2011 Kia Forte SX 5-door

Matt Tierney

Here is the thing about the Forte: when it came out in mid-2009, it was considered near the top of the compact car heap, with its high-quality interior, reasonably fun driving dynamics, and peppy engine. Then the second-generation Mazda 3 launched. And the Chevrolet Cruze. And the Hyundai Elantra. And the 2012 Ford Focus. And the Forte got left behind.

That's not to say that it's all bad. The 2.4-liter is peppy once you wind it up past about 2700 rpm, and the brakes are powerful though not very linear and have very little feedback in the pedal. The clutch is as vague as can be, with zero feedback, making smooth, low-speed shifts a near impossibility. However, the exterior is handsome and clean, and the interior is well-built and uses reasonably high-quality materials.

The Forte provided a little more than expected for $20,000 two years ago, it's just that, seemingly overnight, the competition raised the bar to a point that Kia's engineers didn't think it would go to. Let's fast-forward to today -- Kia finds itself with a lukewarm offering in one of the hottest (and freshest) segments around. However, given what Kia has rolled out recently with its newer models like the Sportage and the Optima, I am excited to see what the next Forte will be. Too bad that it won't make an appearance for another two to three years at least.

Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor

The Kia Forte 5-door is a nice addition to the Forte lineup. It offers a decent amount of utility for the price and is wrapped in handsome sheetmetal. The interior is also fairly appealing with nice looking, textured materials, an attractive, easy to use central dash, and crisp, sporty-looking gauges. In fact, in terms of style and functionality, the Forte 5-door actually competes pretty well with even the freshest competition both inside and out.

Unfortunately, the Forte falls far short of the competition in terms of driving refinement and enjoyment. I won't belabor its shortcomings, as several others have already summed them up, but the Forte's poor driving dynamics and manual transmission seem like a step backward for a company that has improved on every one of its vehicles with each generation. Kia could solve many of the Forte's shortcomings by swapping in mechanicals -- specifically the manual transmission and chassis components -- from the Elantra Touring, produced by corporate cousin Hyundai. We drove that car back in 2009 and were hugely impressed by its excellent ride and sporty B&M shifter.

Jennifer Misaros, Managing Editor, Digital Platforms

--Needs body-side-molding to help protect the doors from dings.--

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