2011 Kia Forte SX 5-door

Matt Tierney

Donny hits it on the nose. The Forte impressed mightily when it came out with its strong styling, attractive interior, and generous platter of standard features and options. When I first drove it, I liked it despite a few flaws. Now, however, I climb into it having recently experienced the new Ford Focus, Chevrolet Cruze, Hyundai Elantra, and Honda Civic. The Forte's flaws, although still relatively few, are now glaring.

The big issue, as others have noted, is the absolutely dreadful relationship between the numb clutch and gas pedal -- they're barely on speaking terms. Forget about trying to heel-and-toe downshift, just try to get away from a stoplight without stalling.

I can see some readers shaking their heads at us narrow-minded enthusiasts for dismissing a well-equipped, good-looking small car on the basis of a transmission that most people won't order. And yet in this case (as in many others) the shortcomings of the stick shift are a bellwether for the way the entire car is dynamically tuned. The suspension crashes over bumps, the throttle is lazy, the steering is heavy but numb. This is clearly an example of a car that'd benefit from some time either in Europe or on a racetrack.

The Forte remains one of the best styled cars in the segment, particularly in this new hatchback form, and it still comes with an impressive array of features. Those who plan on getting an automatic and who live in an area where the roads are smooth should certainly consider it. But don't forget to drive the Focus, Cruze, Civic, and Elantra as well.

David Zenlea, Assistant Editor

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

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