Walking through the parking garage the other day, I briefly wondered when we had gotten an Audi A5 in our test fleet before I realized that I was in fact looking at the back of the new Kia Forte coupe. Surely, the little Korean car won't put fear into any premium German automaker-even though Kia design director Peter Schreyer did defect from Audi-but those selling cars for less than $20,000 should take notice.
For $18,000 and change, the Forte coupe offers a level of feature-content roughly equivalent to a Honda Civic LX, which goes for about $20,000. It also has stuff many compacts lack, including Bluetooth, four-wheel disc brakes, seventeen-inch wheels, and a stout 173 horsepower.
The Forte's interior, in addition to being well equipped, is very nicely laid out, with decent, soft touch materials aplenty. As in other Kias and Hyundais, there's still some work to do on the feel of some of the surfaces a driver touches all the time, such as the leather on the steering wheel, which is much too hard. I personally could skip some of the flashy bits, namely, the lighted rings around the stereo speakers, but the high school crowd might find it fun.
As I noted when we had the Forte sedan in a while back, this four-cylinder might perform better paired with an automatic transmission. As it is, I enjoyed the low-end power, but like Eric Tingwall, found it slow to rev and tough to shift smoothly. Steering and handling isn't quite as good as what you'll find in a Civic or Mazda 3, but is nonetheless commendably competent.
Kia is definitely moving up in the world, and judging by its sales, people have noticed. This stylish, feature-packed Forte (along with the redesigned Sorento) should only build on that success.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor