Count me in with the reasonably impressed crowd. The Forte is a bit rough around the edges, but offers a whole lot of value and feature content for a very reasonable price.
Much has been said about the Kia's derivative styling, but up close and in person, it's a handsome sedan - better looking, I daresay, than the Honda Civic it's clearly aping. The interior is likewise a strong effort, with nicely grained plastics and lots of impressive standard features like Bluetooth and an iPod connector.
Neither does the Forte embarrass itself on the road. In everyday driving, it impresses with lots of usable power and accurate, decently weighted steering. Ride quality was on par with other compact cars I've driven recently. As others have noted, it lacks the polish of a Civic or a Mazda 3, particularly in its throttle calibration, and I'll admit I stalled it once as I tried to cope with the slow-to-rev engine and vague clutch takeup. I suspect the available five-speed automatic will better showcase the engine's low-end torque.
Would I take the Forte over a Civic? Probably not. But Rome wasn't built in a day. The Forte, along with the Soul, takes Kia out of the bargain basement and into the realm of solid competitors. And I can imagine some nonenthusiasts will be tempted away from the class leaders by the Forte's plethora of features. The ten-year warranty doesn't hurt either. My semi-endorsement does come with a disclaimer, however. Our particular Forte exhibited an obnoxious interior squeak, one that would call for a trip to the dealer. Given that press cars are often early-production units and live generally tortured existences, I'd be willing to guess this is an unusual occurrence. If this issue shows up on more cars, though, it would be a deal breaker.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor