The rise of Korea’s twin automakers, Hyundai and Kia, has given more established automakers a lot to think about as another Asian competitor rises to steal market share. But Kia and Hyundai are also working to differentiate themselves from each other, with Kia taking a more upscale-approach to new car buyers. Nowhere is that more evident than in their compact offering, the newly-redesigned 2014 Kia Forte.
Launched in 2010 to replace the aging Kia Spectra, the Forte has struggled to gain traction against more-established nameplates in the suddenly-competitive compact car market. The 2014 iteration seeks to establish Kia Forte as a more premium nameplate on any level, and the high-quality, soft-touch materials throughout the cabin exude a level of refinement one might expect on a much more expensive car.
Available as either a coupe (or Koup in Kia-speak) or a sedan, the 2014 Kia Forte certainly looks the part of a 21st century commuter car, though some might argue its corporate cousin the Hyundai Elantra still looks better. My tester was a top-level Forte EX with the $2,600 premium package and $2,300 technology package, adding lots of nice features you might expect on a luxury car like a LCD gauge cluster, padded sliding center armrest, push-button start, and leather-wrapped steering wheel. All these help elevate the Forte over many competitors, and help it feel like much less of an economy car.
The level of technology interfacing is also indicative of a car company trying to capture more affluent buyers who are more likely to sync their smartphones with Kia’s UVO infotainment system. A phone-charging and linking dock below the center console make the Forte feel like the right car for the time, though it may one day be a dated reminder of a time long past.
An optional technology package further enhances the cutting-edge feel by adding a LCD gauge cluster, Xenon HID headlights, and LED taillights, all features you’d expect on a car costing twice as much. The optional navigation system worked well enough getting me to my destination, and it was a lot less annoying than the programs from other automakers.
But while the 2014 Kia Forte gets the premium feel and technology factors right, the driving experience as a whole was underwhelming. Many of my friends in Kia’s prime compact car-buying demographic, Generation Y, commented on how good the Kia looked in my driveway, but after just a few short drives I found myself wanting for a more dynamic driving experience.
The 2014 Kia Forte has the same driving mechanics as any other compact car; dull. The ride is smooth enough, and the 173 horsepower 2.0 liter gas engine provides adequate throttle response and fuel economy, but I shudder to think how the Forte performs with the base 148 horsepower 1.8 liter engine. Passing with the 2.0 took long enough, and there was no enjoyment in stomping the gas pedal; this is a car desperately begging for some forced induction and a sport-tuned suspension.
Alas, neither option is available, and doubly disappointing is the lackluster fuel economy. During my week with the 2014 Kia Forte, I managed to top 31 mpg just once, on a 60-mile highway trip to a town fair Connecticut’s far-east corner. This falls pretty far short of the 36 mpg the 2014 Kia Forte is rated at, and my average fuel economy was closer to 27 or 28 mpg in mixed driving, while delivering a very “meh” driving experience.
Other competitors in this segment, like the Chevy Cruze and Ford Focus, offer 40+ mpg variants, as Kia and Hyundai had to downgrade their MPG estimates and compensate prior buyers. There are better options out there if you’re looking for a faster or more fuel-efficient car, and rear legroom is lacking as well. I’m on the taller side (5’11) and my seat positioning left very little room in the seat behind me. I wouldn’t want to sit back there.
Finally, there is pricing; all these upscale features don’t come cheap. The 2014 Kia Forte base model starts at $15,900, while the EX model starts at $19,900, and from there options take it north of $25,000. That’s a $10,000 spread between the base price and the best-equipped model, and for that money you can move into a nicely-equipped midsize sedan.
Still, for those of you who are swayed only by interior comfort and exterior looks, the 2014 Kia Forte has a lot going for it. Korean cars are in vogue with us millennials, and it’s easy to see why. The 2014 Forte is easy on the eyes, comes loaded with features keeping my generation well-connected, and feels like a more upscale car than it really is.
Driving shortcomings aside, the 2014 Forte is a solid option in a competitive segment, though there are more exciting rides out there.