Forte offers better ride, upscale touches
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Kia is banking on eye-catching looks, upscale features and major leaps in ride quality to give its redesigned 2014 Forte more of an edge in the cutthroat compact segment.
The 2014 Forte sedan goes on sale in late March, followed by five-door hatch and coupe variants in the second half of the year, marking the second full redesign for Kia's compact car lineup in less than four years. Many manufacturers keep a vehicle generation on the market for five years or more.
The basics: A new platform, shared with the Hyundai Elantra, underpins the 2014 Forte, which is longer, lower and wider than Kia's outgoing compact.
Also shared with the Elantra is a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine from the Hyundai Motor Group's "Nu" family of four-cylinder engines that will power the entry-level Forte LX. The mill replaces a 2.0-liter engine that powered the outgoing entry-level Forte.
Unlike the Elantra, the Forte sedan will be offered with a more-powerful, 2.0-liter with direct injection standard on higher-end Fortes wearing EX trim.
Wrapping the Forte's new underpinnings is sculpted, eye-catching sheet metal styled by Kia's U.S. design team in Irvine, Calif.
Ralph Tjoa, Kia Motors America's product planning manager in charge of the Forte, said during a recent press event here that improving the Forte's ride quality was a key priority for the 2014 model year redesign. Bigger front subframe bushings and improved tuning helped to fix the harsh ride that flummoxed the outgoing Forte on some road surfaces.
Pricing has not been announced, but Tjoa said an entry-level Forte LX with six-speed manual transmission will start at less than $16,000, excluding shipping.
Notable features: The top-of-the-line Forte five-door hatchback in SX trim will be Kia's first hot hatch when it goes on sale this summer. The sporty five door was not made available during Kia's media introduction for the sedan, but the hatch will be powered by a turbocharged 1.6-liter engine generating 201 hp.
The SX trim will not be offered on the sedan. Upscale options on the sedan include power-folding side mirrors, embedded lights in the door handles and puddle lamps that activate when an approaching driver unlocks the car.
Upscale EX models of the Forte sedan come standard with three driver-selectable steering modes, a 4.2-inch liquid-crystal display with rear backup camera and Kia's UVO infotainment and telematics system.
What Kia says: "People are changing the way that they are thinking about Kia cars. More and more people are thinking about design as a key purchase reason for the Kia brand," Tjoa said. "We've seen it with the Optima; we've seen it with the Rio, and we expect to see it with the Forte."
Shortcomings and compromises: Although drivers can choose among "comfort," "normal" and "sport" steering modes, which progressively add more steering feedback and response, no mode gives a particularly compelling experience. Kia still has work to do on electric power steering calibrations.
Buyers opting for the entry level Forte may be left wanting more power, as the 2014 Forte's base 1.8-liter engine has eight fewer horses and 13 pounds-feet less of torque than the outgoing model's 2.0-liter base.
The market: Kia declined to provide an annual sales target for the Forte. More than 75,000 units were sold in the United States last year. If the U.S. market can get sufficient production volume, hitting 100,000 units seems doable.
The skinny: Kia executives like to say how the Sorento crossover, Optima mid-sized sedan and Soul subcompact are the three legs that make up the company's proverbial stool. Those are Kia's top-sellers, each with more than 100,000 U.S. sales last year. That stool could gain a fourth leg with the redesigned Forte.
You can reach Ryan Beene at firstname.lastname@example.org. -- Follow Ryan on