I'll never fault a car for being too good looking, but the Kia Forte Koup's seductive styling creates some unmet expectations. It looks rather like a 3/5 scale Audi A5, right down to the glorious LED tail lamps. That theme continues inside, albeit with some concession to materials cost. The thickly bolstered seats, the clear round gauges, and the contrast stitching on the steering wheel all say that this is a tasty German sport coupe, rather than a value-oriented Korean compact. The spec sheet looks even better, providing all the things you'd expect from a hot Volkswagen -- a powerful four-cylinder engine, a six-speed manual transmission, a sport-tuned suspension, and four-wheel disc brakes -- at a Kia price.
Alas, as in most dreams, little flaws spoil the illusion. In this case, they all have to do with the driving experience. Throttle response is slow and unpredictable. The clutch is vague and binary. The shifter is notchy. The suspension, clearly intended to feel autobahn firm, just feels oxcart harsh, crashing over bumps and sending unpleasant jolts through the steering wheel. And though the Forte is commendably stable at high speeds, intrusive wind and road noise make it tough to hold a phone conversation.
Fatal flaws? Hardly. Car buyers have long been willing to sacrifice a few practicalities in order to look good, and the Forte Koup is way beyond good in the looks department. I just hope Kia engineers figure out the minor adjustments needed to make the dream come true.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
The last Forte Koup SX to pass through our hands had an automatic transmission. I called the car "decently engaging" but said the automatic ruined the driving experience. I thus had high hopes for this Forte Koup, as it arrived in our garage equipped with a six-speed manual gearbox.
Unfortunately, the new transmission failed to win me over. It's a sloppy, ropey six-speed gearbox that is far from sporty. Coupled with a numb clutch and non-linear throttle, it's tough to drive the Forte Koup smoothly, let alone enthusiastically. Moreover, the "sport tuned" suspension results in a harsh and brittle ride.
It's really too bad -- I think the Forte Koup looks great, and the SX trim offers scads of equipment for a reasonable price. It also has a nicely appointed and relatively roomy interior. The Koup is definitely cool and fun, but I think it needs a tighter gearbox and better suspension before Kia can honestly position it as the "sporty" Forte.
Jake Holmes, Associate Web Editor
The Forte is one of the few remaining vehicles offered on our shores in sedan, coupe, and five-door bodystyles. Of those, the Koup is also the most stylish of all the Fortes, with its chopped greenhouse, wide stance, and LED taillights. It's too bad, however, that the lower roof height combined with the option moonroof in our test car robs a considerable amount of headroom; just moving from the sedan to the two-door is a loss of 1.3 inches of headroom. Noggin space aside, the Koup is equally as competent as the rest of the Forte lineup. While it's a stylish alternative to the Honda Civic Coupe, we're ready for Kia to add a helping of flavor and better driving dynamics to the Forte, as Kia has done with some other models. They better do it soon, too, as Hyundai will be revealing the Elantra Coupe this fall that will probably give the Koup a run for its money.
Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor
A dear friend of mine has a dog, a one-year-old German Shepherd named Levi. I've been dog-sitting for Levi for just under a week now, and the parallels between the dog and the Kia Forte Koup are numerous.
Try to walk Levi slowly on a leash, and you'll hurt your arms. Everything is the most exciting thing ever: those flowers are awesome! I need to run to them now! And what about that rabbit? Need to see that too -- let's go! Similarly, try to drive the Forte Koup slowly and smoothly and you'll end up with a bouncy, jerky experience. Throttle tip in is non-linear: tap the gas to pull away from a stoplight and there's always either too little or too much of it. The clutch has no feel to it, which means that stoplights become that much more frustrating. Try to launch the Forte with a little bit of throttle and the transmission becomes altogether unpredictable.
But a funny thing happens when traffic finally clears and you give the Forte some wellie: it gets good. That maddening clutch is so much more forgiving of 2/3 throttle upshifts (even with my admittedly clumsy clutching skills), and the engine is always willing to play. The 2.4 DI is good in the Optima/Sonata, but here it just shines. Shines...like the dog, who loves it when you strap on a pair of cross-trainers and jog at his side.
Ultimately, the Forte falls short: for a daily driver I need the ability to drive smoothly in traffic and also induce goofy grins at full throttle, not one or the other.
Ben Timmins, Associate Web Editor
Expecting the world from the Kia Forte Koup would be silly. A sporty-looking coupe from Kia, that starts at a smidge over $19,000, won't be a street king or a track monster. So while the Kia might not be an ideal choice to take to autocross on the weekend, it should charm the buyers who pick up on what the Koup's putting down.
What might that be? Curb appeal. The Forte Koup features aggressive bodylines, muscular bulges, and a rear diffuser that give the Kia a look sportier than its performance. And while this two-door may be more show than go, it still has a 2.4-liter inline-4, which delivers 173 horsepower and 168 pound-feet of torque, and a 6-speed manual transmission. Again, neither the engine nor the gearbox are as sporty as the car's styling, but they do manage an admirable 31-mpg on the highway.
This car is perfectly fine. It's not the most comfortable, it's not the most fun, and it's not the fastest. But if it's looks you care about, the Kia Forte Koup has you covered.
Chris Nelson, Road Test Editor
Despite the fact that I recently drove a similarly equipped Forte Koup SX, this car's sporty exterior still had me expecting far more performance than the mechanicals underneath deliver. Inside, it's the same story, where bright red contrast stitching and highly bolstered seats convey sporting intentions that the Forte can't fulfill. The good news is that the Forte Koup is still a really good small car, and what it can fulfill is the desire to look super stylish for a very reasonable price.
Given its lack of sporting ability and poor clutch calibration and shifter feel, I'd definitely spend the extra $1000 for the six-speed automatic especially since there is no trade-off in fuel economy (the automatic drops one mpg on the highway, but gains one in the city).
Jennifer Misaros, Managing Editor, Digital Platforms