First Drive: 2010 Kia Forte Koup

#Kia, #Forte

Choose between two four-cylinder engines, four transmissions

The base EX Koup is equipped with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine producing 156 hp and 144 lb-ft of torque, while the SX gets a bigger, 2.4-liter four that bumps up hp to 173 and torque to 168 lb-ft. The smaller engine is mated to a standard five-speed manual transmission or an optional four-speed automatic, while the 2.4-liter SX gets a six-speed manual as standard and an optional five-speed automatic. These powertrains mirror those of the Forte sedan; both Forte models are front-wheel-drive vehicles. Both EX models are rated at 25/34 city/highway EPA fuel economy. The more powerful SX is rated at 22/32 with the manual, 23/31 with the automatic.

The clutch pedal movement is smooth and progressive, and the six-speed manual is pleasant enough to use, but it's a bit notchy and nowhere near as refined as, say, the manual in the Honda Civic. When you're shifting into reverse gear, it feels loose and imprecise.

The five-speed automatic is quick to downshift from fifth to second gear when you mash the accelerator, but doing so at 60 mph brings forth an unpleasant thrashing sound from the 2.4-liter four as it revs toward the 6500-rpm limiter. Hyundai and Kia have come a long way in their powertrains, but this four is not quite as refined as a Toyota or Honda engine of similar displacement.

A retrograde suspension setup

The Forte Koup has a strut-type front suspension with coil springs, typical in this class of car, but it makes do with a beam-axle rear suspension, a technical detail that definitely falls short of cars like the Honda Civic and Mazda 3, which have independent rear suspensions. Over smooth road surfaces, you'll never notice or care, but when the going gets rough, stiff springs and the beam axle conspire to send the rear end skittering sideways. Front and rear anti-roll bars are standard.

Driving: This Kia is in the game

Overall, the Forte Koup meets the driving standards of this class of car. Body roll is reasonably well-contained, the steering has some feel to it, if it's a little dead on-center, and there's a distinct lack of the sponginess in chassis and suspension that characterized previous Kia models like the Spectra. Our limited drive in Seoul, South Korea, from Kia's headquarters up to the DMZ was entirely during a major rainstorm, so we have had no opportunity to drive the car on dry pavement. It's fairly clear, though, that although the Kia Forte Koup is no sports car, it's got enough spirit to keep most drivers happy. That assessment applies only to the SZ model; we suspect that the 2.0-liter EX model, especially when equipped with the retrograde four-speed automatic, will provide far less joy.

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