The Kia Forte 5-door is new for this year and expands upon the existing sedan and Koup body styles. I like the styling and packaging of the Forte hatchback, but the car could use a little more refinement to match up to its competitors. I drove a Forte sedan two years ago and was rather impressed, but that was a different small-car market. Compared to the latest crop of small cars available in 2011, this Forte 5-door feels cheap and unsatisfying to drive.
The Forte's 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine is surprisingly powerful, but it's somewhat loud and sounds coarse. The clutch pedal is annoyingly vague and has a very high engagement point, making it difficult to find the bite point and easy to stall in low-speed parking maneuvers -- ask me how I know. I was similarly dissatisfied with the throttle, which permits what feels like a half inch of travel before there's any apparent engine response. The pedals conspire to make smooth city driving more difficult than you'd expect from an economy hatch. Kia could also do with fine-tuning the suspension, as it is easily unsettled in corners, and even the smallest on-road bumps induce crashes and rattles in the cabin.
Jake Holmes, Associate Web Editor
If the folks at Kia adopted the zeal of Chrysler's engineers, next year's Kia Forte could be a brilliant car. The Forte is a good first effort from a reinvigorated Kia and while it has some key fundamentals in place, a thorough reengineering of crucial components systems could completely redefine the car. On the positive side, the Forte is attractive, the interior is very nice, and the packaging works well. As a fan of four-door hatchbacks, I love that Kia is offering a hatchback variant along with the volume-leader sedan and the very cool coupe. So what needs improvement? The suspension and transmission -- urgently. The Forte's ride is sometimes brittle over small, sharp impacts and sometimes abrupt over large bumps. It could benefit from slightly softer springs with firmer damping. The five-speed manual's stick is loose, imprecise, delicate, and lacking feel. At a time when automatics are generally more efficient, the reason to get a manual is driver enjoyment -- but this manual offers little. The final critical fix is recalibrating the throttle pedal, which is slow to respond yet overly aggressive in how pedal travel corresponds to throttle opening. A more engaging, drivable car would be more responsive yet make the throttle opening more progressive.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor