The Forte Koup is a nice-looking car, even if I’m not a fan of the electric blue on this particular test vehicle. Inside, the coupe is very hospitable, with a black leather interior that is saved from being too dour by red stitching along the edges of the seats and a nicely laid out instrument panel that has orange/red backlighting. When I first climbed into the car I was happy to see that it had a manual gearbox — oh, wait, it’s an automatic that’s masquerading as a manual, with a leather sleeve around the base of the shifter. Oh well, at least it has six forward speeds rather than the five with which it was introduced a year earlier. And this SX model has the 174-hp four-cylinder rather than the 156-hp base engine, so it’s got an extra dose of power.
As I commented when I first drove a Forte (sedan) almost exactly two years ago, the car’s performance isn’t exactly ground-breaking, but the Forte is still a satisfying car to drive, with a solid feel and a good sense of style.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
Our test Kia Forte Koup’s corsa blue paint over a black leather interior was attractive. There’s good power from the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, but it’s noisy. The automatic transmission hiccupped several times in its attempts to upshift when I tossed the Forte into a couple roundabouts. Pretty good throttle response when the transmission is in D for Drive, but I’d rather have a manual in this vehicle. The automatic does have a manual shift gate, wherein you pull back to downshift and push forward to upshift, but that movement, especially the pulling back, is a little tight and just not very fluid. The steering is pretty good.
If someone wants a sporty looking, affordable, economical coupe, there’s a lot to like here. I like the interior, and the six-speaker stereo has excellent sound quality, attractive control plate, and a dedicated knob for tuning, which is always a good thing.
I wouldn’t recommend buying this Forte Koup without first checking out the Scion TC, but it sure has come a long way since previous Kia small-car offerings. I suspect the next generation will blow us away.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
My brother has a Kia Rio. It’s a throwaway car. You have to replace the timing chain as a precautionary measure at 100,000 miles.
I admit to a bias against the Kia name. It’s not my fault. Kia has always meant “cheapest car you can buy” in Korean. The Soul was the first eye-opener, and the Forte Koup is a total eye-opener. Solid doors, real trim, fat steering wheel, nice gauges, cool looking, fairly snappy performance, although I admit I was so astonished by how much more REAL the car looked inside that I wasn’t really thinking about it. Which means it wasn’t a total dog. My brother should get this car.
Jean Jennings, President and Editor-In-Chief
Kia seems to be using the SX badge to denote the highest-performance variants of its models. The Sportage SX and Optima SX are fitted with a spectacular turbocharged four-cylinder that produces a lot of power and still delivers good fuel economy. Having experienced those SX models first, the Forte coupe (I refuse to spell it with a “K”) seems quite underwhelming. The main problem with the Forte is it that debuted as the first new-look Kia, with appealing styling by way of new head designer Peter Schreyer, but it rode on the same soggy chassis and suspension we’ve traditionally experienced in Korean cars.
I’m not sure how much Kia can improve this generation of the Forte with a mid-cycle refresh, but the suspension needs an upgrade. I’d like the car to feel more solid at highway speeds. As it is now, it’s kind of nervous and bumps transmit too much jolt through to the cabin. I know Kia can do a better job with suspension tuning since the Optima rides so much better.
Perhaps the shoppers in this segment will be so delighted with the well-executed interior that the the vehicle’s ride won’t matter to them. Kia makes it very easy to listen to an iPod, satellite radio, or any regular radio stations through the stereo by giving physical knobs to change the track or station. I wish you didn’t have to push the tuner knob to actually select a station after you find it, but it would probably become second nature for owners. Kia’s navigation system is also much nicer than what Honda offers in the Civic.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor
I agree with Mr. DeMatio that the Forte Koup is a great choice for someone who wants a semi-sporty, practical, affordable two-door. I think our Koup looks good inside and out, even if the wedge profile and wide-grille nose are quite derivative of the Honda Civic coupe.
The steering, handling, and brakes are all decently engaging, but the Koup’s sporty premise is let down by its drivetrain. Not only does the engine sound coarse when revved, but the automatic transmission routinely fails to pick the right gear. Using the manual shift paddles helps somewhat; upshifts are crisp, but on downshifts the transmission seems to have trouble choosing ratios. Like Mr. DeMatio, I would prefer a manual gearbox.
The Koup SX is definitely a cool, fun little car, but the sticker price is a major issue. At $23,640 as-tested, this Forte Koup is priced about on par with the 2012 Honda Civic Si. The Si is far more fun to drive, and there’s no question that I’d pick the Honda over the Kia.
