I'm impressed with the Kia Forte SX. The interior is well-designed, and the materials are generally quite nice for a compact car, although there are still few remnants of the really cheap plastics that Korean cars have become synonymous with. I was surprised to learn that the sound system isn't an optional upgraded unit, because it sounds so good and offers features like iPod integration and satellite radio.
I was also happily surprised by the power that the 2.4-liter I-4 puts out. There's a healthy amount of torque available, so you don't need to shift constantly in traffic. The six-speed manual gearbox is nothing more than adequate and the clutch is a bit finicky, but I give Kia credit for offering six forward gears in the Forte SX -- lesser Fortes have to make do with five-speed manuals or four-speed automatics.
Sadly, I don't see Kia giving buyers a reason to get out of Honda Civics or Toyota Corollas. There's enough here to tempt Nissan Sentra and Chevy Cobalt shoppers, however, so that could be enough to make the Forte a success. A good experience in the Forte could be enough to keep buyers in the Kia fold once it's time to upgrade to a refreshed Optima sedan. If budget-minded buyers want a little more style, there's always the Kia Soul parked a few spots over at the dealer.
Phil Floraday, Senior Online Editor