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