New Car Reviews

First Drive: 2010 Kia Forte Koup

The brand-new Koup is Kia‘s first two-door coupe and a sibling to the new Forte sedan, which is Kia’s replacement for its sad-sack Spectra and its answer to cars like the , the , and the Mazda3. The “Koup” moniker is a melding of the “K” from “Kia” and the “oup” from “coupe.” The Forte Koup will be at Kia dealers by August or September.

Kia’s fresh new family look

The Kia Forte Koup‘s fresh, modern styling is definitely a strong point. Along with the Forte sedan, it represents a new design direction for Kia, which is making a big effort to distinguish its products visually from corporate parent Hyundai‘s. The Koup’s mesh grille and air intake are part of a new Kia signature family look that you’ll see on more cars in the future. A strong shoulder line running the length of the car and standard 16-inch or optional 17-inch alloy wheels give the Koup a sharp street stance.

Cabin: A Big Step Up from the Spectra’s

We drove two examples of the upper trim level, the SX; one with a manual transmission and black cloth upholstery, the other with an automatic and black leather. Both had sporty front seats with some bolstering and red stitching. The overall cabin design is pleasing, and the build quality is very good. The interior plastics are a little hard to the touch but largely inoffensive. The driver’s door armrest needs more padding. The center stack is particularly well-designed and finished with a glossy black material. Stereo and HVAC controls are logical, and a superb six-speaker CD stereo with iPod/MP3 connectivity is standard. The SX’s substantial dead pedal (on the far left of the driver’s footwell, for resting your left foot when it’s not on the clutch) is finished in polished metal like the other pedals.

Rear-seat room is not bad; a five-foot, ten-and-a-half-inch adult can sit in the rear with his head clearing the ceiling, although the rear window comes up over his head.

Choose between two four-cylinder engines, four transmissions

The base EX Koup is equipped with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine producing 156 hp and 144 lb-ft of torque, while the SX gets a bigger, 2.4-liter four that bumps up hp to 173 and torque to 168 lb-ft. The smaller engine is mated to a standard five-speed manual transmission or an optional four-speed automatic, while the 2.4-liter SX gets a six-speed manual as standard and an optional five-speed automatic. These powertrains mirror those of the Forte sedan; both Forte models are front-wheel-drive vehicles. Both EX models are rated at 25/34 city/highway EPA fuel economy. The more powerful SX is rated at 22/32 with the manual, 23/31 with the automatic.

The clutch pedal movement is smooth and progressive, and the six-speed manual is pleasant enough to use, but it’s a bit notchy and nowhere near as refined as, say, the manual in the . When you’re shifting into reverse gear, it feels loose and imprecise.

The five-speed automatic is quick to downshift from fifth to second gear when you mash the accelerator, but doing so at 60 mph brings forth an unpleasant thrashing sound from the 2.4-liter four as it revs toward the 6500-rpm limiter. Hyundai and Kia have come a long way in their powertrains, but this four is not quite as refined as a Toyota or Honda engine of similar displacement.

A retrograde suspension setup

The Forte Koup has a strut-type front suspension with coil springs, typical in this class of car, but it makes do with a beam-axle rear suspension, a technical detail that definitely falls short of cars like the Honda Civic and Mazda 3, which have independent rear suspensions. Over smooth road surfaces, you’ll never notice or care, but when the going gets rough, stiff springs and the beam axle conspire to send the rear end skittering sideways. Front and rear anti-roll bars are standard.

Driving: This Kia is in the game

Overall, the Forte Koup meets the driving standards of this class of car. Body roll is reasonably well-contained, the steering has some feel to it, if it’s a little dead on-center, and there’s a distinct lack of the sponginess in chassis and suspension that characterized previous Kia models like the Spectra. Our limited drive in Seoul, South Korea, from Kia’s headquarters up to the DMZ was entirely during a major rainstorm, so we have had no opportunity to drive the car on dry pavement. It’s fairly clear, though, that although the Koup is no sports car, it’s got enough spirit to keep most drivers happy. That assessment applies only to the SZ model; we suspect that the 2.0-liter EX model, especially when equipped with the retrograde four-speed automatic, will provide far less joy.

Good impressions

We are left with two major impressions of the Kia Forte Koup: it looks good, and it’s well-equipped. Six air bags, stability and traction control, anti-lock brakes with emergency assist, a good stereo with iPod connectivity, cruise control, air conditioning, keyless entry, power windows, and Bluetooth are all standard on both models. A sunroof and leather are among the few options.

The Kia Forte Koup’s obvious competitors are the Honda Civic coupe, the , and the coupe. Unlike so many of Kia’s efforts in the past, the Koup is not automatically relegated to second-tier status among its peers and is well worth considering for anyone shopping in this segment.

Koup SX

Base price: not available

Engine: 2.4-liter DOHC 16-valve I-4
Horsepower: 173 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 168 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Drive: front-wheel

L x W x H: 176.4 x 69.5 x 55.1 in
Legroom F/R: 43.6/33.9 in
Headroom F/R: 38.7/35.3 in
Cargo capacity: 12.6 cu ft
Curb Weight: 2859 lb
Passenger capacity: 5

EPA Rating (city/highway): 22/32 mpg