special two-layer engine mounts help keep noise and vibration out of the cabin. Only a hint of tire roar and a modicum of wind noise are noticeable at highway speeds.
Warm Is Good
It might not have world-class steering feel or autocross-ready handling, but the Kia Forte5 SX isn't really aiming to topple the likes of the Volkswagen GTI. Instead, the SX offers a sportier and more exciting version of the well-rounded Forte5, all while maintaining Kia's focus on quality, design, and value for money. Pricing hasn't been confirmed, but we're told to expect a range of $21,000 to $25,000 for the Forte5 SX, undercutting most sporty compacts with similar power. That's a lot of car for the money.
If the Volkswagen GTI is a hot hatchback, then the 2014 Kia Forte5 SX is a warm hatch in the most complimentary sense. It's not quite as sharp as the best sport compacts, but no other Kia is as much fun to drive as this turbocharged five-door.

2014 Kia Forte5

On Sale: December 2013
Base Price: $22,000 (est.)
Engine: 1.6L turbo I-4, 201 hp and 195 lb-ft
Transmission: 6-speed manual, 6-speed manual
Drive: Front-wheel
Cargo Capacity: 23.2 cubic feet
2014 Kia Forte Front Left View
The old Kia Forte was a decent car with terrible timing. It debuted four years ago, just ahead of a tidal wave of vastly improved small cars like the Chevrolet Cruze, the Ford Focus, and the Hyundai Elantra. To add insult to injury, the car's launch coincided almost exactly with the federal government's Cash For Clunkers initiative, forcing Kia to divert much of its advertising budget toward promoting the program. The compact never recovered, becoming a rare underperformer in Kia's lineup. Although the brand's overall sales have nearly doubled in the last five years, the Forte doesn't do any better than the Spectra it replaced.
The good news for the Forte is that Kia has enough money to create its own timing. Four years after its debut, when we'd normally expect to see a significant refresh, we're instead getting an all-new car, the 2014 Kia Forte sedan.
Styling: Blander but better
In other segments, Kia has been able to win over buyers with a healthy helping of styling and quirkiness. For its new small car, however, Kia seems to have bowed to the practicality-first conventions established by perennial segment leaders Honda and Toyota. "When consumers shop for a small car, the rational part of the brain dominates," says Kia product planning manager Ralph Tjoa. So it makes sense that the new Forte's design prioritizes packaging. The window line slopes down toward the A-pillar, providing the driver Honda-like visibility, and then stretches back into a traditional C-pillar. Whereas the old Forte has a relatively muscular hood and flared front fenders, the new one has an unmistakable cab-forward nose, which further improves visibility. The car looks longer than its predecessor, which it is. Its wheelbase is two inches longer than before (the same as the Hyundai Elantra's), and overall length has increased by a little more than an inch.
The Forte doesn't completely give up on style -- Kia's trademark tiger nose grille juts out more prominently than ever, and optional bits like LED lights and smartly applied chrome window trim create a sense of drama. In this respect, the Forte reminds us of the new Dodge Dart, putting a handsome face on a traditional compact car shape.
Interior: Getting in touch with Kia's softer side
For about a minute, the old Forte had one of the best interiors in the compact segment. Then, as noted, we got spoiled by the likes of the Focus and the Elantra. The new cabin rivals those competitors with a healthy helping of soft-touch materials. A nicely laid out color touchscreen is optional and doubles as a backup camera display. Passenger volume has dropped slightly despite the larger exterior, but the front passengers enjoy more head, leg, and shoulder room. The already generous trunk has also grown slightly larger. As always, Kia offers plenty of features, including optional heating for just about every conceivable surface -- front seats, rear seats, and steering wheel. Much like the exterior, the cabin dispenses with most of the outgoing car's sporting pretensions: the formerly purposeful-looking steering wheel has become bloated and almost droopy; gauges no longer feature hotdog orange backlighting. There is a bit of faux carbon fiber to liven things up, although it looks very fake, indeed.
Driving dynamics: Learning some manners
Dismissing the old Forte's sports car touches as being mere pretense is a bit unfair -- it certainly tried to please enthusiasts with a powerful engine and a stiff suspension. And yet, it never quite came together into a compelling driver's car. The old 2.4-liter four-cylinder was coarse and slow to respond to accelerator inputs, and the rock-hard ride didn't yield a worthwhile handling advantage. With the 2014 Forte, Kia has taken a more sophisticated approach. There's a lot of hardware derived from the Elantra, including a lighter platform and a smaller 1.8-liter base engine. Kia also applied what Tjoa calls "aggressive" noise, vibration, and harshness countermeasures, including larger bushings to isolate the front subframe, acoustic sound insulation under the dash, and a dual-layer engine mount.
The manicured roads around Scottsdale hardly present the toughest ride-quality test (indeed, the good weather isn't the only reason car companies love to introduce new cars here). We'd venture to say that the suspension has improved over that of the current Forte. It still lets in more road noise, though, than refinement leaders like the Focus and the Volkswagen Golf.
Whereas the styling and the interior sacrificed sportiness in the name of refinement, the actual driving experience is now more engaging than ever. We drove the EX, which features a 2.0-liter directed-injected four-cylinder. It has the same output (173 hp) and slightly less torque (154 lb-ft) than the top engine in the outgoing Forte sedan, but in real-world driving it feels considerably more responsive. It winds quickly through its rpm range and never seems out of breath, even as we head toward higher elevations. The EX now comes only with a six-speed automatic, something we'd be more upset about if the old car's manual transmission hadn't been so vague and notchy (a stick-shift is still offered on the base model). The accelerator pedal isn't the only control to have improved -- the brakes feel firm, and the steering, now electric rather than hydraulic power assist, is refreshingly heavy, especially when the optional "Flex Steer" system is set in Sport. As we've unfortunately come to expect from Kias (and Hyundais), though, that weight doesn't build naturally.
Kia has not announced fuel-economy numbers for the new Forte, but one can assume that the 1.8-liter engine will match rather closely the figures it achieves in the Elantra: 28 mpg in the city and 38 mpg on the highway. Optional stop/start technology could provide a small bump in the city.
Conclusion: Catching the crowd
Even with its strong powertrain, the 2014 Kia Forte doesn't have quite as much character as we'd hoped -- perhaps we've been spoiled by the larger Optima and all those dancing hamster commercials. Nevertheless, there's no doubt that this is a more polished car than the one it replaces. Its interior quality, driving dynamics, and feature content all safely meet our very high standards for small sedans. For a dose of style and performance, we can still look forward to new versions of the Forte coupe and hatchback.
On sale: Early 2013
Engine: 1.8L four-cylinder, 148 hp, 131 lb-ft; 2.0L four-cylinder, 173 hp 154 lb-ft
Drive: Front-wheel
Transmission: Six-speed manual or six-speed automatic
EPA Fuel economy: 25-28/35-38 mpg city/highway (est.)
2014 Kia Forte
2014 Kia Forte

