2010 Kia Forte Koup

The Forte Koup is a great little package. Like many Korean designs, the Forte’s exterior styling is derivative but the Koup, more than its sedan sibling, is really crisp and attractive and should appeal to the under-25 demographic Kia has set its sights on with this new compact. I’m not a big fan of the two-tone wheels but as standard wheels go on an $18,000 car, they are distinctive, and more importantly, made of alloy, not steel, a rarity for this class.

The interior is really well done. Materials are decent to good quality, the dash layout is functional and attractive, and expensive-looking touches like the grippy metal pedals give the interior a sporty, customized look. The cabin feels roomy and is, in fact, bigger than the Honda Civic coupe in every dimension. There are also enough cubbies-and entertainment features-to keep gadget-happy drivers well organized.

This is the rare occasion that I would prefer an automatic in a compact car. The Kia’s frustrating throttle-clutch relationship-I stalled twice, and over-revved numerous times-is made even worse by the lack of feedback from both and the vague shift action is completely unsatisfying. The ride and handling balance is fine and the steering is precise but could use a little more weight at low speeds.
With every new vehicle, Kia, like its corporate sibling Hyundai, inches closer and closer to the class-leaders and this Forte Koup is no exception. It may not be an enthusiasts dream, but it looks great inside and out, and for a mere $18,195 offers an amazing list of standard features.

Jennifer Misaros, Production Editor

While the Koup styling doesn’t stray far from that of the sedan, I find this two-door quite a bit more attractive. Part of that may be due to the fact that the coupe looks much less like a Honda Civic than the four-door does. It may sound crazy, but I even see bits of Camaro in the Koup design, largely at the rear with the thick C-pillar and how the trunk lid folds into the back side. The blazing orange metallic paint on our test car also made the Koup appear to be much sportier and pricier than its economy car pedigree.

As I climbed into the Forte Koup, I immediately noticed a lack of headroom. Part of that can be blamed on the optional sunroof in this particular car, but the coupe also has a slightly lower roof than the sedan. The flashing red light rings surrounding the door speakers also caught my eye as I pulled out of my parking space. Kia has been offering them on the Soul and makes them standard on the Forte Koup SX. A dial allows you to choose from four settings for the lights, including a steady glow, a pulsing “mood” mode, and a “music” mode that does an extremely poor job responding to the audio. The best setting, of course, is off.

Driving the Koup is very similar to the sedan. The Forte is comfortable and provides plenty of thrust from the 173-hp 2.4-liter engine. The experience, though, isn’t the most exciting. The six-speed stick isn’t anything special, with little feeling and a sometimes-vague pattern. The throttle calibration is quite frustrating, lagging behind and jerkily responding to inputs. It’s also hard to blip the throttle accurately on downshifts, as the engine is sluggish to rev and offers little feedback through noise or subtle vibrations. With time and practice, it’s possible to drive the Forte smoothly, but the car’s eccentricities are definitely not positive attributes. That being said, this Forte is definitely an improvement on older Kias. While the brand seems to be moving toward products that can sell on something other than price, the value is still there. For less than $18,500, you can get a stylish car with Bluteooth, satellite radio, a USB input, and 17-inch wheels.

Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor

Walking through the parking garage the other day, I briefly wondered when we had gotten an Audi A5 in our test fleet before I realized that I was in fact looking at the back of the new Kia Forte coupe. Surely, the little Korean car won’t put fear into any premium German automaker-even though Kia design director Peter Schreyer did defect from Audi-but those selling cars for less than $20,000 should take notice.

For $18,000 and change, the Forte coupe offers a level of feature-content roughly equivalent to a Honda Civic LX, which goes for about $20,000. It also has stuff many compacts lack, including Bluetooth, four-wheel disc brakes, seventeen-inch wheels, and a stout 173 horsepower.

The Forte’s interior, in addition to being well equipped, is very nicely laid out, with decent, soft touch materials aplenty. As in other Kias and Hyundais, there’s still some work to do on the feel of some of the surfaces a driver touches all the time, such as the leather on the steering wheel, which is much too hard. I personally could skip some of the flashy bits, namely, the lighted rings around the stereo speakers, but the high school crowd might find it fun.

As I noted when we had the Forte sedan in a while back, this four-cylinder might perform better paired with an automatic transmission. As it is, I enjoyed the low-end power, but like Eric Tingwall, found it slow to rev and tough to shift smoothly. Steering and handling isn’t quite as good as what you’ll find in a Civic or Mazda 3, but is nonetheless commendably competent.

Kia is definitely moving up in the world, and judging by its sales, people have noticed. This stylish, feature-packed Forte (along with the redesigned Sorento) should only build on that success.

David Zenlea, Assistant Editor

Still doubtful that the Hyundai-Kia cabal can play with the best Japanese brands? The Forte Koup suffers only from a silly name and an electronic throttle that operates at odds with clutch engagement. This latter flaw frustrates smooth launches and expeditious gear changes, at least until you train your feet to compensate for that lapse. But, in terms of equipment, power, and poise, this coupe amounts to a serious threat to the Civic, Cobalt, and Focus. The steering is tight, the ride is ready for action. Those stretching to buy a MINI Cooper should also give this 26 mpg (combined) alternative serious consideration. Blessed with French seams, red accent stitching, and a roomy rear seat and wired to accommodate your portable entertainment essentials, the Forte interior is the new standard for cheap chic.

Don Sherman, Technical Editor

Luckily for Kia, almost nobody will test drive this car with a manual transmission. I’ve got to echo the complaints from my co-workers about the complete lack of feel from the clutch pedal and the electric throttle’s somewhat odd response pattern. I do give Kia props for offering a six-speed manual transmission in the $18,000 range. Several competitors still use five-speed manuals in this class. I’d still like to sample a Forte Koup with an automatic transmission just to see how much smoother the experience is.

Drivetrain quirks aside, the Forte Koup is a very compelling automobile. There’s a bit of style, lots of good features, and a very tempting price. And you know you’re getting Kia’s long warranty to boot.

It’s fantastic to see Kia is starting a product renaissance along the line of what Hyundai has done since the introduction of the Genesis. For a while there it looked like Kia wasn’t getting any of the love that Hyundai was enjoying in terms of R&D or media coverage. Seeing the Soul and Forte come out so close together should give Kia dealers a lot to be happy about.

Phil Floraday, Senior Online Editor

2010 Kia Forte Koup

Base price (with destination): $18,195
Price as tested: $18,895

Standard Equipment:
Front side airbags
Side curtain airbags
Tire pressure monitoring system
Air conditioning
Sirius satellite radio with 3-month subscription
Bluetooth connectivity
Auxiliary audio input
Power windows and door locks
Automatic headlights
Fog lights

Options on this vehicle:
Sunroof – $700

Key options not on vehicle:
SX leather package – $1000
-Leather seat trim
-Heated front seats
Auto-dimming mirror w/compass and Homelink $250

Fuel economy:
22 / 32 / 26 mpg

Size: 2.4L DOHC VVT four-cylinder
Horsepower: 173 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 168 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm


6-speed manual

Weight: 2859 lbs

17 in. aluminum alloy wheels
215/45 all-season tires

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Buying Guide
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12 City / 18 Hwy

Cargo (Std/Max):

NA / 74.2 cu. ft.