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First Look: 2014 Kia Forte

What you're looking at is, in fact, a Kia Forte, although eagle-eyed international readers will instantly recognize this all-new, glitzed-up sedan as the Cerato. As expected, Kia management pulled the Cerato off of its international shelves, added a few changes for the American market, and sent it to the Los Angeles Auto Show ahead of a Spring 2013 on-sale date.

The new sedan brings the Forte nameplate into the current era of Kia design. While the previous Forte certainly wasn't ugly (in any body style), the nameplate began to age quickly when slick new models like the Rio and Optima debuted. One look at the new Forte is all it takes to see this car is deeply "new Kia:" it wears a large "tiger mouth" grille -- the likes of which we've seen on almost all of Kia's other models -- as well as long headlights with integrated LED running lights, with fog lights mounted in the top of the wide lower front fascia. Credit Kia's American Design Center in Irvine, California, which penned the new Forte.

That exterior design covers a chassis that is marginally larger than the previous Forte sedan. The new car is 1.2-inches longer, 0.6-inches lower, and 0.2-inches wider than the last sedan, and sits atop a 106.3-inch wheelbase, two inches longer than before. The result, Kia says, is both more interior space and better handling than the old car.

Underneath the more modern hood is the kind of fare we've come to expect from recent compact Kias. The Forte -- only confirmed thus far in sedan form -- is offered in LX or EX guise, each of which comes with a different engine. The LX (base model) comes equipped with a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 148 horsepower and 131 lb-ft of torque, while the top-spec EX sedan gets a more robust 173 horsepower and 154 lb-ft of torque from a 2.0-liter direct-injected inline-four-cylinder engine. While LX buyers have their choice of a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission, EX buyers are treated only to a six-speed autobox.

LX buyers will also have the option of specifying their base-model sedans with an Eco package, which adds automatic engine stop-start, an eco badge, and dual-zone automatic climate control. Kia doesn't say if the Eco package will actually increase the LX's miles-per-gallon rating as with past Eco models, like the Soul.

On the inside, the Forte comes with a suite of up-market comfort and convenience features standard -- Kia's hallmark. Those features include steering-wheel audio controls, SiriusXM satellite radio and Bluetooth/USB/AUX connectivity, power windows and locks, air conditioning, and power mirrors. LX buyers would do well to add the "Popular" options package, which adds 16-inch alloy wheels (stock wheels are 15s), cruise control, keyless entry, and a front armrest.

Aside from the increase in power, the EX trim level adds a few more comfort features to separate itself from the LX. EX buyers get remote keyless entry and a center armrest as standard, but add a cooled glovebox and Kia UVO infotainment with a rear back-up camera. The Forte EX also features the same three-way adjustable steering effort as some of Hyundai's new products. Buyers looking for more toys can add the premium package -- which includes a power heated/cooled leather driver's seat, heated leather front/rear passengers seats, 17-inch alloy wheels, a sunroof, a heated steering wheel, and passive entry/ignition -- and the technology package, which adds dual-zone automatic climate control, HID headlights, LED taillights, and a 4.2-inch color LCD screen in-dash. GPS navigation is optional.

It remains to be seen if this is the first of multiple Fortes to come to the U.S. -- the current generation car has sedan, five-door, and "Koup" coupe variants -- but the sedan will lead the way by going on sale in the first quarter of 2013.