Jake Holmes, Associate Web Editors
The Forte Koup is a pretty fun car. From the back, it looks quite a bit like a circa-2004 Acura RSX, which is not a bad thing. I’ve never driven an RSX, but I owned and loved sporty coupes when I was younger (a two-door 1993 Plymouth Sundance Duster and a 2003 Dodge Stratus R/T coupe), and this Kia reminds me of those cars: fun to cruise down a back road with the windows down, the radio up, and an arm out the window, working on your truck-driver’s tan. Like in my old Mopars, the Forte is no sports car but can still be fun to steer through the twisties. My old Chrysler coupes had 3.0-liter V-6 engines and manual gearboxes, but this four-cylinder Kia feels almost as sprightly, even with its automatic transmission (a six-speed). It’s probably just as well that it didn’t have a stick shift anyway, as the Forte 5-door that we tested recently had a disappointing manual gearbox.
I climbed into the back seats and was pleased to find plenty of legroom and just enough headroom (I am only five-foot six, however). Like some of my colleagues, I really like the pretty metallic blue paint. I think the sub-$24K price is appropriate for this heavily optioned example, although the Scion tC presents some very stiff competition.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
I really wish that this car was equipped with a stick, because I thought the automatic really detracted from the driving experience. The transmission seemed to be hunting at times, and it made the engine really feel (and sound) like it was laboring under even the slightest acceleration. Other than that, I thought the Koup was a pleasant surprise.
I think the Koup is aimed more squarely at the Scion tC buyer without the performance pretense of the Civic Si, but the comparison is still somewhat valid. Neither car is breaking ground with the exterior styling–the Kia clearly apes the profile of the tC, while the supposedly new Civic seems unchanged from the outgoing model and is already stale. The Kia’s electric blue paint with the dark gray wheels made for an eye-catching combo.
The interior of the Kia was nicely appointed and well laid out–which is becoming par for the course from the Koreans. The traditional analog instrument cluster and more vertical center stack is a look I far prefer to the wide, high floating dash of the Civic with its bilevel instruments.
The Kia’s back seat had a shocking amount of space for a little two-door coupe, with decent leg and foot room. With the front seat folded and slid forward, my wife was literally standing (albeit bent over) in the rear passenger area to buckle my daughter in her car seat–there was that much floor space and headroom.
A buyer could forego A/T and the two big option packages on this test example and keep the sunroof and drive off the lot for under twenty grand. At that price, this car is tough to beat.
Matt Tierney, Art Director
I agree with Jake’s observation that the Forte Koup seems like a Korean take on the Honda Civic. I’d take it a step further, though, and say that it actually looks like the natural, and far more attractive, styling direction that the Honda Civic should have taken before it lost its way and turned somewhat frumpy. But, while the Koup doesn’t drive terribly, it’s certainly not sporty or particularly refined on the road and, as I noticed on several occasions that if you hit an imperfection at speed with the wheel even slightly off-center, you could find yourself being tossed sideways.
The cabin is not as refined as a Civic either but it’s comfortable, looks good, and, despite being covered in black materials from top to bottom, it feels relatively airy, no easy task in a small coupe. Kia aided this by designing a small dip in the sheetmetal at the leading edge of the side windows, creating a low starting point for the beltline and allowing a larger glass area. It makes the car less coupe-like and easier to see out of and live with.
Jennifer Misaros, Managing Editor, Digital Platforms
2011 Kia Forte Koup SX
Base price (with destination): $20,090
Price as tested: $23,640
2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine
6-speed automatic transmission
17-inch alloy wheels
Traction control system
Electronic stability control
Tire pressure monitoring system
AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio with 6 speakers
Sirius satellite radio
USB/Auxiliary input jacks
60/40-split folding rear seats
Tilt/telescoping steering column
Leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob
Steering wheel paddle shifters
Options on this vehicle:
● Leather package — $1000
› Leather seat trim
› Heated front seats
› Auto-dimming rearview mirror
● Power sunroof — $750
● SX technology package — $1800
› Navigation system
› Push-button start with smart key
› Automatic temperature control
› Chrome finish exterior door handles
Key options not on vehicle:
23 / 31 / 26 mpg
2.4L DOHC 16-valve I-4
Horsepower: 173 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 168 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
Curb weight: 2891 lb
Wheels/tires: 17-inch alloy wheels
215/45R17 all-season tires
Competitors: Honda Civic Coupe, Scion tC, Ford Focus Coupe