New For 2014

The 2014 Kia Forte sedan, the Forte5 hatchback, and the sporty Forte Koup are all-new.

Vehicle Summary

Bad timing killed the last Kia Forte. Four years ago, the Forte was a good, little car that debuted just ahead of a foray of better, little cars. Cars like the Ford Focus and the Chevrolet Cruze, which absolutely crushed Kia's dreams of being king of the compact-car hill. Fast-forward four years to today. While we were expecting a significantly refreshed Forte for 2014, we got a brand-new 2014 Kia Forte instead. The compact-car class is getting a lot of attention from automakers, what with people's blossoming interest in green-friendly econoboxes, and Kia's got a real player with the Forte.


The compact 2014 Kia Forte is all-new. It comes in three styles: Forte, Forte5, and Forte Koup. The first is a four-door sedan, the second is a four-door hatchback, and the last is a two-door coupe. All are instantly recognizable as Fortes because of their tiger-nose grilles and curvaceous sheetmetal. It's extremely rare that an automaker offers one car in three distinct flavors. The Ford Focus is available as a sedan and a hatchback but not as a coupe. The Honda Civic is available as a sedan and a coupe but not as a hatchback. The whole Forte trio benefits from Hyundai's 100,000-mile, ten-year warranty, another thing that sets it apart from the competition.

