2016 Kia Forte - The Car Connection

   
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The Car Connection Expert Rating Breakdown



The Car Connection Expert Review


Bengt Halvorson

Bengt Halvorson

Deputy Editor


  • Likes
  • Dramatic roofline, sharp detailing
  • Smart, well-laid-out dash
  • Choice of nav systems
  • Dislikes
  • Limited rear head room
  • Short, unsupportive front seats
  • Disappointing safety ratings
  • Three-mode steering is more for show

There's a lot of curb appeal in the 2016 Kia Forte, although lackluster safety scores and cabin-comfort shortcomings keep it from being another Kia high-achiever.


The 2016 Kia Forte, instead of taking after its larger sedan sibling, the Optima, continues to keep its own style—combining design finesse with a more nimble driving personality, and a great, value-minded feature set.

Yet, it's had to ignore the fact that safety for the Forte is now behind the curve; it's missing any of the active-safety features that are now expected as options, even in this class; and it's simply not up to the class standard in noise and refinement. While there's a new Forte on the way next year, the current Forte only makes sense from a value and style standpoint, and keeping in mind the wealth of market possibilities all in about the same price range—including excellent offerings like the Mazda 3 and Ford Focus.

There's also a two-door Kia Forte Koup and pert five-door Forte hatchback; both of them are pleasing designs, but credit where credit is due, it's the sedan design that gives the Forte an advantage, as it's hard to get right in this size of vehicle. With its last redesign, the Forte gained a little bit of width and length, but not height; and that works especially well in the handsome, elongated roofline and profile of the sedan.

Inside, the Forte feels sporty yet simple and straightforward, with displays that have a hooded array of analog gauges that look modeled after sport sedans. Overall, you'll find a clean layout and effective infotainment systems. Although the Forte isn't spot-on for all its details, some of the fundamental choices are a step in the right direction; the cockpit's finished with higher-grade plastics; climate control knobs are large and feel sturdy; and in upper trims the center-console storage is covered.

Forte shoppers have a choice between a 1.8-liter, 145-horsepower inline-4 (in LX models) and a 2.0-liter, 173-hp inline-4 (in EX models). Between them, we recommend the larger engine for its more relaxed tuning and more confident performance. It also has direct injection and as we've noticed doesn't deliver significantly different/lower gas mileage than the smaller engine. The EX is also better-suited to the 6-speed automatic. In either case, the front-wheel-drive Forte's drivetrain manages to remind us of some of the better 1990s-era compact cars, with its 4-cylinder engine quite rev-happy and mostly vibration-free—and quite noisy at times.

The Forte isn't all that quick, but it handles reasonably well, with some models getting three modes of steering boost, selectable via a button on the steering wheel. It rides with a little more firmness (and harshness) than the some of its sportier rivals like the Focus or Mazda 3, yet we're not entirely convinced that there's a payoff in handling. We will concede that the Forte's gotten better at soaking up roughness from choppy pavement, although pavement irregularities still ring into the cabin, and the tuning of the EX model—the one we've spent the most time in—tends feel firm in light maneuvers yet allow too much body motion at other times.

The 2016 Kia Forte is a mainstream compact sedan with a long, low roofline. That roofline brings a fashionable profile, and it cuts into usable head room and makes entry and exit a little harder in back than it otherwise might be. There's good passenger space for those in front, although the seats are a sore point; they lack support in their lower cushions and could use more bolstering in general. Taller passengers especially won't be all that happy in front.

The Forte has seen regular product updates in recent years—although it ends up below par in safety in its class. Although this past year Kia improved the Forte's previous federal three-star frontal impact score to four stars, and its IIHS small overlap rating up from "Poor" to "Marginal" we're certainly not going to point to this model as one for safety-conscious families.

At the base LX level, the Forte includes keyless entry; air conditioning; a rear camera display; power windows, locks, and mirrors; satellite radio (with three months' free trial service); Bluetooth hands-free calling; and steering-wheel audio controls. The 2016 model year also brings a new base audio system. Stepping up to the EX gets a cooled glove box, a rearview camera system, and (optionally) a UVO infotainment system that can use a smartphone to tap into Google Maps. The Forte EX also opens up option possibilities to items like a true onboard navigation system, ventilated driver's seat, leather upholstery, LED taillights, a garage-door opener, and keyless ignition.

No matter which 2016 Kia Forte model you choose, you'll find relatively strong EPA fuel economy numbers. Across the 2016 lineup, they range from 24 to 26 mpg in the city, and from 35 to 39 mpg on the highway.

