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.