The four-door 2014 Kia Forte sedan is longer, lower, and wider than the outgoing car. Despite the increase in size, passenger volume has actually decreased, although first-row passengers enjoy more head, leg, and shoulder room. If interior space is a major concern, the Forte5 might be more your style. Passenger volume increases slightly from 96.2 cubic feet to 98.2 cubic feet, and cargo space balloons from 14.9 cubic feet to 23.2 cubic feet. The Forte5 also benefits from bigger engines. EX models get a normally aspirated 2.0-liter in-line four-cylinder, and SX models get a 1.6-liter turbocharged in-line four spitting out 201 hp. They're the same engines that are available in the two-door Forte Koup. The Koup debuted at the 2013 New York Auto Show and is set to go on sale by the end of the year. It aims to be the most fun Forte, with sport-tuned suspension and larger front brakes, as well as an excessive amount of carbon-fiber interior frill.

It seems, then, that Kia is building a Forte for just about everyone.

You'll like:

  • Good standard and available features
  • All transmissions are six-speeds
  • Three distinct body styles

You won't like:

  • Driving dynamics are wanting
  • Still playing catch-up with some competitors
  • Too much road noise

Key Competitors

  • Ford Focus
  • Honda Civic
  • Mazda 3
  • Toyota Corolla
2014 Toyota Corolla S Front Three Quarters In Motion
The Toyota Corolla retook the number-one sales spot from the Honda Civic this past month, selling 30,883 units to the Civic's 30,038. The Hyundai Elantra again came in third place, with sales of 22,213, but improved its performance from last month.

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2014 Kia Forte Specifications

Quick Glance:
1.8L I4Engine
Fuel economy City:
25 MPG
Fuel economy Highway:
37 MPG
148 hp @ 6500rpm
131 ft lb of torque @ 4700rpm
  • Air Conditioning
  • Power Windows
  • Power Locks
  • Power Seats (optional)
  • Steering Wheel Tilt
  • Cruise Control (optional)
  • Sunroof (optional)
  • ABS
  • Stabilizer Front
  • Stabilizer Rear (optional)
  • Electronic Traction Control
  • Electronic Stability Control
  • Locking Differential (optional)
  • Limited Slip Differential (optional)
  • Airbag Driver
  • Airbag Passenger
  • Airbag Side Front
  • Airbag Side Rear (optional)
  • Radio
  • CD Player
  • CD Changer (optional)
  • DVD (optional)
  • Navigation (optional)
100,000 miles / 60 months
100,000 miles / 120 months
100,000 miles / 60 months
60,000 miles / 60 months
Recall Date
Kia Motors America (Kia) is recalling certain model year 2014 Kia Forte vehicles manufactured December 5, 2012, to April 17, 2014. In the affected vehicles, the cooling fan resistor may overheat and melt.
If the cooling fan resistor overheats and melts, there is an increased risk of a vehicle fire.
Kia will notify owners, and for vehicles produced from December 5, 2012 to January 27, 2014, dealers will replace the cooling fan resistor and multi-fuse unit. For vehicles produced from January 28, 2014 to April 17, 2014, dealers will replace the multi-fuse unit only. Owners of vehicles with a 1.8L engine will also have the engine control unit software updated. The recall began on February 20, 2015. Owners may contact Kia customer service at 1-800-333-4542. Kia's number for this recall is SC113.
Potential Units Affected
Kia Motors America

NHTSA Rating Front Driver
NHTSA Rating Front Passenger
NHTSA Rating Front Side
NHTSA Rating Rear Side
NHTSA Rating Overall
NHTSA Rating Rollover
IIHS Front Moderate Overlap
IIHS Overall Side Crash
IIHS Rear Crash
IIHS Roof Strength
IIHS Front Small Overlap

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