Styling
8.0

The 2016 Kia Forte has a swoopy profile with univesal appeal, plus a straightforward, sporty personality inside.


Just a couple of model years ago, the Forte lineup sprawled out, with a more elongated roofline, a longer, more arched profile, and a somewhat more sculpted look to the side sheet metal. It still manages to look quite sporty and contemporary on the market, and we consider the exterior styling to be one of its strengths.

There's also a two-door Forte Koup, as well as a five-door Forte hatchback; credit where credit is due, it's tough to get the proportions right for compact sedans, and the Forte has a class advantage.

We'd call the Forte sedan one of the best-looking models in its class from the outside. The rake of the front end is almost sports-car-like, while the roofline arcs gracefully, with the stubby, near-vertical trim piece at the back of the side glass visually bracketing the passenger space. Side glass now dips ahead of the sideview mirrors—as is quite common in the latest batch of compact sedans—while the rear end narrows and works reasonably well with the chamfers of the taillights. The thin lip of chrome around the back doesn't add up to anything nearly as distinctive as what's in front, but in all it's a good-looking, perfectly proportioned small sedan.

Inside, the Forte feels simple and straightforward, with a design and details that look modeled after those in sport sedans. There's a split console design that cuts down on what could be a bulky center stack. That bank of controls emerges smoothly from a dash surface finished in better plastics than we've seen in the Forte before, and the very light touch of metallic trim.

The cockpit is finished in higher-grade plastics—with large analog hooded gauges, for instance—plus sturdy, round climate-control knobs and covered console storage. The clean layout and effective infotainment systems finishes a look and feel that's tastefully simple yet just a bit upscale.

For 2016, there are four new exterior colors available on the base Forte LX: Clear White, Silky Silver, Steel Blue, and Crimson Red.

The 2016 Kia Forte has a swoopy profile with univesal appeal, plus a straightforward, sporty personality inside.

Performance
7.0

The Forte hints at a lot of sportiness from the driver's seat; yet it's an average performer in most respects.


The 2016 Kia Forte might look like a sport sedan from some angles, but it is most certainly not that. It does, however, offer up solid economy-car performance—including reasonably good steering and handling, general powertrain perkiness, and reasonably good gas mileage. But you won't find it class leading in any performance categories.

Fundamentally, you get to pick between the LX models' 1.8-liter, 145-horsepower inline-4 and the EX models' 2.0-liter, 173-hp inline-4. Both of these engines are decent performers, but we should point out that the 2.0-liter has direct injection, which can (and does) help improve mileage in slower-moving traffic. But that aside, we'd still go with the larger engine simply for its more relaxed tuning.

You can get LX models with a choice between a 6-speed manual gearbox or 6-speed automatic, while the EX is only offered with an automatic. The Forte's drivetrain manages to remind us of some of the better 1990s-era compact cars, with its inline-4 quite rev-happy and mostly vibration-free, yet also quite noisy at times.

The Forte isn't all that quick, even in EX form, but it handles reasonably well, with some models getting three modes of steering boost, accessed via a button on the steering wheel.

The power steering has a system like the one on the Hyundai Elantra GT, with selectable modes for sport, normal, and comfort levels of assist. It doesn't change the reasonably quick responsiveness, but it does add some weight as you crank the wheel through its motions. To us, a car like the Forte usually feels at home in the base two modes, but sport mode is useful to help it track cleanly on the highway.

At face value, the ride and handling as a whole in the 2016 Kia Forte lack the firm resolve of the Ford Focus or Mazda 3. There's a little more body motion that you might expect from a sportier small car, yet at the same time choppy pavement can ring in loudly, so we're not completely convinced that the Forte serves up any more comfort in return.

The Forte hints at a lot of sportiness from the driver's seat; yet it's an average performer in most respects.

Comfort & Quality
8.0

A spacious trunk and pleasant cabin finishes make the Forte very appealing inside, yet limited headroom and road noise keep it from achieving greatness.


The current version of the Kia Forte is larger in most dimensions and got a larger cabin, by the numbers. But this is a perfect illustration of how more is not always more when it comes to passenger space.

The caution here is due to the longer, lower roofline. In front and in back (especially with the available sunroof in the EX) head room can be quite tight. The longer body and cabin make more of an impact on its handsome styling than it does on its usable room.

Some of the fundamentals could have used more attention here, too. The front seats are quite short in their lower cushions and need more bolstering. While the driver-side power and seat ventilation that come on the Forte EX are useful and eye-catching at order time, we'd like a little more bolstering on the bottom cushions for better long-distance support; taller drivers and passengers simply won't be happy here. In back, the doors are cut in a way that allows them to open wide, yet the swoopy roofline can get in the way of easy of entry and exit.

