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First Drive: 2019 Kia Forte EX

Baby Stinger’s premium appeal won’t break the bank

Eleonor Segurawriter, photographer The Manufacturerphotographer

PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania — Pittsburgh is a tech company mecca, home to the largest bicycle museum in the world, and it has more bridges than Venice, Italy—thanks to three rivers that run through it. Kia launched its all-new 2019 Forte in "Steel City" and after a briefing on the baby Stinger we hit the asphalt in the restyled compact sedan.

Kia first introduced the third-generation Forte at the 2018 Detroit Auto Show where Orth Hedrick, product-planning VP, broke down the Forte's resemblance to the Stinger, which Kia believes lends it a sportier, more premium appeal. Among the more notable exterior changes are a horizontal strip between the tail lights, a sleeker tiger nose grille, a swooping rear end, detached rear turn signal lights, and high-gloss black front and rear diffusers.

Standard amenities across the Forte lineup (FE, LXS, S, and EX) include an 8.0-inch touchscreen, projector low-beam headlights, solar control glass, rear window defroster, dual-zone automatic temperature control, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth wireless technology, six-way adjustable front passenger seat, and steering wheel mounted audio controls.

In the safety features department all trim levels get hill-start assist control, a tire pressure monitoring system, impact sensing auto door unlock, rear child-safety door locks, forward collision avoidance, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, and lane keeping assist.

At $17,690 the most consumer friendly of the lineup is the base model Forte FE equipped with a manual transmission and at the top end you get the EX model for $21,990.

For the Pittsburgh drive I sampled the EX model dressed in the upcoming Launch Edition package—a $3,210 option. What does that get you? A multitude of worthy features including a power sunroof, Harman Kardon premium audio system, wireless charging, single projection LED headlights, smart cruise control, LED interior lighting, voice command navigation, forward collision avoidance with pedestrian detection, and parking distance warning. Though the EX model I got into came fully loaded it was not the finished product. When the EX Launch Edition goes on sale it will get an exclusive Fire Orange exterior paint color, darker wheels, and a rear deck lid spoiler.

Have you ever driven a car with a continuously variable transmission (CVT)? If you are like most drivers I know you probably have mixed feelings about CVTs.

In an effort to make them more enjoyable, Kia developed an Intelligent Continuously Variable Transmission designated "IVT," a first in its segment. One key difference in the all-new IVT is that it uses a chain-type tension belt instead of a push belt. Another notable component is a sound-insulating cover that reduces NVH levels significantly from the previous model. This newly developed IVT is less noisy, its adaptive shifting style makes for a smoother ride, and when you accelerate it feels more like a conventional automatic and not a transmission that is holding on for dear life.

The second-generation 2.0-liter NU four-cylinder engine is capable of boosting fuel efficiency from Atkinson Cycle technology and a cooled EGR system—it produces 147 hp and 132 lb-ft of torque. Estimated fuel mileage for the LXS, S, and EX is rated at 30/40/34 mpg (city/highway/combined). When equipped with an IVT the base model Forte FE has a slightly improved fuel economy with an estimated 31/41/35 mpg.

The all-new Forte has grown by 3.2-inches lengthwise adding to rear legroom and the available 15.3 cubic-feet of cargo space makes it one of the most generous in this segment. Inside the Forte there is Stinger DNA throughout the cabin. The circular climate vents, minimal buttons, and a similar dashboard layout exhibit design influence from its big brother Stinger. Also adding to the interior's premium appeal are the Sofino leatherette climate-controlled seats that are only available in the EX model.

As I drove the Forte from the city's breathtaking downtown to Pennsylvania's countryside I was reminded how lucky I am to call America my home. The first stop on our road map was to a quaint pastry shop in Chester, West Virginia. Driving the Forte on Interstate 376 past the rolling green hills felt like I was on a blind date with a partner that turned out to be better than I expected.

On the road I played with the Smart, Normal, and Sport drive modes before settling into Sport mode. To make things a bit more interesting I tested the lane keeping assist safety feature and its accuracy blew my mind. While exercising caution I lifted my hands from the steering wheel and at highway speed the car steered better than some drivers I have encountered in Los Angeles. During my experiment, lane keeping assist even conquered a highway curve and I couldn't help but giggle like a child.

After a quick bite in the town of Beaver, Pennsylvania, we circled back to downtown Pittsburgh.

There is a lot to like about the new Forte and what I like the most in the EX model is the Sofino leatherette seat trim. Even though this material is not real leather it looks very attractive, sporty, and it adds a touch of luxury to the snugged interior. Ventilated and heated seats in most cars generally do an excellent job at warming or cooling your butt cheeks, however, not your upper back. It was uncomfortably warm outside during our drive in Pennsylvania and the Forte's ventilated seat system proved to be the best I have ever experienced. My upper back and bottom were cooled evenly making me one very happy driver.

The all-new 2019 Kia Forte offers an impressive bundle of amenities and safety features across all trim levels in a very reasonable price range. Regardless of the model you choose the 2019 Forte with its striking resemblance to the Stinger offers premium appeal at a price that will not break the bank.

Follow me on Instagram: @ekvision003

2019 Kia Forte EX Launch Edition Specifications

ON SALE Fall 2018
PRICE $17,690/$26,095 (base/as tested)
ENGINE 2.0L DOHC 16-valve I-4/147 hp @ 6,200 rpm, 132 lb-ft @ 4,500 rpm
TRANSMISSION Intelligent continuously variable
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, FWD sedan
EPA MILEAGE 30/40 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 182.7 x 70.9 x 56.5 in
WHEELBASE 106.3 in
WEIGHT 2,903 lb
0-60 MPH N/A