2011 Kia Forte SX 5-door

Matt Tierney

The Forte hatchback is new for 2011, but I didn't realize it existed until the keys to this test car were plunked down on my desk. As my colleagues have noted, the Forte was a big deal and very impressive when it debuted not so long ago, but even the addition of an attractive new body style was overshadowed by all the news that competitors have recently been making in the compact-car segment. The so-called 5-door (a name that drives this copy editor crazy, by the way -- rear hatchbacks are really doors?) starts off at $1900 more than the sedan, but I think it's easily the more desirable Forte due to its better looks and superior utility.

The car we tested had the optional 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, but I would have guessed that it had the base 2.0-liter four (which produces only 17 hp less than the bigger engine), so unremarkable was its performance. It is nice to have a stick shift in a car like this, but this six-speed is one of the least enjoyable contemporary gearboxes, as its action is limp and a bit crunchy. I agree with those who have already noted how easy it is to stall the engine when rolling away from a stop, too, since there's not much torque and the clutch is so finicky.

I was also disappointed with this Kia's lack of refinement: road noise is quite apparent, and you can really feel the wheels bouncing around at the ends of the axles. Handling is no revelation, either.

Fortunately, the interior is pleasant and comfortable; it doesn't contain great materials, but they are well assembled, as is typical of Kia products. The red stitching in the seat upholstery lends a sporty feel. This test car was also equipped with an abundance of nice features: heated front seats, leather upholstery, a sunroof, and lots of useful stowage compartments.

Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor

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

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