The 2016 Forte sends out some conflicting signals from within the cabin. In terms of cabin appointments and materials, there's an elevated sense of quality here. From the soft touch of the plastics to the pleasing mix of materials here, it's looking upscale. Only once underway, the Forte seems lacking in the road-noise isolation that's improved tremendously in this class in recent years.

Storage space is very good. There's a useful bin hiding under a sliding screen in front of the shift lever, and a fair-sized glove box and center console bin. Of course what really matters is the trunk, and here it's a 14.9-cubic-foot one that's larger than almost all the competition. The trunk lid's cut wide, for easy loading, and the rear seats fold down, almost flat, when needed.

A spacious trunk and pleasant cabin finishes make the Forte very appealing inside, yet limited headroom and road noise keep it from achieving greatness.

Safety
6.0

Safety equipment for the 2016 Forte is about average, and crash-test ratings don't point to great occupant protection.


Kia has improved the safety ratings of the Forte over the past couple of years, but it's worth considering that class standards have also risen during that time. Relative to key rivals, the Forte lags a bit behind in crash-test results and occupant safety.

With a retest last year, the Forte's previous worrisome three-star frontal impact score improved to four stars, which brings its overall score up to five stars. Kia also brought the Forte's "Poor" rating in the IIHS small overlap frontal test up to "Marginal."

Based on safety ratings, we're still not going to point safety-conscious families to this Forte.

The Forte's safety feature set is appropriate for this class of budget-minded compact sedans—which is to say that there's no active-safety wizardry. In addition to the usual roster of airbags and stability systems, the 2016 Forte also includes four-wheel disc brakes—not a feature to be taken for granted in this class.

Outward visibility isn't all that great compared to other compact sedans—another consequence of the stylish design—although you now get a rearview camera system across the model line.

Safety equipment for the 2016 Forte is about average, and crash-test ratings don't point to great occupant protection.

Features
9.0

Heated rear seats and multiple navigation-system options are among the ways Kia exceeds expectations here.


Kia has long held a reputation for making its vehicles among the most value-packed. The 2016 Forte keeps with this expectation of being well-equipped and offering great value for the money.

At the base LX level, the Forte includes keyless entry; air conditioning; a rearview camera; power windows, locks, and mirrors; satellite radio (with three months' free trial service); Bluetooth hands-free calling; and steering-wheel audio controls.

Stepping up to the EX gets a cooled glove box, a rearview camera system, and (optionally) a UVO infotainment system that can use a smartphone to tap into Google Maps. The Forte EX also opens up option possibilities to items like a true onboard navigation system, ventilated driver's seat, leather upholstery, LED taillights, a garage-door opener, and keyless ignition.

There aren't many standalone options available on the Forte, but several packages wrap together sets of features that add convenience and luxury. The Popular Package to the LX brings 16-inch wheels; keyless entry; and cruise control; the Eco package tops it off with stop-start control. And the Premium Package on the EX includes a 10-way power driver seat; four heated seats; driver-seat ventilation; leather upholstery; a power sunroof; keyless ignition; 17-inch wheels; and a new standalone navigation system. A Technology package gains LED taillights, an LCD readout tucked between the gauges, and automatic climate control.

The 2016 model year also brings a new base audio system. And the step-up UVO system is one that leverages the driver's smartphone for live information access, tapping Google for mapping information and your smartphone's data stream for streaming audio. It also offers nice touches like service scheduling and a parking reminder.

Heated rear seats and multiple navigation-system options are among the ways Kia exceeds expectations here.

Fuel Economy
7.0

The 2016 Kia Forte has EPA ratings that are about average in its class—but you won't find a hybrid or plug-in model here.


No matter which 2016 Kia Forte model you choose, you'll find relatively strong EPA fuel economy numbers. Across the 2016 lineup, they range from 24 to 26 mpg in the city, and from 35 to 39 mpg on the highway.

Kia Forte models with the 2.0-liter engine and automatic transmission have recently improved by several miles per gallon to 24 mpg city, 35 highway, 28 combined. We should note that over several test drives we've seen around 30 mpg in combined driving in Forte models with this engine.

With the smaller 1.8-liter engine, EX models achieve 25/37/30 mpg with the manual transmission or 26/39/31 mpg with the automatic.

The Eco model of previous model years has been dropped, and the fuel-saving stop-start system that was due to be introduced will not be arriving in the Forte.

The 2016 Kia Forte has EPA ratings that are about average in its class—but you won't find a hybrid or plug-in model here.




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